You’ve watched different movies and television shows, but swear you recognize their filming location and really want to visit it in person because you are such a huge fan. If you love the idea of traveling to locations featured in popular literature, film, and television, you likely have pop-culture travel on the brain.
So, what is pop-culture travel?
It’s all about experiencing travel that is inspired by pop-culture and popular entertainment, like literature, films, television shows, music, games and more.
Pop-culture travel is a bit of a phenomenon where the destination’s popularity is influenced by mass media and, in particular, suggestions from and emotional connections to pop-culture. Whether you’re exploring Hobbiton in New Zealand or searching for the Icelandic waterfall that was filmed in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, pop-culture travel allows you to explore a destination that you already have such strong connections to, even though you’ve never been.
It’s not just about loving a certain book or movie and then making a trip to explore a fictional place, either. Yes, pop-culture travel does center around mass media consumption, but it’s also about having a deeper connection and meaning to that place. Some consider it akin to a pilgrimage. This means the desire to visit a destination can be fictional or fantasy based, but it can also be reality driven, such as true crime destinations.
Keep in mind, though, pop-culture travel can lend itself to some negative stereotypes where individuals, but especially locals, deem it more “mass tourism” which is often synonymous with overcrowding and the rejection of the local and authentic for the more global and fabricated. It’s important to understand that while this destination has a significance to you for a specific pop-culture reason, it also has significance to the local community for entirely different reasons. It’s their home. Additionally, while pop-culture tourism can lead to job creation and economic stimulation, that same boost of interest will greatly depend on keeping a consistent or growing fanbase for the pop-culture content.
Why is it a growing industry?
Some analysts posit that mainstream fandom really became a more globally recognized part of culture in the 2010s. Of course some say it was prevalent far earlier than that and point to the fans of The Beatles and other musicians. Regardless of when you think fandom really hit the mass market, it’s hard to deny the power of fandom in just about every aspect of our lives, from social justice to politics to, of course, tourism. With fandom growing in popularity, and tourism growing in popularity, it makes sense that you’d see an increase in pop-culture travel.
Today’s fans see pop-culture travel as an opportunity to not only immerse themselves into their fandoms, whether fictional or nonfiction, but also create real world connections with other fans by bringing fandom into a more real world context. By exploring these destinations that already have deeply rooted connections because of the pop-culture content, they can continue to affirm their fandom by traveling and sharing.
There is also this aspect of “convergence culture” that makes pop-culture tourism so attractive for the many fans around the world. This idea that you are working in tandem with creators of content to almost co-create within pop-culture since you can create your own content while visiting these popularised destinations. Fandoms are becoming an increasingly important part of the world, but especially the social world, since they are one of the primary ways people are creating connections in the digital sphere.
All that being said, pop-culture travel can feel quite a bit overwhelming since there are often many options of locales to visit, as well as tours that may or may not be worth the time and money, especially to a beginner, so let’s chat basics.
Determine Your Budget
I always start any trip by determining my budget. Like most travel, you really can spend as much or as little as you want. It will all depend on where you want to visit and how you want to experience these pop-culture destinations. For instance, if staying at a 5-star hotel is part of your experience, that’s going to up the budget. If a specific attraction is on your must see list, but you can only see it by joining a tour, that’s going to up your budget.
If your pop-culture tourism is more nature-based locales, like Game of Thrones filming locations around Iceland, you can save money by picking more economical accommodations and transportation, as well, which can make the trip more affordable.
Choose Your Destination
Now that you have an idea of how much you can spend, you need to determine where you want to spend it! If you have a bucket list this is where you comb through it and decide which bucket list item fits your current adventure goals.
Ask yourself a few questions:
- When can you travel?
- Why are you traveling?
- Which destinations are “need to see” and which destinations are “like to see”?
- Does time of year (think seasonal) impact the destination and how it looks or how much you want to visit?
- How active do you want this trip to be?
- Indoors or outdoors?
Once you determine the answers to the above questions, it’ll become easier to narrow down your options. You know your fandoms and the areas of pop-culture that are the most meaningful to you. The above answers really set the stage for what you should consider your non-negotiables. What aspects of this trip are “make or break”? For instance, if you don’t want to spend a tremendous amount of time outdoors or dealing in a more “adventure travel” kind of vacation, heading to New Zealand to tour Lord of the Rings filming locations might not be for you. Many of them are outdoors and require a significant amount of walking and exploring. Perhaps Home Alone 2 is your favorite movie and you want to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. Well, that really limits the time frame you have to travel to New York.
Planning Your Activities
Figuring out where you’re going on this pop-culture pilgrimage will make this next part a lot easier, but not necessarily a breeze. Fandom-based travel can be really exciting since you have a great emotional connection to the locale already. That being said, you now have to determine all the significant locations you want to visit, as well as how you want to visit them. Are you wanting to join a tour? Is solo or self-guided more your speed? What if the locations you want to see are fairly spread apart? Are you good with road-tripping your way across the country? So many exciting questions but that all means that you have an amazing experience ahead of you.
Put together a list of as many significant locations as you can and then map them all out. That will help you group them and determine how many you can realistically see based on how long you want this trip to last. Or, if you’re like me, how long I need my trip to be so I can do absolutely everything I want to do.
Pick Your Accommodations
Accommodations can be the trickier part of pop-culture travel. It really depends on the destination and attractions. If you’ve grouped your attractions, you’ll have a better idea of where you need to look for accommodations. That is, of course, if accommodations are flexible. If staying at a specific place is part of the experience for you, this section can probably be skipped.
If your locales are spread across the state or country, like Jurassic Park all across Hawaii, it’s going to be more pragmatic to divide your trip into sections of the map and change accommodations accordingly.
Plan Your Outfits
Ok, listen, you are traveling because you love pop-culture. You are such a big fan of something that you have dedicated your hard earned dollars toward exploring and experiencing your fandom. If it makes sense to dress up and take photos while you’re there, you totally should.
I recommend planning outfits based on specific locations so you can deal with it all fairly stress-free while on vacation.
Be Respectful of the Locals
This one is obvious, but I’m including it just in case. Be mindful of the local community and make sure to respect them and their home. Yes, you are visiting a destination because of your love of how it was represented in popular culture. Keep in mind that someone likely calls this place home.
Research local customs, be mindful of local laws, and obey any and all posted signs. Special interest tourism can have ups and downs. Often, one downside is an influx of tourists who don’t really understand the local community they are visiting. Be a better tourist than that. Your fandom deserves it.