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Warning: Do You Practice These Travel Superstitions?

by Grace Kim May 5, 2008
Superstitions abound the world over. Most people don’t believe in them, but find themselves commiting them just for good measure.

Panic washed over me. I tried telling myself that everything would be OK, but remained unconvinced.

Suddenly I leapt out of my seat and pleaded my way past the flight attendants. My progress was halted by security.

“I lost something in the waiting area. Can I go get it?” The security guard gave me a thousand yard stare.

“Please!” Amazing how far this word can get you.

He relented. “OK. Be quick because we’re about to close the gate.” I flew out and dived under the seats of the lounge, which caused a businessman to jump.

“What did you lose?” the security guard asked as I returned to the plane.

“My lucky coin. I can’t fly without it.”

“Lucky coin!” His colleague looked at me in disbelief.

The guy who let me out reproved him. “You can’t leave without a thing like that, man!” He was a believer in the power of lucky charms as well. Prior to this incident I had traveled with my coin unfailingly for five years and then intermittently for six years.

My lucky charm is a humble penny with a stretched image of Queen Mary. The panic I felt at its momentary loss alarmed me, but its also an inevitable travel truth that you will lose stuff.

The Power Of Superstition

The last few times I’ve traveled without it I’ve attributed any and all misfortune to its absence. Illogical, I know – but superstitions aren’t exactly rational. defines superstition as “a belief or notion not based on reason or knowledge.” I agree. defines superstition as “a belief or notion not based on reason or knowledge.” I agree. Go ahead and think of as many superstitions as you can. Now try to find a rational reason for each one. Tricky, isn’t it?

There is a push-pull relationship with superstitions. You try to avoid succumbing to a superstition, but then at the last minute you decide to follow through, just for good measure. This is how some superstitions become traditions.

To think I may never see Rome again because of the Trevi fountain coin toss superstition. I went to Rome twice in one month. On my first visit I threw a coin into the Trevi fountain. On my second visit I forgot. I haven’t been back since.

In From Here to Eternity, Deborah Kerr’s character explains that if you throw a lei into the Pacific and it floats away from you, you’ll never come back to the Hawaiian Islands.

I’ve spent my summers in Honolulu since I was eight and this was news to me. I wonder – if you’re ignorant about a superstition, does the adage “no harm no foul” apply?

Unlucky 13

Many superstitions center on the significance of numbers, especially 13, the fear of which is called triskaidekaphobia. There is no definitive reason why 13 is so abhorred.

Some attribute triskaidekaphobia to the Vikings or to the Last Supper, but rest assured the fear is ancient. And it effects still affects us.

Recently, Brussels Airlines came under fire for employing 13 circles in their logo. The uproar caused them to paint one more circle onto all of their planes.

Have you ever noticed that some planes have no row 13? The entire Cathay Pacific and Continental fleets are missing it. Sensibly, British Airways has refused to succumb to the nonsense. Other airlines have reached a happy compromise and insert row 13 in their smaller aircrafts, thereby screwing the short-haul passengers.

There is an Italian superstition about the number seventeen because the roman numerals can be rearranged to spell vixi, which in Latin means ‘I have lived’.

Lufthansa’s entire fleet except for the Dash 8Q and ATR 72-500, the smaller planes, are missing row 17. In an exercise of cultural sensitivity some airlines like Delta skip row 13 and 17 in their 757-200s.

Next time you enter a high-rise hotel pay attention to how they’ve numbered the floors. You may suddenly go from the 12th floor to the 14th floor. In an article by Barbara De Lollis for USA TODAY, she quotes J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr., who states “‘it was one of the first things I learned: Don’t go to 13.'” It’s a tradition to ignore the 13th floor.

Ever refuse to travel on certain days or wonder if there is a day that’s best to avoid? Don’t travel on a Friday! Besides the awful traffic and whatever else the world throws at you it’s been said journeys should not be started on this day.

Lord Byron sailed for Greece on a Friday and died. Embarking on Friday didn’t directly cause his death but it doesn’t matter. The outcome only added weight to the superstition.

All In The Mind?

Some superstitions are cultural (i.e. the number 13) and some are self-created. I know people who have to clean house before a trip. If the house is dirty the trip will be bad, and there’s nothing worse than coming back to a dirty house and a fridge full of moldy food.

In life and travel, fortune decides too many factors. Superstitions feed into this lack of control and the desire to gain it back.

I used to keep my old inspection stickers and tags on my suitcase until my dad scared me by suggesting a confused baggage handler may send my stuff to the wrong destination.

However, I’ve found that I’m not the only one with a fondness for tags. The sister of my American Social History professor keeps the tag as a good luck charm for another trip and then replaces it with the new one.

Many superstitions are also rituals. I used to always pack in the same manner, placing my beloved battered books by W. Somerset Maugham and F. Scott Fitzgerald on the bottom, but I’ve since broken this habit.

I broke some of my habits by asking a simple question – why am I doing this? Do I honestly believe if I carry a coin and pack my books ‘just so’ I can thwart my plane from crashing?

Eventually, the reason came out: If the prior trip was successful (meaning I got back more or less in one piece), I try to repeat the same conditions as closely as possible. So, if I hold unto the baggage tag, remember my lucky coin and pack my suitcase in the same way, then maybe I will have another good trip.

Then again, the times I left the coin at home, I’ve had unusually bad flights. Serious arguments cast a shadow over my last two trips, along with bad weather. I’ve been plagued with canceled ventures to South America.

In life and travel, fortune decides too many factors. Superstitions feed into this lack of control and the desire to gain it back.

Next time I think I’ll take my coin with me.

What travel superstitions do you have? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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