The World’s Most Common Travel Superstitions

14 May
Travel Superstitions

Travel Superstitions

If you spend your days avoiding ladders and refuse to fly without your lucky charm, you’ll be glad to know you’re not alone. The world is full of superstitions, from age-old omens passed down through the generations to quirky good luck rituals, and even hotels and airlines take heed of the unwritten rules. Here are some of the world’s most common travel superstitions to take into account on your trips. Ignore them at your own risk!

Unlucky 13

Possibly one of the most universally known superstitions, the number 13 is so dreaded it even has a medical name – Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. There are several theories as to why 13 is so feared, but the most common is steeped in religious history – 13 people sat with Jesus at the Last Supper and the 13th to take his place at the table was Judas, who would later betray Jesus. Anxiety over the ill-fated number means that many high-rise hotels have not only missed out rooms 13 and 1313, but floor 13 as well as, believing that no-one would want to tempt fate by taking a room on the floor. It’s not only hotels that are superstitious – Cathy Pacific, Continental Airlines, Air France and KLM flights have no row 13 and some airports, including Seoul’s Inchon Airport, have skipped gate 13. Many hotels miss out room 666 too, but we probably don’t need to explain that one!

Don’t travel on a Friday

Traveling on a Friday-Travel Superstitions

Traveling on a Friday-Travel Superstitions

It’s a common belief among sailors that setting sail on a Friday is bad luck (after all, Lord Byron set sail for Greece on a Friday and subsequently died) but many countries in the West extend this to all travel on a Friday. The superstition stems from the legend that Christ was crucified on a Friday, but it’s Friday the 13th that is most abhorred, a formidable combination of the two dreaded dates. As a result, the airline industry claims a notable decrease in flight traffic on the 13th of the month, especially on Friday the 13th, and many famous figures, including Napoleon and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, refused to travel or sign important documents on the day. Of course, it depends where you are in the world – in Cambodia, for example, Tuesday is considered the worst day to hit the road, whereas Thursday is the perfect time to set out on a journey.

Rest before you travel

Once you’ve decided on a good day to travel, you’ll need to ensure a safe journey. A common belief in Russia is that you should sit on your luggage before embarking on a trip or at least that you should sit down for a moment before heading on your travels – not such a bad idea for weary travelers. It’s also bad luck to return to the house to collect anything you’ve forgotten, so make sure you double check your packing list before you leave. In Bulgaria, it’s considered bad luck to sweep the house on the day that someone leaves – said to indicate ‘sweeping the person from the house’ and thus prohibiting their return.

New Year rituals

New Years Champagne

New Years Champagne

From eating 12 grapes at the strike of midnight to indulging in a New Year’s kiss, the world is full of New Year rituals, and many South and Central American countries have a special routine for those that want to travel in the New Year. The superstition varies from country to country: in Mexico, those hoping for a year of exploration place their suitcases on the front porch, whereas in Colombia, aspiring travelers pack their suitcases and carry it around town at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Very different from typical New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world.

Skip the 17th

While most of the West abhors the number 13, Italians can add 17 to their list of no-go numbers. 17 owes its notoriety to its roman numeral form, XVII, an anagram of ‘VIXI’ – Latin for ‘I have lived’ or ‘I’m dead’. As such, you’re unlikely to find a room ‘17’ in many of Italy’s hotels or a row 17 in cinemas and theaters. Lufthansa and Delta airlines dutifully follow suit, omitting row 17 from their planes, and even Renault had to play ball – changing its ‘R17’ model to ‘R177’ for the Italian market.

Returning to Rome

Trevi Fountain in Rome

Trevi Fountain in Rome

Following superstitions can also mean the difference between returning or not returning to a destination and folklore dictates that those hoping to revisit Rome must toss a coin into the famous Trevi Fountain. Allegedly, throwing two coins into the fountain means you’ll find love in Rome and three coins means you’ll marry a Roman. Nobody seems to know why or when the tradition started but with thousands of daily visitors throwing coins over their shoulders into the fountain, it’s become a huge money-spinner for the Caritas charity that collects the coins. Don’t worry, the money goes to good use, feeding and caring the city’s homeless. A similar superstition exists in Hawaii, where the tradition is to throw a lei into the Pacific – if it floats away from you, you’ll never come back to the Hawaiian Islands

Fearful number four

Numbers seem to be a common theme in the world’s superstitions and here’s another one to add to your list – number four. Seemingly, the Japanese and Mandarin words for ‘four’ sound too close to the word ‘death’ for comfort and many hotels and public buildings in East Asia opt to skip the 4th floor. Lending weight to the superstition, Seoul’s Inchon Airport has no gate 4 or 44 and Nippon airways omits rows four, nine, (which sounds like ‘torture’ in Japanese), and 13.

Watch where your bed is pointing

Whether you pledge allegiance to Feng Shui principles or believe it to be superstitious nonsense, you’ll find many hotel rooms and public facilities in China adhere to its principals. In Japan, the placement of the bed has an even more menacing significance – at funerals, bodies are traditionally laid facing north, believing that this is the direction the soul travels after death. As such, many hotels make sure their beds face south, east or west – after all, if you sleep facing north, the gods of the afterworld might get the wrong idea.

Avoid bad luck souvenirs

Removing natural objects from National Parks or sacred places is frowned upon by conservationists, but those still tempted to snag a free souvenir should tread carefully – a number of legends speak of curses befalling those who mess with Mother Nature. One of the most famous is Hawaii, where the islands’ black sand and lava rocks are said to contain the ancestral spirits of Pele, Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes, who bestows bad luck on anyone who removes them. Visiting Australia’s Ayers Rock (Uluru) threatens a similar fate to those who remove rocks from the sacred Aboriginal mount. Merely a superstition? The hundreds tourists who send back the rocks each year after a run of inexplicable bad luck didn’t think so.

Watch your dinner manners

Food Superstitions are tough to know.

Food Superstitions are tough to know.

From knocking over salt to snapping the wishbone, dinnertime is full of omens, both good and bad, and if you’re visiting another country, there are a number of rules to follow to ensure you emerge from the dining hall unscathed. One of the most common mistakes made by visitors to Asia is to stick their chopsticks upright in a bowl of food – at best, it’s impolite, but at worst, you’ll be cursed with bad luck as the ‘V’ shape made by the chopsticks mimics that of incense sticks burned to commemorate the dead. In Europe, bad luck befalls anyone who doesn’t make eye contact when making a toast, and knocking over the salt pot means you’ll have throw a pinch over your shoulder to counteract your bad fortune.

The World’s Most Common Travel Superstitions


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