We all have our little quirks and preferences when it comes to travel.
Whether it’s needing an aisle seat when flying or having a certain packing ritual, there are many things we do to feel secure when we’re not on our home turf.
Since the beginning of time, it’s been human nature to give ourselves a little bit of help with feeling safe on our journeys.
But there are some strange superstitions which travelers have adopted – some being centuries-old – and they will not travel without keeping in mind.
Are you one of them?
In the words of the great Stevie Wonder, “When you believe in things that you don’t understand…Then you suffer… Superstition ain’t the way.” (You’ll have that stuck in your head now. You’re welcome.)
We’ll bet you’ve heard of many of these superstitions and, whether you believe in them or not, you’re probably not going to tempt fate now if you can help it.
Let the preparations begin!
There’s nothing quite like the anticipation and excitement of an upcoming trip.
Even when you must travel on business, it’s often nice to get away for a few days and see new sights and meet new people.
Many cultures believe that the packing and preparations involved are just as important as the journey and destination.
In the U.S., many of us write lists and pack several days ahead of time. We let others know we are leaving, ask them to get the mail, or look after our pets.
Many people like to straighten up the house, check appliances, and make sure everything is in order so they don’t have to worry about it when they return. After all, there’s nothing worse than coming home to a pile of dirty laundry, plus all the stuff you’ll have to wash from your trip.
But in some cultures, these habits of organization and preparedness are considered potentially deadly.
In the folklore of many countries, doing too much to get your affairs in order before a trip may mean you’re not supposed to come back!
Cleaning the entire house is associated with preparing for your departure, but in these countries, it means your eternal departure.
In Bulgaria, it is thought that sweeping the floors before traveling will thwart the homeowner’s safe return.
In Senegal and several Eastern nations, travelers won’t tell anyone their plans ahead of time in case evil spirits are listening and may want to disrupt their trip in the worst possible way.
And in Russia, two very important superstitions are performed before leaving for a journey.
First, one must sit on top of their luggage for a few minutes before heading out the door. This is believed to ensure your safety and even bring you good luck on your trip.
Second, they get the goodbyes over quickly. Russians are among those who believe that if the process of hugs, kisses, or handshakes becomes too lengthy, the person leaving might not be meant to return.
And never look back once you’ve turned away! No, you won’t turn into a pillar of salt, but Russians believe that doing so means a final—final as in death—goodbye.
Also in many cultures, going back home for any reason after you’ve already left for your trip is bad luck for sure.
That’s a bit worrisome since many of us Americans are always so busy and rushing through life, we tend to forget things.
Did I set the alarm? Did I turn off the coffee pot? Did I bring my hairdryer?
Call me crazy, but if I realized I left the iron or the stove on, I’m going back. Same for the hairdryer – there are some things we’d rather be caught dead than do without!
It’s a numbers game.
There’s something about the number 13 that makes us all uncomfortable.
We may have never had a bad experience regarding this number. After all, it is just a numerical symbol, right?
No one knows exactly why the number 13 has been given a bad rap throughout history, but some believe it was because Judas was the 13th disciple to arrive at the Last Supper. Others say Loki was the 13th member to arrive at a dinner in Valhalla, which was thought to be the first introduction of evil in the world.
Some believe it may have to do with lunar calendars or terrible events that occurred on that day of the month. Whatever the reason, 13 is not a popular number with travelers in the United States.
Many refuse to travel on the 13th of any month, and especially the dreaded Friday the 13th.
Even rooms or cabins with the number 13 are mysteriously absent from hotels, resorts, and cruise ships. Airplanes may be missing ‘Row 13,’ and if they do have them, no one picks those seats by choice.
High-rise hotels sometimes “skip” the 13th floor altogether, with elevators missing buttons between 12 and 14. Of course, you know there’s gotta be an actual thirteenth floor there somewhere. That’s just basic math.
Friday the 13th is the day most avoided for traveling. In fact, it is estimated that the U.S. economy takes a loss of almost a billion dollars every Friday the 13th due to canceled meetings, lack of travel, and even lower trades on the stock market.
Traveling on a Friday, in general, has been avoided throughout history as well. It is said that both Napoleon and U.S. Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to travel or sign important documents on Fridays, and none would host dinner parties with 13 guests.
In fact, in Paris, wealthy hosts will hire a professional to take the 14th seat at a dinner party, thus making all guests feel comfortable. Wait…. getting paid to be a real-life lucky charm and you get a good meal? Sign me up!
Now, if you’re looking for a cheap flight or you’re on a tight budget, then for obvious reasons, Friday the 13th is your go-to date.
Of course, there is no real evidence that bad things happen to travelers who encounter the number 13 during their journey—but, maybe that’s because everyone goes out of their way to avoid it.
Except when it comes to a “baker’s dozen.” It appears that in the battle between fear and pastries, pastries win every time. I think I’m fine with that.
Americans aren’t the only scaredy-cats…
Other nations have the same little quirks when it comes to certain numbers too.
In Italy, the number 17 is considered bad luck because its Roman numeral can be rearranged to spell out “I have lived” – notice the past-tense. Strange that someone thought so hard about that one, but the superstition “lives on” to this day.
A similar superstition is attached to the number 4 in China. The Cantonese word for the number is remarkably close to their word for “death.”
In Afghanistan, the number 39 is associated with prostitution and places of ill-repute. Therefore, no one in Afghanistan wants anything to do with the number – during travel or otherwise.
You’re not likely to find anyone with a ‘39’ in their phone number, address, or other identifying number. And if they get a 39 in the draw, you bet they’re going to change it.
This also means that they may be the only culture in the world where turning 40 is actually a good thing. In fact, if you are 39 in Afghanistan, the appropriate way to say your age is, “I am one less than 40.”
And in Russia, never, ever bring that special someone a dozen flowers. Odd-numbered stems and bouquets are the name of the game here, as Russians believe death will fall over their household otherwise – a dozen roses are reserved for funerals only.
Food and fear go hand in hand.
There are definitely some other superstitions you need to know if you’re traveling to another country. Especially since you’re going to have to eat at some point while you’re there.
For example, there is a great deal of superstition surrounding chopsticks in the Far East.
In China, it is considered disrespectful to leave your chopsticks crossed on your plate after eating. This resembles the crossing of incense sticks that are burned for the dead – and it is considered a very bad omen to the host if a guest does this.
Same with Japan – never leave your chopsticks standing upright in your bowl of rice. This sight is a frightening symbol of death and funerals to Japanese hosts.
Family members also use chopsticks to pass around the bones of the dead in Japan. We’re not going to go there, but it’s safe to say, never pass food from your chopsticks to those of another. Shame on you!
You’ve probably heard that spilling the salt at dinner is also bad luck, and this is the case in many countries.
Several cultures are so afraid of this occurring that proper manners dictate never handing someone a salt shaker at dinner. If you hand it to them and it drops, you will be at fault for their bad luck. That’s not a good way to start a meal when visiting someone abroad.
And don’t forget, if you do happen to spill salt in front of someone, make sure to throw some over your shoulder to ward off the evil spirits.
This is a bit contradictory, however. It’s thought that the fear of spilling salt was because of its high value back in ancient times, so throwing it over your shoulder just seems a bit wasteful nowadays.
Better to be safe than sorry.
So now you know what to avoid in your travels, but there are also superstitions you’ll want to follow that bring good karma or increase the likelihood of a safe return.
Almost every culture around the globe believes in carrying a good luck charm, especially for safe travels.
From coins, to tokens, to rabbits’ feet, these traditions go back thousands of years. (Except the more recent idea of wearing lucky socks that you never wash. I don’t really want to be sitting next to you on the plane if that’s your thing.)
Perhaps the most well-known and practiced of these in western cultures is carrying a medal of St. Christopher, the Patron Saint of Travelers.
St. Christopher was said to have safely carried the Christ Child on his back across a raging river and became associated with safety on one’s journey thereafter.
Although the Church officially “downgraded” St. Christopher’s status in the 1970s after concrete proof of his miracles was disputed, he remains a faithful friend in times of travel and millions still carry his medal on their trips and even in their cars.
If you forget your good luck charm at home (and remember, you’re never supposed to go back for a forgotten item!), there are always opportunities to find good luck while on your travels.
From famous to infamous and everything in between, human beings have long visited “lucky” places throughout their journey.
So when in Rome… Well, visit the Trevi Fountain for a bit of good luck. Just like Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, throw a coin over your left shoulder with your right hand and your safe return to Rome someday will be assured.
If you’re on the Emerald Isle, don’t miss a trip to Blarney Castle and kiss the infamous Blarney Stone. It is said to bring good luck, especially by giving you the gift of wit and eloquence.
A trip to the magnificent Hagia Sophia in Turkey may cure all your ills. It is said that there is a weeping column made of marble and bronze. If you see water dripping from the circular part in the bronze, stick in your thumb and turn it to the right, you’ll be cured of anything that ails you.
Statues have also long since been thought to bring luck to visitors, and there’s no shortage of them around the world.
One such example is of President Abraham Lincoln, who lays buried in an elaborate tomb in Springfield, Illinois. The tomb is decorated with a bronze bust of the late President, and rubbing his nose is supposed to bring good luck.
Whether you avoid certain things that may cause you distress—or worse—during your trip, have a good luck charm, or visit a “lucky” destination for a little extra good fortune, you’re not alone.
Human beings have been doing what they can to ensure themselves a safe journey for thousands of years by upholding superstitions and passing them on to the next generation.
Because no matter how much we may love to travel, there’s nothing like returning safely home at the end of a long trip.
But, please, wash those socks when you get back.