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Come back alive

Forget Voluntourism. How's this for a stranger (and rather disturbing) trend? Disaster Tourism. Traveling to scenes of man-made or natural disasters to check them out. Granted, we're probably all guilty of some morbid curiosity from time to time (who hasn't slowed down on the freeway to have a glance at a nasty pile-up?). But flying to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or booking a flight to Baghdad, gives a whole new meaning to being a looky-lo.

Disaster TourismAnderson Cooper and get a suntan too. Bus tours of devastated New Orleans or, even more bizarrely, visits to the exclusion zone around Chernobyl (with Geiger counter in hand).

The World's Most Dangerous Places has become an accidental guide book for disaster tourists, a fact which baffles its author Robert Young Pelton (who seems to have become the unofficial spokesperson for the industry). The daredevil writer is also responsible for a website called Come Back Alive which provides all the information you'll need for surviving in the world's less hospitable destinations – including dispatches from the frontlines and comprehensive travel insurance.

Disaster TourismTotalitarian Tourism' for a list of the world's most oppressive regimes (on Lonely Planet's Blue List). 'By getting the news out there,' he says, 'we can begin to differentiate truth from propaganda and look forward to the day when totalitarianism will be a distant memory, not a present day reality.' Perhaps we do need to open our eyes, but even Pelton believes making trips to places like Darfur as a civilian is pretty foolish.

Disaster TourismMount St Helens twice after volcanic eruptions, and as a couple we visited the site of the World Trade Center a few months after 9-11, while in New York. It was hard not to. It did make the catastrophe feel more real. But snapping pictures of other people's misfortunes from the comfort of your bus, or putting your own life at risk to make the Iraq war seem real? That's a little disturbing. RM

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