Travel Horror Stories: 13 Places Where Scary Things Happened on Film

The film industry produces a continuous stream of travel-inspired horror movies. Just spend some time browsing Netflix for a slew of movies about intrepid souls lured into shady situations or adventurous protagonists (hopefully) surviving any traveler’s worst nightmare.

The lack of comfort and isolation that comes with being so far away from home combines with the creepy and unknown and bad decisions and voilà! You’ve got a perfect recipe for a screamfest!

Here are 13 of our favorite travel horror stories captured on film–some are loosely based on fact, while others are pure fiction, but all of them are set in real places you can add to your itinerary on your next trip.

Deliverance, 1972 – Georgia, USA

Four city slickers set out on a weekend of canoeing and camping.  They end up being hunted, cornered, and sexually assaulted by hillbillies.

But hurray, the Cahulawassee River and town of Aintry are fictional; there is no such place crawling with spooky southerners in the Georgian wilderness. Even so, there’s a lesson to learned from James Dickey’s story — don’t mock or condescend to the locals, particula

Where to go:  Georgia’s Toccoa River is a great place to canoe, kayak and trout fish between bouts of exploring on foot in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

>> Check out the best places to hike in the US

The Hills Have Eyes, 1977 – Nevada Desert, USA

A family on a road trip ends up stranded in the Nevada desert where they are subsequently hunted down by deformed human cannibals sprung from an incestuous family tree.

Bless Mr. Craven’s heart. This movie does make road trips frightening. The plot’s from the gruesome Scottish legend of Sawney Bean, head of an incestuous, cannibalistic clan that spent decades petrifying  folks in the 15th century. Fortunately both the original and the updated for film stories are figments of the imagination.

Where to go: Nevada’s desert is a paradise for outdoor adventurers who come to hike, bike, and mountain climb –  cannibals are notably absent, although you might be able to find a few in Vegas. You should however, be wary of getting stranded in the desert, where severe temps, wild animals, and dehydration are more likely than close encounters with families of flesh-eaters.

>> See why you might want to add Las Vegas to your long-term trip

The Descent, 2005 – Appalachian Mountains, USA

A group of rugged mountaineers head underground to explore a new cave route, and everything is exciting until they take a wrong turn, get lost and are subsequently attacked by humanoid flesh-eaters that have mutated due to their underground setting.

I’m feeling confident about this one: humanoid flesh eaters aren’t really real. It made for a scary flick though – well done writers! Getting lost underground due to an erroneous map? Cannibalism derived from being stuck in caves? Sounds fairly plausible. Not appetizing, but it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve heard about cannibalism born out of desperate situations. Alive, anyone?

Go or no go: Go prepared. The Applachians are a gorgeous place to go hiking and caving. Just remember to go with an experienced guide and an up-t0-the-minute map.

Psycho, 1960 – Arizona, USA

A young woman steals $40,000 from her employee in a desperate bid to join her lover. On her way to surprise him, she stops at an isolated motel for a quick rest…only to end up the latest victim of a deeply disturbed psychopath.

Hitchcock’s classic was based on Robert Bloch’s novel which inspired by true events. A Wisconsin man, who was caught living a double life as a psychotic murderer in the late 50s, inspired Bloch to write this novel based on the idea that monsters are everywhere, sometimes even right next door. On the road and at home, Hitchcock has us locking the bathroom door when we shower.

Where to go: The Bates Motel from the movie lives at Universal Studios and most of the filming was done on a set. Still, if you’re interested in staying in run-down motels in the American west, plan a road-trip on Route 66. But bring a door stopper that you can slip under your room door for added security.

>> Discover some great American road trips

Midnight Express, 1978 – Istanbul, Turkey

An American student tries to smuggle hashish out of Turkey is caught, sent to prison, and subsequently escapes when he finds out the legal system intends to keep him imprisoned indefinitely.

This tale is actually a true story – Billy Hayes recounted his ordeal in the book of the same title. That said, the degrading portrayal of Turks were far from accurate – so much so that the book’s author Billy Hayes, and the film’s director, Oliver Stone, formally apologized to Turkey.

Where to go: The best place to start exploring Turkey  is Istanbul. Crowded with colorful markets, tea shops, and gorgeous mosques, it’s a far cry from the place portrayed in the movie, but prison (Turkish or not) isn’t where you want to end up on your trip. Don’t be a stupid tourist who goes through a true living hell because he stupidly tries to smuggle drugs (or purchase drugs for that matter, no matter how small the amount). Tourists across the world are currently locked up for crimes of this nature, and you don’t want to be one of them.

>> Check out our indie travel guide to Turkey

Friday the 13th, 1980 – Blairstown, New Jersey, USA

A group of young counselors at Camp Crystal Lake are murdered by the mother of a young boy who drowned years before due to the original staff’s neglect.

The original may have made teenagers scared to go camping in the woods for years to come, while the many sequels (11 and counting) kept the fear alive. The franchising is excessive, but the good news is that the movies are purely fictional.

Where to go:  Scenes from the movie were filmed on Blairstown’s restored main street and in Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in neighboring Hardwick Township.

>> Find great places to make a summer splash in the US

Dead Calm, 1989 – Great Barrier Reef, Australia

A couple taking a reconciliatory trip off the coast of Australia find their journey disturbed when they rescue a murderous lunatic onto their yacht.

What were they suppose to do, leave the hot lad in the water? I’d be more concerned with developing Stockholm syndrome from rescuing a Billy Zane look-alike than being the unlucky peeps to pick up a lunatic.

Go or no go: By all means, if you can sail off the coast of Sydney and have a yacht, sail away, just make sure you know where you are going, are comfortable commanding your vessel, and can stay in touch in case of problems or storms. Give me a call too. Especially if you look like delicious Zane.

>> Read why you might want to add Sydney to your RTW trip

Hostel, 2005 – Bratislava, Slovakia

Three backpackers are lured to Slovakia under the pretext of beautiful, plentiful, and easy women, when in truth (gasp) they are being recruited by a grimy circle of elites who kidnap, torture, and kill unsuspecting travelers for amusement.

Did that sound sarcastic? Probably. This movie is so bad and unrealistic, that even the Slovakian government had to step in and remind the audience that visiting Slovakia does not lead to your end. Besides, to add insult to injury, the film was blatantly filmed in Prague and other areas in Czech Republic. If you fear re-enacting this “gorno,” be more weary of catching an STD than of dying atrociously.

Go or no go: Slovakia is a safe destination even if not a current European hot-spot. Some theft has been reported in Bratislava around packed tourist spots (like every other tourist hot-spot in the world).

Wolf Creek, 2005 – Australian Outback

Three backpackers set off on a road trip through the western Outback only to be dragged to their faith by a vicious serial killer who corners them at Wolf Creek crater.

Although the movie was marketed as “based” on true events, it is more fitting to say “loosely inspired.” The British backpacker who inspired the film was never found and controversy surrounds the incarceration of a man suspected of his killing. The plot was definitely spun into its own sensational narrative. Besides, at the rate the protagonists are partying, you’re more likely to end up with a permanent hangover or suffering from a poor-planning case of hypothermia across Oz than being kidnapped by an odd bloke.

Go or no go: Minus the abandoned torture hole, the movie showcases beautifully rugged locales worth a visit. When adventuring into isolated places, make sure you have reliable wheels, stock and supplies to be fed and warm, have a way of getting in touch with peeps in case of emergency and avoid roads at night.

>> Read about 3 Australian Road Trips to Plan Your Trip Around

The Evil Dead, 1981 – Tennessee, USA

Five college students on a long weekend retreat in an isolated cabin unleash evil spirits through an audiotape.

Scary indeed. Well, this list has obviously taken a supernatural tangent, which (fingers crossed) does not really happen in real day-to-day life. But you know what? Tennessee has a rich history filled with haunting of all kinds. Haven’t you all heard of the Bell Witch?

Go or no go: Have fun, lads. Tennessee offers up beautiful rolling hills in the Great Smokey Mountains, Americana kitsch at Graceland, and great music in Nashville and Memphis. But even if this movie is entirely fictional, I would still steer clear of evil chants in isolated cabins. Yes, I am a chicken.

An American Werewolf in London, 1981 – Northern moors and London, England

Two young American backpackers encounter a werewolf in the northern moors. One dies and the other becomes a werewolf who subsequently terrorizes London during the next full moon.

Alright, werewolves don’t exist. No, no… but if local people keep telling you explicitly to stay on the road and beware of moonlight, by golly don’t wander off in the moors on a full moon!

Go or no go: England is as safe as any other first-world nation, but there really is no reason to be wandering off with a heavy backpack in the moors at night unless you deeply care to spend an unenjoyable night in very arid conditions. Once in London, my guess is you’re more likely to encounter ghosts than werewolves anyways.

>> Check out our England Indie Travel Guide

Blair Witch Project, 1999 – Burkittsville, Maryland, USA

Three film students set out in the Maryland woods to film a documentary about the fabled Blair Witch. Weeks later, only their raw footage is found, detailing their horrific ordeal.

This movie was marketed as being a true event although it was eventually revealed that it was a brilliantly constructed piece of fiction. The movie was filmed in Burkittsville and  the Seneca Creek State Park, which as you may have guessed, is not actually haunted by the Blair Witch.

Go or no go: Sure, bring a camera (and, unlike the characters in the movie, a reliable map or GPS) and let us know how it goes down.

1408, 2007 – New York City, USA

A skeptic travel writer specializing in haunted destinations gets a real taste for the paranormal when he stays in room 1408 at The Dolphin Hotel in NYC.

Although there are certainly claims of haunted hotels in New York, The Dolphin is fictional. Exterior shots are of The Roosevelt hotel and the interior shots were filmed on-set in England.  Thus it is not possible at this time to experience a naughty haunting there, though of course, should you want to visit a supposedly haunted hotel, you’ll find no shortage of options.

Go or no go: Reports of hauntings at hotels range from the mundane (the occasional whisper of a lonely lover) to the seriously creepy (flickering lights and mournful moans). Stay at your own risk…but if you see a little boy running around calling out “redrum,” don’t say we didn’t warn you.

>> Should you add New York to your RTW Trip?

Ever visited the sight of a travel horror story? Do spooky settings make you more, or less, inclined to visit? Read more about spooky travel around the world:

Photos by: Possum 1500, escapo, Stuck in Customs, lode.rummens, maistora, KingArthur10, Michael Dawes, -12°C, 75law, bchia88, Gidzy, Voyageur Solitaire_mladjenovic_n and loungerie

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Older comments on Travel Horror Stories: 13 Places Where Scary Things Happened on Film

Tanmay Sasvadkar
28 October 2010

Awesome post.
I really admire this kind of information.
Thanks for tips and advice.

LisaLu
28 October 2010

I love the one about Hostel. I saw that movie after visiting Bratislava, Slovakia & couldn’t help but laugh at how unrealistic it was!

The best part is that my mom, who’s never been overseas, but knows of our plans to travel, loves making references to this movie & how “unsafe” hostels are!

Gotta laugh. . . thanks for the article!