From Chernobyl to Fukushima: 7 Disaster Tourism Destinations

Your guide to the sites of some of the world's most horrifying man-made and natural disasters.

Following the release of the HBO miniseries "Chernobyl," tourism to the surrounding Ukranian town has increased substantially. Chernobyl's popularity, however, is not isolated: It's just one of many macabre destinations around the world that tourists are flocking to as part of a phenomenon called "disaster tourism."

This form of travel is an offshoot of "dark tourism," a term that describes any form of travel to places that are eerie, abandoned, or connected to death and tragedy. While dark tourism's destinations can include any graveyard or vine-covered mansion on the side of the road, disaster tourism specifically revolves around sites of mass destruction.

The moral implications of visiting these sites are thorny, and it's important to remember that these are all sites of devastating tragedy, not amusement park attractions meant to provide cheap thrills. However, dark tourism can also be a way of processing and honoring the past; and then there's the fact that most places on earth, at one time or another, were the sites of some sort of disastrous event.

With all that said, here are seven of the most extreme disaster tourism destinations in the world.

1. Chernobyl

No list of disaster tourism sites would be complete without the mother of them all—Chernobyl, the site of the 1981 nuclear disaster that left a ghostly city in its wake.

It's impossible to visit Chernobyl without a tour guide, but luckily there are many guided trips to choose from. You can take day trips, which will take you through abandoned kindergartens, vine-covered ferris wheels, and more relics; and, there are even two to three day tours, which will allow you plenty of time to drink in the landscape's aesthetic of quiet devastation, or perhaps to commune with ghosts.

The first question many people ask about visiting Chernobyl is if it's safe. While radiation lasts a long time, and certainly still exists in Chernobyl, the human body can tolerate small doses of radiation without impact—so as long as you don't move into the town, you should be good to go.

Image via Fox

2. Bikini Atoll Nuclear Test Site

As a collective human race, we're fascinated by nuclear power, perhaps because of its unfathomable ability to wreak mass destruction on a vast scale. If you just can't stay away from nuclear sites, or want to go a little further from the beaten path than Chernobyl, the Bikini Atoll Nuclear Test Site in the Marshall Islands is an obvious choice. In all seriousness, the Bikini Atoll weapons test is a brutal example of the United States' arrogant willingness to wreak havoc on others' lives in order to achieve their own military goals. The tests began in 1946, displacing a total of 167 Marshallese inhabitants. In 1954 the U.S. detonated the most powerful bomb it has ever made, and to this day, those islands are still unlivable.

The U.S. government closed the islands for tourism in 2008, but you still have the option to scuba dive nearby if you make arrangements with the Bikini Atoll Divers.

Image via RT.com

3. Pompeii

As far as disaster tourism sites go, this one is probably one of the least controversial, given the fact that Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79.

Pompeii can be visited via passage from Rome, and there are hundreds of tours offering visits to the site. Even two thousand years later, and despite its popularity with tourists, Pompeii is still sobering to see. It was once a bustling port town, and you can still see the remnants of the lives that were suddenly stopped in their tracks when nature decided to unleash a flood of lava—graffiti, cafes, vestiges of daily life in ancient times. Pompeii's eeriest attraction, of course, are the mummified bodies lying in the places they died so long ago. The site is a testament both to the ephemerality and permanence of human life and civilization: In death, the citizens of Pompeii have achieved a form of immortality.

Image via L'Italo Americano

4. New Orleans: Katrina's Wake

It's been fifteen years since Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, and much of the city has not yet recovered. There are several tours in operation that will take you through what remains of Katrina's ravages, as well as directions for self-guided exploration. You can walk by the breached levees, making your way through the ruins of the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans.

There are a fair number of memorials, museums, and rebuilt areas that are testaments to the city's resilience, such as the rebuilt Musicians Village in the Upper Ninth Ward and the revitalized Tennessee Street. Still, it's easy to see the places where reconstruction has failed: The Six Flags amusement park was never rebuilt and is being reclaimed by nature, as are whole neighborhoods. It's important to note that neighborhoods inhabited by people of color were disproportionately affected by the storm and ignored by recovery efforts; and low-income areas like the Lower Ninth Ward are still missing more than half of their pre-Katrina inhabitants.

5. Exxon Valdez's Oil Spill

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker hit a reef off the coast of Alaska and leaked roughly 30 million gallons of oil into the sea, killing hundreds of sea creatures and staining 11,000 miles of coastline with oil. The coastal town, Prince William Sound, has mostly rebounded since the disaster, but the shoreline has not recovered.

Today, the family-owned Stephens Cruises operate glacier tours out of the sound that focus on the history of the disaster and its consequences, and they discuss the oil industry's impacts on climate and ecological life today.

Image via Grist

6. Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

After the 2011 earthquake, Haiti suffered through misguided relief efforts, and the consequences of that disaster and its aftermath are still visible on the island. However, a visit to Port-au-Prince is not all about viewing ruins, because Haiti is very much alive. With its rich history and its gleaming beaches, Haiti is a growing destination, a combination of damaged infrastructure and vibrant community.

To see the most visible remnants of the quake, there are destinations like the skeletal Sans Souci Palace, reduced to scaffolding, though you can also see the disaster's impact in Haiti's poor transportation system, and in the fresh new construction that is lifting Port-Au-Prince back onto its feet. With careful planning or a well-researched tour, a trip to Haiti can be an exploration of a beautiful country and a tour of devastation rolled into one.

Image via MustSeePlaces

7. Japan's Fukushima Exclusion Zone

Japan is already a well-known destination for dark tourism. Visitors have long flocked to its Aokigahara 'suicide' forest, but no disaster zone is more popular than the remnants of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

Officials say the area is radioactivity-free now, though 52,000 people remain displaced because of the accident. Still, that hasn't deterred tourists—or tour companies. With these tours, you can visit surrounding towns and farms alongside local guides, exploring ruined train stations and abandoned towns like Tomioka, frozen in time since the explosion. The destination also offers plenty of cheerier sights: cherry trees, hot springs, and high-quality sake are just a few of the delights you can partake in if you visit the area. Essentially, Fukushima is perfectly safe to visit; just don't wander too far off the beaten path, because in certain very select areas there are "hot spots" where radiation is higher, though most are inaccessible or surrounded by dense woods.

Image via ABC

While a visit to the site of a nuclear disaster or oil spill might sound irredeemably grim, tourism—when it's done thoughtfully—can actually be beneficial. First, tourism can provide necessary income for locations struggling to get back on their feet; and second, it can help keep places in the public conscience. The 1989 Exxon disaster site in Alaska is slipping out of memory, but tourism to the site is a reminder of the enduring consequences of oil spills, which can continue to haunt landscapes decades later.

Also, it's important to remember that many of these disasters were caused by climate change, and there will only be more catastrophes like these if we continue to let the earth's temperatures rise—hurricanes will tear apart more nuclear plants, and more levees will break from rising sea levels, and more ghost towns will crop up.

"Because the modern tourist feels disconnected, tourists seek the genuine when they go on vacation," writes Emily Godbey in an essay about why people are drawn to dark destinations. Dark tourism is a form of melodrama, a form of theatre in which "the thrill was based on reality's nearness," she writes. So while tourism is usually thought of as an escapist activity, disaster tourism turns this on its head; it's effectively a way of looking the reality of human destruction straight in the eye.

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Travel Tips

Best Jobs for People Who Love To Travel

If you want to travel but have a job that is currently holding you back, here are a few of our suggestions for the best jobs for people who love to travel.

For many people, traveling is an amazing experience, but traveling is not always feasible because of responsibilities to work.

One way to get around this roadblock is to get a job that will let you travel and see the world. Here are some of the best jobs for people who love to travel.

Hostelworld HostelworldHostelworld.com

Translator

A translator is a wonderful job for those who want to travel. It will bring you to many places as you work, so long as those places speak the language you can translate. The great thing about translating is the variety of work you can get by translating for specific clients or just translating for tourists in the area. You can choose what type of scene you wish to work in very easily.

Pilot

A pilot fits the definition of a job that gets to travel perfectly. Now, whether you are a private pilot or a commercial pilot, you will still get to fly all over the planet. The only major problem with this job is the requirement of flight classes. But once you get your license, you can fly freely around the world while making yourself money to fund your trips.

Travel blogger

Being a travel blogger is a temperamental job but, if done correctly, it will allow you to visit anywhere you want. Writing to fans as you travel the world can be a fun and exciting way to engage with the planet. This job can be difficult to do, though, as you must be able to write consistently and capture your audience with each post.

English teacher

This may not sound like a job that allows you to travel, but schools all around the world are always looking for more people to teach English.

In this career, you would move near the school that you would teach at and live there over the course of your time there. The interesting thing about this job is that it does not necessarily require a teaching degree, depending on the school and country in question. You also get to live in a new country for an extended period.

When it comes to the best jobs for people who love to travel, these are just a few of our suggestions. There are plenty of jobs where you can travel around the world, but these ones are far-reaching and cover a lot of different lifestyles. They might seem like pipe dreams, but hey, you never know!

Seattle, Washington is a rainy, coffee-fueled, coastal town often referred to as the "Emerald City."

Located against the ecological wonderland of Puget Sound, this cosmopolitan, seaside city is a mishmash of arts, culture, history, nature, and, of course, cloudy weather. Thanks to its proximity to nature, its greenery, and its culturally rich, big-city atmosphere, the city is becoming increasingly popular, both for tourists and those looking for a change of scenery.

The Big Stops: Tourist Seattle

If you only have a few days to visit Seattle, you'll probably want to check out the area's most famous attractions.

For nature lovers and summit-chasers, there's the imposing, wildflower-shrouded Mt. Rainier.

Mt. Rainierthebesttravelplaces.com

Mt. Rainier

For foodies, there's the popular Pike Place Market, a giant patchwork of food-sellers and friendly chaos where you can purchase everything from giant crabs' legs to bottomless amounts of coffee (more on that later).

Pike Place Marketseattle.eater.com

And finally, there's the iconic Space Needle and the Sky View Observatory, which will give you extraordinary views of the city.

Space Needlegetyourguide.com

Seattle Arts and Museums

For arts and culture lovers, Seattle has plenty to cut your teeth on. Don't miss the Chihuly Garden and Glass, a collection of extraordinary blown-glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly.

Chihuly Gardensfodors.com

Chihuly Gardens

For art, there's the giant Seattle Art Museum Downtown. Seattle also offers the Museum of Pop Culture, a nonprofit that features all your favorite icons from history, and plenty of other options.

Museum of Pop Culturesmithsonianmag.org

For some history, there's the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, which commemorates Seattle's history as a gold rush hub.

There are plenty of quirky attractions—like the giant Fremont Troll, the 18-foot sculpture in the Fremont neighborhood that cuts an imposing figure.

Fremont Trollsillyamerica.com

You could also take in the city from a boat—marine enthusiasts might enjoy visiting to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks to explore the history of this port city.

Seattle, of course, also has a gritty underground side—you may know the city from its time at the heart of the '90s grunge movement.

It also has a long, storied history that has left more than a few scars. You can literally see its underground through one of its underground tours, which will take you on a walk through the "buried city," the remnants left over from before the Great Fire of 1889.

Seattle Undergroundpinterest

Natural Wonders

Seattle is notorious for its natural wonders. For a close-up view, there's the Seattle Aquarium, a marine experience that showcases the best of what Puget Sound has to offer.

For more exposure to the beauty of Seattle's nature, try the Washington Park Arboretum, a 230-acre showcase of Seattle's wetlands and natural wonders.

Washington Park Arboretumtriposo.com

You might also pay a visit to the Alki Beach for some time with the ocean waves.

Alki BeachMetropolitangardens.blogspot.com

Or consider taking a more exhaustive adventure to Discovery Park, a giant and labyrinthine natural park at the edge of Puget Sound.

Discovery Parktrip savvy.com

Food and Drink

Food tours are also popular options for those who want to get more intimate with the city's cuisine, and Seattle is often ranked as one of the best cities for foodies.

It's also a great place for coffee-heads. You might also pay a visit to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, AKA Ultimate Starbucks, a tasting room that features a coffee library amongst other treats for coffee addicts.

Sarbucks Reserve Roasterydesigner.com

Moving to Seattle

If you're planning on moving to Seattle, locals say there's a few things you should know. First off, it is most definitely overcast the majority of the time, though the rain is rather like a mist. That makes the rare sunny day shine even more, though, locals say, in addition to fostering natural abundance.

The city is generally very congested with traffic, which can be noisy, though it offers great public transportation options, from buses to rail—regardless, you'll want to get an Orca Card for that.

Like every city, Seattle has a number of diverse and charismatic neighborhoods. For example, there's the beachy, more laid-back West Seattle.

West SeattleWest Seattle

There's the vibrant Capitol Hill, a hub of arts, culture, tech bros, and nightlife (during non-COVID times).

There's the historic and artsy Pioneer Square, featuring plenty of museums, shops, galleries, and pubs.

Pioneer Square SeattleExpedia

Fremont is a more bohemian area. Belltown is a trendy waterfront neighborhood that's close to everything.

In general, Seattle residents love the city for its proximity to nature, from beaches to glaciers, and its abundance of arts and cultural attractions. As Kimberly Kinrade said, "Seattle is for people who love culture, but refuse to sacrifice their wild nature to attain it." Residents dislike the steep cost of housing and all things that come from rising prices, including the city's large homeless population.

In general, the city is known as environmentally conscious, liberal, and dog-loving. The people are often referred to as nice but possibly a bit standoffish and cold (the "Seattle Freeze" is when you make plans to hang out and then bail, which is apparently very common). The rain can certainly get depressing, but the proximity to nature helps.

Remember, if you do happen to move: umbrellas are dead giveaways for tourists.


What's your favorite part about Seattle? What did we leave out? Let us know at @thejourniest on Twitter!

Travel

Weed World Candies Exist to Prey on Gullible Tourists

Weed is still illegal in New York, but scamming tourists is not.

You wouldn't know it walking around midtown Manhattan, but marijuana is still illegal in New York.

It does seem strange to think that perhaps the most metropolitan city in the US would be lagging behind so many other parts of the country that have legalized possession, production, and sale of cannabis and THC products, but it's true.

New York's decriminalization of marijuana has led many smokers to be more brazen with their public consumption in recent years, and Governor Cuomo recently announced plans for limited legalization for recreational use at the state level. But for the time being the sale of products containing THC is still very much illegal.

buy happiness You sure about that?

Adding to the confusion is a company that has sprung up to prey on tourist's uncertainty. Weed World trucks have multiplied at a staggering rate since they first started appearing in Midtown and the Village a few years ago. Easily a dozen RVs and vans now line the tourist-dense streets of Manhattan, advertising Girl Scout Cookies and Gorilla Glue, clad in marijuana-leaf decals and occupied by employees who are paid either to be stoned out of their minds, or just to pretend they are.

With eyes nearly in slits and an air of relaxation that suggests that customers are temporary interludes from a permanent nap, they will promise you as much as they can get away with while letting their branding do most of the work. They will sell you four lollipops for $20, which would seem like a great deal if not for the fact that they will not deliver on the strong implication that they'll get you high.

They have a Twitter account where they celebrate the supposed availability of weed and claim to "have New York locked down." They'll even sell you vape cartridges that advise you to "get medicated," and which are packed with potent doses of… flavor?

weed world truck

An employee once assured me that their candies do contain THC—maybe they wouldn't be so brazenly dishonest today—and in a drunken state I coughed up $5 to test that claim. There is a faint weedy taste to their candies, and you may find trace amounts of CBD inside, but that's it. It's a scam. There is no THC. Nothing that will give their customers the experience they're selling.

Worse than the trucks is the Weed World Candies storefront that opened in midtown in 2019. Just walking past you would swear that people were passing a massive blunt inside.

The smell is unmistakable and overpowering, except that it's fake. Whatever chemical fragrance they pumped onto the street, it was not connected to anyone smoking weed. Inside, the psychedelic wall art complemented shelves lined with suggestive candies and boxes emblazoned with pot leaf insignia.

Whatever the venue, they are all too happy to sell you overpriced hemp products and CBD creams and chocolates made to look like nugs. And if you're a tourist, or a moron like me, you might believe the scam long enough to give them money, but nothing they sell will get you high.

weed world store Hiroki Kittaka

The owners of Weed World, Judah Izrael and Bilal Muhammad—who prefers to go by "Dro Man" or "Doctor Dro"—will defend their products by claiming that they serve to promote legalization and decriminalization efforts by normalizing the idea of public sale of marijuana. But at no point in the purchasing process is the illusion that their candies will get you high broken. At no point are their customers offered literature explaining the mission of Weed World.

On their website's FAQs page, there is no mention of THC or its absence from their products, but the first question, "How much should I eat?" is answered, "It's all based on your tolerance but there's no limit." Tolerance for what? Sugar? The company—which originated in Alabama and has spread to cities around the country—mostly seems like a very profitable way to sell candy to gullible adults.

weed world wall art Nicole Mallete

The best thing I can say in their defense is that one of their trucks was recently busted by police in Saraland, Alabama, with products that "tested positive for marijuana." Assuming this isn't a screw up or deliberate frame-job by the police, it's possible that some of the Weed World trucks are using their faux activism as a front for selling actual drugs. If so, that would be the most honest thing about this company. Until that's confirmed, ignore these trucks and maybe just ask a friend for a hookup.