When Marie Antoinette wanted to escape the confines and pressures of courtly life, she retreated to her quaint Petit Hameau where she and her companions donned their finest peasant frocks and pretended to be poor. A century later, fashionable Londoners took that pauper fantasy to a new extreme — nocturnally touring East London's slums, where they gawked at ladies of the night and coined the phrase "slumming it." The idiosyncratic pastime eventually made its way across the pond and, before long, New York City socialites were hitting the Bowery in search of opium dens and low-brow adventure. Back then, slum tourism was sort of a DIY diversion.
Today, it's an all-inclusive destination vacation. Twenty-first century slum tourism is a far cry from the back alley excursions of yesteryear. For the right price, discerning travelers can experience firsthand how the poorest of the poor live -- without ever having to sacrifice first-world conveniences like WiFi, heated floors, and jacuzzi tubs.
Here are details of seven of our (least) favorite poverty-chic getaways, including what a vacation or tour will set you back, where to book — and just how tasteless these options are.
1. A 5-star South African shantytown
Bloemfontein, South Africa
Lodging From $82 per night
Tastelessness: Very High
Have you ever wanted to steal away to a cozy tin shack in one of South Africa's sprawling shantytowns — only to change your mind over concerns about crime, noise and generally poor infrastructure? Emoya, a luxury hotel in Bloemfontein, may be just what you're looking for: A quaint little shantytown tucked safely away on a game preserve. A mere $82 per night will get you a private shack, made of corrugated tin sheets, so you can experience the charm of living in a post-apartheid shantytown, without ever having to set foot in one. The shantys are child-friendly, and come equipped with heated floors, free WiFi, and spa services.
2. Vacation like a border crosser, in Mexico
Lodging from $105 per night
"Night Walk" Tour $19 per person
In Southern Mexico, an eco-park owned by Hñahñu Indians offers tourists a chance to live out the drama and tension of an illegal border crossing. Called "Night Walk," the strange excursion lasts about four hours and takes groups on an imaginary journey through the desert and across the Rio Grande. A dozen or so Hñahñus act out different roles: fellow migrants in search of work, as well as police on the lookout for border crossers. The park has many other attractions, too — including hot springs, kayaking and camp grounds — but the Night Walk seems to be the biggest draw.
3. In Indonesia, an authentic, bare-bones (and sometimes flooded) getaway
Banana Republic Village
Lodging $10 per night