Travel is designed to take you out of your comfort zone and introduce you to new places, people and experiences. While this trip outside your daily life is a coveted part of any vacation, it can also be unnerving or downright anxiety-inducing. To help ease the strain of travel, many voyagers have turned to superstitions designed to help them arrive safely at their destination and ensure the trip goes smoothly. From lucky charms, to when you should leave, to choosing the right flight number, these superstitions run the gamut, leaving nothing to chance. Before you plan your next vacation, check out these 10 travel tales to discover some that might help ease your travel fears.
10: Lucky Charms
Any lucky charm can bring good fortune when you're on the road, but a St. Christopher medal is traditionally associated with lucky travels [source: Webster]. Once viewed as a martyr who carried the Christ child across the river on his back, St. Christopher was known as the Patron Saint of Travelers. Unfortunately, his status was downgraded in the early 70s, as many of the stories associated with Christopher were likely rooted more in legend than in fact. Despite his lack of status with the church, the St. Christopher medal remains one of the most popular charms for travelers and may be worn around the neck or simply carried in the pocket for luck.
9: Starting Out
When planning your journey, superstition dictates that you should choose your dates carefully. It's considered bad luck to start your journey on a Friday, which could be blamed on the fact that the crucifixion of Jesus took place on a Friday, according to Christian lore. The only thing worse than a regular Friday would be starting a journey on Friday the 13th; expect bad luck and a troubled trip if you start out on this day. Looking to get your trip started right? Set out on a Sunday, which is considered a lucky day to start a vacation, likely due to its link to Jesus's resurrection [source: Webster].
8: Look Ahead
When you set out on your journey, you'll bring bad luck to your voyage if you look back toward home after starting out. It's also considered a really bad idea to head back home for any reason, including to pick up something you may have forgotten. Play it safe, and just replace the forgotten item when you reach your destination. Better yet, make a detailed packing list to avoid forgetting anything in the first place.
If you're saying goodbye to someone about to leave on a journey, get those goodbyes over with quickly; it's considered bad luck if both of you wave goodbye and then you proceed to stand there and continue to watch the departed traveler until he or she is out of site [source: Webster].
7: Number 13
The number 13 finds its way into all kinds of travel superstitions, just as it plays a role in so many other superstitions in everyday life. It's allegedly bad luck to stay on the 13th floor of a hotel or building. This should be easy to avoid, as so many hotels simply skip the 13th floor, preferring to go right from level 12 to 14. When renting a car, take a minute for a bit of mental math, as it's bad luck if the numbers in the license plate add up to 13 [source: Webster]. At the airport, avoid gates or seats that include this fatal number. Once again, just like hotels, airports make this easy to do by largely skipping the number 13 when assigning gate or seat numbers. If you're heading overseas, keep in mind that other countries have their own version of the unlucky 13 legends. In Asia, the number four is connected to death and bad luck, while Italians fear the number 17 and its own connection to death in their culture [source: Rambow].
6: Airport Safety
Travelers have all kinds of superstitions designed to get them safely through airports and ensure they survive the flight. This may range from kissing the ground when they land to stepping onto the plane with the same foot each time. Turns out, some airports have their own bizarre superstition for avoiding accidents. When construction crews finished the new control tower at the airport in Austin, Texas, in 1996, they added an evergreen tree to the very top of the tower. This custom of placing a tree on the top of a building originates in Scandinavia, where it's said that placing a cedar tree on top of a building brings luck [source: McCartney].
More Superstitions About Travel
5: Travel Cues
Rather than bring luck to your journey or ensure you make it home safely, some travel superstitions are designed to let you know that future travels are coming. Itchy feet are a sign that you will take a trip — this superstition being so well-known that the phrase "itchy feet" brings to mind a sense of wanderlust these days. Some more dated customs state that finding a ravel on your dress or spotting a spider running down its web are hints that travel is in your future. Wondering where you'll go? Another superstition suggests that listening to the cry of a dove will offer clues. According to legend, the direction of the call of the first spring dove tells you which direction you will travel [source: Carroll].
4: Baggage Claims
Eager to hit the road? Grab the nearest empty suitcase, bag or carry-on and run around the block with it on New Year's Day [source: Capo]. If superstition holds, you'll soon find yourself on a journey. Before you leave, celebrate an old Russian custom to bring a bit of luck to your trip: Pack your bags, and take a seat on your suitcase. Have friends and family gather round for a moment of quiet reflection and goodbyes [source: Lundmark]. Finally, no matter what you do, never put wet clothes in your suitcase, as it's considered bad luck [source: Thomas and Thomas]. Hang that swimsuit up to dry, or carry it separately just in case.
3: Superstition at Sea
Traveling by boat comes with a whole host of superstitions all its own. While it's common knowledge that riding aboard an unnamed boat brings terrible luck, the name of the boat itself matters too. It's bad luck to board a boat whose name ends in the letter "A," which is likely due to the demise of both the Brittania and the Lusitania during World War II. It's also a bad idea to travel on a ship that has had a name change. Just ask Ernest Shackleton, who changed the name of his vessel from Aurora to Endurance right before setting off on what would become a disastrous expedition to Antarctica in 1914 [source: Hanauer].
2: Lucky Destinations
Of course, the whole point of travel is to enjoy your destination, and some spots come with their own long-standing superstitions. When you're in Rome, throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain ensures you will one day return to the city. Visitors to Ireland can win the gift of gab by planting a kiss on the Blarney Stone in County Cork's Castle Blarney. Even destinations in the United States have their legends: If you find yourself in Springfield, Illinois, head to the birthplace of former president Lincoln. Rub the nose on the bronze bust above his tomb, and you're guaranteed to have a lucky day [source: Travel Maestro].
1: Doomed Numbers
Beyond unlucky 13, certain numbers are unlucky solely because of their relationship to travel disasters. Many airlines refuse to incorporate the numbers 666 or 911 into flight numbers due to the negative connotations associated with these numbers. In addition, many airlines retire the numbers of crashed flights to ease fears of superstitious passengers — and also as a sign of respect for those lost. After flight 261 crashed in 2000, Alaska Airlines retired this particular flight number. U.S. Airways retired 1549, the number used to identify Captain Chesley Sullenberger's miracle landing on the Hudson, while most airlines avoid 191 after both Delta and American lost flights with this number. Finally, all flight numbers lost on September 11th have been retired by most major airlines [source: McCartney].
What superstitions existed in the past about solar eclipses? Do any persist today? Learn about eclipse superstitions in this HowStuffWorks article.
Author's Note: 10 Superstitions About Travel
With the vast majority of high rises and hotels skipping right over the unlucky 13th floor, it can catch you off guard to find a hotel that doesn't follow this long-running superstition. Several of the big casino resorts in Las Vegas, including the Las Vegas Hilton, have bypassed the tradition of skipping right from 12 to 14, electing to include a 13th floor in spite of superstitions about this unlucky number. What I found interesting was reading what firefighters think when hotels include a 13th floor. Turns out, that 13th floor might actually be pretty unlucky if a fire breaks out; firefighters are so used to hotels without a 13th story that finding one that breaks with tradition could actually be confusing during an emergency. Intriguing how a seemingly baseless superstition might actually come to life in this kind of situation.
- Capo, Ava Laboy. "Traditions/Superstitions From Around the World!" AuthorHouse. 2013. (Jan. 5, 2015) https://books.google.com/books?id=fHxTAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA37&dq=travel+superstitions&hl=en&sa=X&ei=vdCtVPDEOIihNvrsgpgI&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAzgK#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Carroll, William. "Superstitions: 10,000 You Really Need." Coda Publications. 1998. (Jan. 5, 2015) https://books.google.com/books?id=PEXXs6swmPwC&pg=PP10&dq=travel+superstitions&hl=en&sa=X&ei=vdCtVPDEOIihNvrsgpgI&ved=0CBwQ6AEwADgK#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Hanauer, Eric. "Seafaring Superstitions." Dive Training. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://web.archive.org/web/20150219024110/http://www.dtmag.com/Stories/Weird%20Stuff/08-06-feature.htm
- Lundmark, Torbjorn. "Tales of Hi and Bye." Cambridge University Press. 2009. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://ebooks.cambridge.org/chapter.jsf?bid=CBO9780511657450&cid=CBO9780511657450A024
- McCartney, Scott. "How to Make Airports Safer? Try Putting Trees on the Tower." The Wall Street Journal. Aug. 5, 1996. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB839196653218485500
- McCartney, Scott. "The Oddest Airline Superstitions." The Wall Street Journal. Oct. 2, 2013. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304176904579111350872569482
- Rambow, John. "Curses! Superstitions Around the World." NBC News. Nov. 13, 2009. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://www.nbcnews.com/id/33792757/ns/travel-travel_tips/t/curses-superstitions-around-world/#.VK8ZQCvF9Bh
- Thomas, Daniel Lindsey and Lucy Blayney Thomas. "Kentucky Superstitions." Princeton University Press. 1920. (Jan. 5, 2015) https://books.google.com/books?id=6GbYAAAAMAAJ&dq=birthday+superstitions&q=wet+clothes#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Travel Maestro. "Travel Superstitions -- 10 Famous Landmarks That Bring Visitors Luck and Love." Covington Travel. Aug. 5, 2014. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://www.covingtontravel.com/2014/08/travel-superstitions-10-famous-landmarks-that-bring-visitors-luck-and-love/
- Webster, Richard. "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions." Llewellyn Publications. 2008.