July 15, 2024

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Horror Tour Guide Brittany Petronella Shares Her Best Scary Travel Tips

6 min read
horror tourism trend woman sitting in front of black househorror tourism trend woman sitting in front of black house
Photo courtesy of Brittany Petronella
Photo courtesy of Brittany Petronella

There is a particularly intense kind of shiver that finds its way down your spine when, at the beginning of a horror movie, an overtext appears informing the audience that the story is based on real events, places, and people. Suddenly, it feels tangible—and scarier, as if those unlucky victims on the screen could, in another life, be you.

But these warnings can also make the movie more enticing, and thrilling. Instead of being almost instantly relegated to a crammed closet of your memory, movies based on real events have a tendency to live on in your mind, and more often than not, you find yourself researching the real-life locations and histories behind the film as soon as the final credits start running.

For some people, that journey doesn’t stop with a Google search. They plan a trip, and visit the scary spots. One of them is Brittany Petronella, 30, who is well known on TikTok for her digital tours of some of the the most iconic (and most haunted) corners of the globe, from bone-chilling cemeteries to the actual house on which the 2013 hit movie The Conjuring was based.

Running her TikTok account, which is known as @ghoulplease_, isn’t Petronella’s nine-to-five. It’s her five-to-nine, if anything. During working hours, Petronella is a photo editor for the New York City Tourism and Conventions Bureau, while she dedicates the rest of her time to her content creation. “I would say nine to five, I’m a photo editor,” Petronella told Thrillist. “And then every other hour of my life, I’m spooky.”

Brittany Petronella horror tourism posing with skullBrittany Petronella horror tourism posing with skull
Photo courtesy of Brittany Petronella

Fans of horror and the paranormal are increasingly traveling to dive deeper into their passions for all things macabre, Petronella says. It wasn’t long after she launched her TikTok account in the end of 2020 that her videos began to pick up steam on the platform. It’s been a steady climb ever since. Now, Petronella boasts almost one million followers and tens of millions of likes on her posts. Some videos, including one bringing viewers along on a tour of the Haunted Castle, have reached more than seven million views.

To learn more about horror travel and what it takes to plan a scary trip of your own, we recently spoke with Petronella. You can rest assured—no jump scares ahead!

Thrillist: How did you first get into this interest, and when did you start taking these types of trips?
Brittany Petronella: I was let go from my full-time job in the tourism industry due to the pandemic, so I had a lot of free time on my hands. I really just needed an escape because I was feeling overwhelmed and kind of lost. So I booked my first trip to Salem, Massachusetts in September 2020, and the minute I stepped foot on their cobblestone streets, something clicked and I knew that’s how I wanted to live my life. When my trip was over, I didn’t really want that excitement to end. I ended up creating a second Instagram and TikTok account, and then around December, it kind of blew up.

And after Salem you started taking these kinds of trips more and more. What is the best trip related to this interest you’ve been on?
It’s hard to pick one.I would say outside of Salem, one that sticks out is definitely New Orleans. I feel like that city definitely doesn’t have a shortage of spooky things. There’s just something different about its cemeteries. It also has a really cool pharmacy museum that’s haunted, as well as this one haunted restaurant called Muriel’s.

What made that trip to New Orleans so memorable?
I’d never been there before, and it felt like wherever you’d go, there were haunted attractions. It just didn’t feel like there was a shortage of things.

Brittany Petronella horror tourism lizzie borden houseBrittany Petronella horror tourism lizzie borden house
Inside the Conjuring House | Photo courtesy of Brittany Petronella

What is a place that you visited where you actually felt a haunted presence?
About two years ago, I took a trip to the real Conjuring House in Rhode Island.

Oh wow. The one that the horror movie The Conjuring was based on?
Yeah. I was with my boyfriend and one of my good friends, Courtney, and I feel like in general, before staying overnight at a haunted location, I’ll get jitters, but then they kind of just go away once I get there.

But at the Conjuring House, they didn’t go away. And it’s hard to explain. I felt like we weren’t alone. We wanted to communicate with the spirits at the house and we were using a Ouija board, but it wasn’t really working out. We were trying to connect with spirits, and all of a sudden we heard this really loud bang from the other side of the room. It sounded like a kid ran into the wall.

Oh God.
All three of us all looked in that direction. We were just so startled. My friend Courtney, which I appreciate, was like, “it could have been the wind.” It totally could have been. The house is super old, so it could have been. It’s drafty, but…

So how does it work? Can you just rent it and be there for the night by yourself?
I think there’s different ownership now, but when I visited [two years ago] we paid for the night and there wasn’t anyone else there staying with us.

What are some upcoming trips you’re excited about? What are your bucket list trips?
Right now I’m in the “where do I go next” mode. I go on a trip every September and October, and I’m thinking maybe Georgia. I’ve never been there, and I feel like I hear that Savannah has some haunted history.

If you could pick anywhere in the world to visit for your scary travels, where would you go?
I have a spooky bucket list. Definitely the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. It’s the setting for Stephen King’s The Shining.

What advice would you have for other travelers interested in this type of travel but just getting started?
The most important thing in all aspects is to be respectful, especially at cemeteries. They all have their own set of rules, so be mindful of what you can and can’t do when visiting. Some cemeteries don’t allow you to leave any offerings on the gravestones, but if they do, I always try to leave something if I’m visiting a specific grave. And there’s other people that are at cemeteries, and maybe they’re mourning someone—so you want to be respectful in all aspects.

It’s also good to have a healthy amount of skepticism. When you’re at a haunted house, don’t just immediately jump like, “oh, it’s haunted.” Things might happen. I was at the Lizzie Borden House last year, and the light in one of the rooms was flickering. It’s so natural to think that it’s something of the paranormal, but it’s important to think about these things before jumping to conclusions. Maybe the light bulb was just dying, or maybe there was an electrical issue.

Is there any particular gear travelers would need?
I would say a REM pod, a basic radio, a flashlight, and a recorder to record your surroundings.

What do you say to people who don’t understand why you would travel for this? What don’t they get?
I don’t know—I would say that’s OK if they don’t understand.

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Serena Tara is a Staff Writer at Thrillist reporting on travel as well as space- and astronomy-related news and trends. With more than five years of experience in digital journalism, she has written and reported on a wide variety of topics, from news and politics to culture, fashion, and lifestyle. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Marie Claire, New York Magazine’s Bedford+Bowery, among other outlets. She holds a master’s degree in Digital Journalism from NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


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