Four Unusual Tourism Niches

tourism niches
A look at the sarcophagus at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are all sorts of tourism niches out there. You’ve heard of people traveling for food, shopping, golf, medical treatments, maybe even to visit war zones, disaster sites or the graves of dead celebrities. There’s also a lot of unsavory stuff out there that sways me from my usual stance that anything that motivates a person to get a passport, hop on a plane and get out of the usual milieu is a great thing. But let’s skip that for another day. I want to introduce you to a few tourism niches that I find genuinely interesting, potentially enriching and maybe just a bit nerdy.

tourism niches
View of Chernobyl taken from roof of building in Pripyat Ukraine. Photo Taken by Jason Minshull, then digitally zoomed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Atomic Tourism Right now, there are people taking a tour into the 1,000-square mile Exclusion Zone established to keep people away from the wreckage of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Tourists are heading to Ukraine to fork over rubles to go into one of the most ghostly areas ever – the abandoned city of Pryp’yat’. They’re braving high background radiation levels (this recent blog post will show readings from a Geiger counter at various places).

tourism niches
An active volcano is a great location for sound tourism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are other sites that can take you straight back to the Atomic Age, from the excellent Titan Missile Museum in Arizona to the White Sands National Monument. Personally, I’d absolutely love to take a trip into the Exclusion Zone, mostly to see what happens to a city when humans all but abandon it; believe it or not, there are still people who squat in the Exclusion Zone for all sorts of reasons. Here’s another fascinating article about the Exclusion Zone.

Sound Tourism

tourism niches
Glaciers make incredible noises, too.

I wrote about this awhile back, and I’m still fascinated by the idea of going places to hear things. And I’m not talking about concerts. In some cases, sound tourism is about not hearing things – it’s about silence The Sonic Wonders website has a great collection of ideas for people interesting in sound tourism (definitely one of the tourism niches that interests me most). The booming sand dunes are closest to me over in California. The site also lists Jökulsárlón Floating Icebergs and the creaks from the little icebergs. Some of the more interesting natural sounds I’ve heard while traveling have been the sound of water flowing under a glacier, and the rumble of huge cinders belching out of Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica. Oh, and howler monkeys make a really eerie "woofing" sound. Urban Exploration This is one of those tourism niches for people who think creepy equals cool. If you’ve ever wanted to poke your nose into an abandoned building or spend the day mapping out an abandoned subway tunnel, this is for you.

tourism niches
English: Inside Richmond Asylum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you turn to the right information sources, you’ll discover all sorts of places in your urban environment are waiting for you to arrive armed with flashlights. Urban exploration does carry some high risks – arrest, accidents, even encounters with people who calls these "abandoned" areas home. Still, it’s all pretty tempting. I know of an entire largely forgotten underground portion of Phoenix that even has a bowling alley. And there has to be a lot more that nobody talks about – the same probably goes for your home city. Urban exploration reminds me a bit of caving. Enthusiasts don’t like to share their secrets with the masses. But here’s a good place to start.

tourism niches
Ol Doinyo Lengai Crater, Tanzania. Taken from south-western edge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Volcano Tourism Out of all the odd tourism niches, this is probably my favorite. The forces that shape the world fascinate me. I’ve stood on mountains that are emitting sulfuric fumes. I’ve looked into recently erupted volcanoes. I’ve seen the aftermath of catastrophic explosions (the blown-out visage of Red Crater in the Tongariro National Park is my favorite example). It really makes me realize how much power geographic forces possess.

tourism niches
Imagine the explosive power behind making Red Crater explode.

If you’d like to see volcanic forces first-hand, I recommend Iceland, New Zealand and Hawaii. I would also have recommended the oddball volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai in Tanzania. National Geographic wrote an amazing piece about 10 years ago all about its unusual black, free-flowing, low-temperature lava. But an explosion blew the Tim Burton-esque landscape that was once at its summit into oblivion. Enjoy the photos, anyway. And there’s also a place in Guatemala where you can ride a sled down a volcano’s cinder landscape. Here’s a source for planning your own volcanic vacation.

Sound Tourism: The Coolest Sounds to Hear While Traveling

sound travel
Looking out from a high point on Franz Josef Glacier.

I’d never encountered the phrase "sound tourism" (aka audio tourism) until today; I read them in the March 2014 issue of Discover: Science for the Curious. The phrase appears in an all-too-brief interview with author/acoustic engineer Trevor Cox. It’s so new that, as of right now, not even Wikipedia mentions it.

A Discover magazine writer does a Q & A session with Trevor Cox, and includes a link to some of his favorite sounds. He mentions "booming sand dunes" in the Mojave Desert, the call of a male bearded seal and the Australian whipbird.

Trevor Cox also mentions that many subtle sounds get buried in the din of modern life. He makes a good point. I can’t say I’ve ever traveled anywhere to hear something. But there’s something in travel for everyone – so why not sound tourism?

sound tourism
Volcanic fumaroles make cool noises … and some nasty odors.

If you were to make a sound tourism travel list, what would be on it?

I have a few -- mostly just some of the coolest things I’ve heard while traveling:

  • The sounds of glaciers would be a must for sound tourism. I’ve heard cracking and shifting on glaciers in New Zealand and Iceland. And you won’t believe how loud it is when a piece of glacier calves and falls into a lagoon. It’s spectacular, and makes the glacier feel like a living organism. I promise that even the most nature-disinterested person would have a change of heart after a day on a glacier.
  • Also on my sound tourism list would be a visit to Volcan Arenal in Costa Rica. Even if clouds obscure the summit, you’ll love the sound of Volkswagen-sized cinders rumbling down the slopes. If you can see their red-hot glow at night, even better.
  • Last item on my short sound tourism list (which I might add to later) would be coyotes. Many people I meet inaccurately think they howl like wolves. But no -- they’re yips and barks are much more eerie, especially since they often travel in packs. Listen to a bunch of coyotes cavort outside your tent while camping, and you’ll understand. Perfect sound tourism!
  • The sound of volcanic fumaroles hissing as they spew gas into the air. They can roar like a jet engine, and be heard for miles. Or they can whisper. It’s the sound of the living earth, and not something I’ll ever forget.
sound tourism
Volcan Arenal spews volcanic bombs that make awesome sounds. (Matthew.landry at English Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons)

These are not exactly the most subtle sounds. So if you have some sound tourism tips that cover the less obvious sounds, the ones you have to struggle to hear -- fill me in.

As for Trevor Cox, I’ll have to check out the sound tourism map on his website. I’ll look forward to what cool ideas I might encounter for future travel that can include some sound tourism. You can also read the Discover magazine story and hear some of Trevor’s favorite sounds.

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