13 Travel Horror Stories and Where They Took Place

The film industry has unrelentingly produced travel-inspired horror movies. Any trip to your local video store should secure a slew of movies detailing intrepid souls being lured into shady situations or adventurous protagonists (hopefully) surviving any traveler’s worst nightmare.

So why does traveling keep inspiring dramatic and sometimes plainly horrific movies? Seemingly, the lack of comfort zone and the isolation that comes with being so far away from home plays a grand role. Combine that with a tangible unknown and bad decisions and voilà! You’ve got a perfect recipe for a scream fest!

Thus presenting, in no particular order, 13 movies with credible versus highly improbable scenarios. Here’s to taking a stab at demystifying the lure portrayed in some key flicks that have instilled fear in even the most rugged globetrotters. Some are loosely based on fact, while others are pure fiction. Should these flicks instill fear of a certain location, or inspire to you set off in search of adventure? Let’s take a look.

Deliverance, 1972 – Georgia, USA

Four city slickers set out on a weekend of canoeing and camping when they are cornered, hunted, and even sexually assaulted, by hillbillies. It doesn’t help either that they have serious issues in the rapids.

Granted, this representation of hillbillies on a mission is a bit scary. But hurray, the Cahulawassee River and town of Aintry are fictional; there is no such place crawling with spooky peeps in the Northern Georgian wilderness. To be noted, the protagonists did feel the need to assert their superiority in their presence, which is a travel faux-pas. Lesson learned: if you don’t mock the locals or draw negative attention to yourself, you’re less likely to set some madness on yourself.

Go or no go: The lesson to retain is to refrain from condescending. That being said, nature is nature, so if you’re setting off to venture in beautiful but remote locations, make sure you know what you’re doing. We don’t want you drowning.

>> 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 sound frightening. The plot is apparently rooted in the gruesome Scottish legend of Sawney Bean, head of an incestuous, cannibalistic clan that spent decades petrifying the good old folks of the 15th century. Luckily both appear to be figments of the imagination.

Go or no go: The desert of Nevada is a paradise of outdoor adventurers who come to hike, bike, and mountain climb – and do so without ever encountering creepy cannibals craving human flesh. Be more wary of getting stranded in the desert, where severe temps, wild animals, and dehydration are more likely than being tormented by cannibals. That does not seem like a cool story to tell and it will probably not impress the folks back home.

>> 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 all 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 are a by-product of our imagination. It made for a scary flick though – well done writers! Getting lost underground due to erroneous map? Cannibalism derived from being stuck in caves? Sounds fairly plausible. Not appetizing, but it wouldn’t be the first time we hear of cannibalism born out of desperate situations. Alive, anyone?

Go or no go: Go prepared. Debutantes should refrain from what only highly skilled people should do. Nature is beautiful under all angles, even underground, but it is an unpredictable terrain, and when combined with a physical activity that requires both training and equipment, an unprepared soul can end up in less than desirable situations.

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 spun off from Robert Bloch’s novel which was in turn 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 a novel that worked off the notion that a monster could always potentially be your next-door neighbor. Traveling or not, Hitchcock has prompted us to forever lock our bathroom doors when we shower.

Go or no go: You will only find the Bates Motel at Universal Studios, which in some circles is worth a visit. The motel is fictional; most of the filming was done on a set and inspired by events that occurred on the other side of the country. Bring a door stopper that you can slip under your door for added security if staying in a shady accommodation, whether planned or not.

>> Discover some great American road trips

Midnight Express, 1978 – Istanbul, Turkey

An American student trying 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 real – Billy Hayes recounted his ordeal in the book of the same title. In spite of the factual nature of his story, the aspect that stands out is the apologies that were bestowed to Turkey for the movie’s degrading portrayal of the Turks. Oliver Stone, who turned the book into the screenplay, has apologized along with Hayes. Visit Turkey to get a proper lowdown on the country’s people.

Go or no go: The real Turkey is a far cry from the one 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. So the franchising is slightly excessive, but the good news is that the movies are purely fictional. Yes, all of it is the work of some supremely creative folks. Well, “supremely” may be a strong word, but to be able to recycle the same plot line into tons of movies, TV shows, books, etc., you need to have an active imagination.

Go or no go: Blairstown is a small rural township. Go nuts. As for taking your chances at summer camp – odds are slim that a mass-murdering psycho is out seeking revenge on the counselors so gather round the campfire with no worries.

>> 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 13 Travel Horror Stories and Where They Took Place

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!