Afraid of clowns? We suggest you steer clear of Baraboo, Wisconsin. Can't stand bats? Maybe Austin isn't the city for you. In this, our most macabre month, we're taking a look at 10 places known for the kind of spectacles that many people would travel the world to see ... and a few would go to any lengths to avoid. So if you're terrified of darkness, lightning, underground spaces, and other phobic "delights," we suggest you avoid these 10 otherwise lovely destinations around the world.
Fear of Lightning: Catatumbo Delta, Venezuela
The flickering sky triggers an intense physical reaction in people with astraphobia, the fear of lightning and thunder. Hands down, the worst destination for anyone afflicted with this malady is Venezuela's Catatumbo Delta, where a massive storm rages nearly every night over the Catatumbo River. The Catatumbo Lightning can last for up to 10 hours per night, producing an estimated million lightning strikes each year. A number of tour companies run lightning-watching trips to the area, some as part of longer itineraries.
Fear of Clowns: Baraboo, Wisconsin
Clowns: To some, they're a source of constant delight, to others, endless horror. The small town of Baraboo, Wisconsin, should be approached with extreme caution by anyone with coulrophobia, the fear of clowns. In the 19th century, Baraboo earned the name "Circus City" as it was the headquarters of several circuses, including the Ringling Brothers Circus. Today, the town remains home to Circus World, a museum complex featuring the largest library of circus information in the United States.
And while there are plenty of other things to do in Baraboo (including a railway museum and a big-cat rescue center), beware: Circus artifacts are sometimes part of town festivals and parades.
Fear of Heights: Grand Canyon National Park
When you've got a severe fear of heights, the best view is always the one from ground level. And because heights are everywhere when you travel—from the flight itself to fun-for-most activities like coastal cliff walks and skyscraper city views—for acrophobes, panic-inducing moments lurk in the shadows of even the sunniest vacations.
While it's absolutely possible to enjoy the best of the national park system even with a fear of heights, acrophobes should consider skipping the Grand Canyon in general and, specifically, not even think about taking a stroll on the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass walkway suspended 4,000 feet about the canyon floor.
Fear of the Dark: Tromsø, Norway
Nyctophobia, more commonly known as fear of the dark, is so common in childhood that even the most unflappable adult likely remembers a time when nighttime felt scary. Each winter, a nyctophobic nightmare plays out as polar night blankets the far north in constant darkness that stretches for days or weeks. Tromsø in Norway, known as one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights, makes the most of its polar-night season—which stretches from November 21 to January 21—with festivals and cultural events. This period of darkness and twilight may frighten some, but night owls and party people rejoice with an extra-lively nightlife scene in winter.
Fear of Water: Venice, Italy
Aquaphobia, the fear of water, is not an easy affliction to live—or travel—with. Especially not in Venice, Italy, where water is everywhere. You must cross over water to enter the city, and once there, it's nearly impossible to get around without crossing over canals large and small. In this city without cars, water buses and taxis are the primary ways to get around.
Even sitting still, water feels close, lapping up against the stones of the canals and overflowing onto sidewalks and streets during the acqua alta.
Fear of Bats: Austin, Texas
Austin's Congress Avenue Bridge is the ultimate test for recovering chiroptophobes. Few other cities on Earth offer such a dramatic—and to anyone with a fear of bats, utterly alarming—nightly spectacle. Each evening between March and October, crowds gather at dusk to watch as 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats leave their daytime home under the bridge and emerge like a swirling black ribbon up into the sky.
Ready for some serious exposure therapy? Try a kayak tour that puts you under the bridge to watch the show.
Fear of Small Spaces: Budapest, Hungary
Don't know if you're claustrophobic? Here's a test: Imagine wiggling through tight spaces no larger than a sturdy pair of hips in order to get to more small spaces. The visceral aversion to small spaces is among the most common phobias, and for sufferers, even hearing the word "claustrophobia" can make it hard to breathe. Caving, naturally, tends not to be a favorite pastime of the claustrophobe, which is why sufferers should make sure to stay aboveground while in Budapest, Hungary. Under its city streets sits the large Palvolgyi-Matyashegyi cave system.
Urban thrill seekers can don headlamps and helmets and spelunk their way through the subterranean labyrinth. Claustrophobes can stay aboveground and sip coffee. Everyone wins.
Fear of Crabs: Christmas Island, Australia
No one wants to get pinched by a crab while wading in the ocean, but for people with a strong fear of crustaceans, the possibility is enough to ruin a trip to the beach. Even the thought of seeing a crab may be too much to bear, which is why anyone suffering from this fear should never go to Australia's Christmas Island in October or November. It's around this time that the island's massive red crab population makes its annual migration from the rainforest to the coast to breed. Millions of crabs—each up to five inches across—gather together in broad streams, flooding roads and scaling cliffs to reach the ocean.
Fear of Crowds: Megacities of the World
Agoraphobia, enochlophobia, ochlophobia … there are actually a number of different types of phobias focused on the fear of crowds. No matter what you call it, if the mere thought of crowds pressing in all around you sends you into a panicky tailspin, then you'll do well to avoid the world's densest cities.
As of 2013, 28 cities around the world fit the "megacity" criteria of having more than 10 million people. And while some of these massively populated urban areas are spread out, others, like Mumbai, India, have incredibly high population densities, causing them to feel crowded in a way most North Americans have never experienced.
Fear of Sharks: Guadalupe Island, Mexico
Whether Jaws is to blame or there's a more primal survival instinct that triggers the extreme fear of sharks, there's no doubt that galeophobia can seriously compromise beach vacations, ocean sunsets, and three-hour cruises. And unless it's an act of extreme exposure therapy, the shark-averse should not visit Mexico's Guadalupe Island. Its waters are famed for great white sharks and attract cage divers, photographers, and shark nuts from around the world.