Dark Tourism: What, Why, and How (Travel Series Pt. 1)

Dark tourism has been around for ages. However, it gained mainstream popularity with Netflix TV-show "Dark Tourist," written by David Farrier. Since then, there has been an increased interest in this type of tourism and with it new discussions about its ethicality. Through this six part travel series we will be unpacking dark tourism and dark tourism spots in Europe, Asia, Africa, United States, and Latin America.

What is Dark Tourism?

Dark tourism refers to visiting places associated with some of the darkest events in human history, e.g., genocide, war, assassination, ethnic cleansing, natural or man-made disasters, etc.  The act itself is controversial since some people see it as a way of paying respect and others as an unethical practice.

Shoes on the Danube Bank, Hungary

Why is it important?

A natural byproduct of traveling, especially if you are visiting a country that is vastly different from yours, is being uncomfortable. These moments challenge you to reflect internally. Most of the challenging moments I've had while traveling are associated with dark tourism.

These experiences were emotional and intense, often leading me to think about horrific moments of history for days, sometimes even weeks after my initial visit. The tangible energy that stays forces you to reflect - to see yourself and what you would have done in those situations.

Dark tourism challenges assumptions and in some cases reverse prejudice, which is why visiting such sites is so important.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Alabama

Before You Go…

Before you visit a particular site, make sure you understand why you want to visit. Is it because you want to show-off to your Instagram followers or is it because you want to get a deeper understanding of historical events? If you want to get a deeper understanding or pay respects, why that particular site?

Remember, research and intent are everything. If you are doing a guided tour make sure that the company is giving back to the community or the place you are visiting. Research who you can go with and how you should behave once you get there. Most importantly, make sure the site is respectful to the community, and historical events and stories are portrayed accurately.

Whitney Plantation, Louisiana

How to behave?

Dark tourism is surrounded by controversy. I am sure you have seen pictures of people with two thumbs-up in front of Auschwitz or numerous selfies from Chernobyl. It should go without saying that such acts are completely disrespectful.

When visiting places of sorrow, keep in mind the events that took place at that site. In most cases, you are visiting sites of genocide and mass murder. Ask if it's okay to take pictures. Only do so when appropriate and never take a picture of someone without their permission.

Most importantly, talk quietly or not at all. Dark tourist spots are places for reflective thinking about history and our role in shaping it.

Dark tourism is an eye-opening experience for those who are there for the right reasons. While visiting historic sites is important, we must remember that they are tiny pieces of a much bigger puzzle. Your work stretches long after the initial visit. Remember that you visit these places to learn, to remember, and to change.

What is your perspective on dark tourism? Let us know at info@coveredtraveler.com

Selma Žuljević

Born and raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Selma is currently studying Business Administration and Global Studies at Hood College. While she was always passionate about traveling, she caught the travel bug through Semester at Sea, a study abroad program. So far, she has visited four continents and 30 countries, mostly in Europe and Asia.

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