The Dark Underbelly of Tourism in Four Countries

steampunk masks in Venice

If you read a lot of travel articles, especially in magazines, you start to wonder if anything bad ever happens on vacation and whether there are any unsavory aspects of tourism going on. While books are full of stories that are tales of trouble and you see some great long-form journalism in Outside, most travel pubs are, by nature, only showing you what’s #beautiful. As more than one editor has said in justification, “We’re a travel magazine, not a do not travel magazine.”

Bloggers and online publishers can stretch the boundaries a bit because they are not generally risking ad deals worth tens of thousands of dollars when they say a chain hotel is boring, that cruises are lame, or a destination is a trash pit.

Which brings us to the June issue of Perceptive Travel. It just worked out that every story we’re running this month is about twisted fascination, letdowns, or problems nobody wants to discuss usually. Part of the reason I started Perceptive Travel more than 10 years ago was the desire to publish good stories that may not be all cheerful and positive, the kind of tales you tell your friends after a few beers, but that no sensible magazine editor would touch.

We are often let down by places that we have built up in our head, but in Mara Gorman’s case it was a matter of returning to Venice for a third time. As a child and then a traveling single woman she saw the city in different ways, then returned with her own kids to see it through their eyes. Check out It’s Not Venice, It’s Me.

Theresa Bergen decides that visiting a museum dealing with shock therapy and lobotomies would be make for a fun afternoon. So she checks out the a state museum of mental health, housed in part of the historic building where One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed. See Compassionate Education Versus Dark Tourism at an Oregon Mental Hospital.

northern Borneo travel

The huge island of Borneo, split between two countries, is populated up north by traditional tribes trying to hang onto their way of life—while dealing with garbage floating down from lands to the north. See Marco Ferrarese’s article Tropical Paradise Under Construction in Borneo.

Judith Fein has a lovely time touring around Bulgaria, but is tired of hearing her guide criticizing the immigrants who have come to the country. So she makes him take her to visit some. See Inside a Refugee Camp in Bulgaria.

Susan Griffith steps up with three book reviews this month, variations on long and slow travel trips alone.

How About Kicking Back in a Hammock?

Last month we gave away an Eagle Creek Suitcase and the winner was reader Amanda B. of California. Hey, it could have been you if you had entered… travel cups for camping

This time we’ve got two cool items from Sea to Summit. First is an ultralight hammock that’s strong enough for your naps but weighs next to nothing in your pack. The other is a pair of collapsible camping cups.

If you’re on our monthly newsletter list, then just watch your e-mail and enter. If not then get on it, plus watch the Perceptive Travel Facebook feed for how to enter the current one.

  1. Wade K.

    On the Bulgarian article, granted it’s not fair to the refugees, but a little research would have revealed what Bulgarians are painfully aware of, that they were dominated for centuries by Muslims, and most recently by communists. Their economy is in a shambles, and decisions made in much wealthier countries turned their country into a transit station for over a million refugees. Maybe the writer should not assume so much about her Bulgarian guide.

  2. TJ

    An actual banana hammock!?

  3. Elle

    The situation in Bulgaria is quite complicated, and again, an example of poor people pit against poor people. Bulgarians themselves have been till recently, refugees trying to escape repression, violence and starvation. Many people in the countryside live in very humble conditions, many people collect plants in the hills because they cannot afford buying food and severe alcoholism and mental illness are rampant. I have Bulgarian friends who have, through lots of effort and vision and a bit of luck, attained a good education and one of them made a brilliant career in the USA. But the general level of education in the larger population is deficient by even other “developing” countries, (such as many south American countries) let aside the EU. There are pros and cons about joining the EU. As usual, banks and the wealthiest benefit the most because of trading agreements and social mobility does not improve in equal measure. I was horrified when years ago a Bulgarian female broadcaster kicked a poor refugee that had fallen to the ground trying to escape the police. But last year I had the opportunity to visit Bulgaria for the first time (I got robbed, BTW) and I run into lots of troubled families and young people who felt hopeless about their lives there, despite having their own companies or a more or less stable job. They didnt see any real possibilities for the country to gain footing in the EU during their lifetimes. Their health system is crumbling and even those who worked their entire lives were not eligible for medical care unless they could pay most things out of pocket (I saw it with my own eyes) blood banks did not have blood or the means to safely withdraw blood from donors or establish if donated blood was clean, medical supplies at the hospital had to be bought and brought by family members and family members had to clean the patients and bring them to the bathroom for toilet or bath, clean the bed linen even if their were blood stained, walk around poodles on the hallway on a rainy day. And this was a GOOD facility. Without justifying any mistreatment of the poor people coming from areas of severe human conflict, it took me seeing the poor and “middle” classes in Bulgaria and read and talk to them about their history to feel less inclined to judge them harshly.

  4. Elle

    Where it reads “by even other “developing” countries” I meant to say “by even other “developing” countries standards”
    Where it reads “clean the bed linen even if their were blood stained” should read “clean the bed linen even if they were blood stained”

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