Travel Superstition from Around the World

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travel superstitions from around the world

Is It Bad Luck to Put Your Purse on the Bed?

In various cultures, there persists a popular travel superstition: that placing your purse or wallet on a bed will bring about misfortune, particularly in the financial realm. Some believe that this action could somehow dissipate their wealth or block financial prosperity from entering their lives.

But is there any truth to this widespread belief, or is it merely a myth perpetuated through generations? Let’s dive into the origins, beliefs, and scientific outlook on this intriguing traveler’s superstition.

Travel Superstition Explained. What Brings Good Luck?

Cultures far and wide vouch for practices to bring forth good fortune on their journeys. Though my books “Solo Travel for Women” and “Rebel Nomad Playbook” might not dive into the mystical or superstitious side of voyages, they have become go-to guides for various other travel needs and nuances…

Now without much ado, let’s travel the world through rituals around travel- offering a window into diverse cultural practices.

Crossing the Equator Rituals

Crossing the equator is a monumental moment for sailors and cruise-goers, often celebrated with distinct rituals to attract good luck on their seafaring journeys. One of the most famous ceremonies is the “Crossing the Line” ceremony, where Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, is symbolically appeased to ensure a safe voyage.
With its tranquil purples and calming energy, is like having a portable piece of peace tucked neatly away with you.

Several rites have historically marked this tradition. For example, ‘pollywogs’ (sailors crossing the equator for the first time) might be ‘tried’ by King Neptune and his court for their ‘crimes’ and, if found guilty, ‘punished’ by a playful dunking in the ocean or pool. Another ritual might involve kissing a fish or wearing costumes and joining in a parade where King Neptune is honored. The exact customs can vary, but each adds a rich layer of tradition to the adventure of crossing the equator.

The Iconic Toss of a Coin

The tradition of tossing a coin into a fountain or water body, like the Trevi Fountain in Rome, is often performed with a wish for safe travels and a promise to return. It is believed that this small act of generosity toward the aquatic deity will ensure protection and blessings throughout the journey.

Love Locks for Safe Return

The tradition of fastening a ‘love lock’ onto a bridge or fence has captured the hearts of couples worldwide, symbolizing their unbreakable bond of love. This ritual isn’t just confined to lovers, though; travelers also embrace this practice, hoping that it will protect them during their journeys and assure a nostalgic return to the spot where emotions were once locked away.

Popular love lock destinations abound globally, such as the Pont des Arts in Paris, France, the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne, Germany, and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, USA, among other spots. These places have become emblematic, narrating tales of romance and adventure through the multitude of locks left behind.

The St. Christopher Medal

St. Christopher, regarded as the patron saint of travelers in the Catholic faith, is often invoked for safe journeys. Travelers wear medals bearing his image, or place them in their vehicles, as a talisman to protect them from harm while journeying through unknown lands.

Japanese Omamori Charms

Japanese Omamori Charms

In Japan, travelers often purchase Omamori – amulets available at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples – believed to provide various forms of luck or protection. Specific Omamori are dedicated to safeguarding travels, ensuring not only the physical journey is smooth but also symbolizing a protected path through life’s spiritual and emotional journey.

Universal Belief in Fortunate Travels

Regardless of the cultural or geographical context, the underlying thread among all these rituals is a universal human desire for protection, prosperity, and good fortune during travels.

But…ritual and belief don’t just stop there.

What Are Common Good Luck Superstitions While Traveling?

These superstitions, richly rooted in diverse cultures, add an enchanting layer to travel, blending adventure with ancient practices. Here are some superstitions I find interesting:

What is a good luck ritual for travel?

Touching or Rubbing a Monumental Symbol

In different parts of the world, certain monuments or statues are believed to bestow luck upon those who touch or rub them. For example, rubbing the bronze relief panels of the Charles Bridge in Prague, or touching the toe of the statue of St. Peter in Vatican City, is thought to bring good luck or ensure a return to the city.

Tossing Coins into Fountains

The act of throwing coins into fountains to secure good fortune is prevalent in numerous cultures. The belief asserts that the water deity will bestow blessings on the traveler, ensuring safe journeys and the promise of returning to the location of the fountain, such as the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome.

Tossing coins into fountains is also a common practice for making wishes. People, including travelers, often toss coins into fountains while making a wish, such as hoping for good fortune, love, or a safe return to that place in the future. The water in the fountains is often seen as a powerful medium to convey wishes to the divine or the universe, making the wishes more likely to come true. So, in addition to securing good fortune for travels, this act is widely associated with making any wish in general.

Carrying Protective Amulets

In countries like Turkey and Greece, the “Evil Eye” (Nazar Boncuğu in Turkish) is a popular amulet believed to deflect evil energies and misfortune. Travelers often carry or wear these as necklaces, keychains, or hang them in vehicles to shield themselves from bad luck during their voyages.

Related: Crystals for Protection During Travels

Uttering Specific Phrases or Prayers

Before embarking on a journey, travelers in various cultures might say specific phrases or prayers to invoke divine protection. This could range from chanting verses, lighting candles, or offering prayers to deities believed to safeguard voyagers, ensuring their journey is smooth and mishap-free.

Circumambulating a Sacred Site

In some traditions, like in Tibetan Buddhism, circumambulating – or walking around a sacred site, like a stupa or a shrine, in a clockwise direction – is believed to accumulate karma and blessings, purifying the spiritual path and providing protection during their physical travels.

Offering Gifts to Spirits or Deities

I’ve witnessed and participated in these beautiful, tranquil offerings myself during my travels. For a sneak peek into these experiences and many more that explore the depth of cultural practices in destinations like Thailand, do connect with me on Instagram and TikTok. You’ll find snippets of these soulful encounters and perhaps, some travel inspiration for your next trip!

Superstitions From Around the World

Setting off on a global trek? You’ll stumble upon unique superstitions, each reflecting its locale’s culture and history. These curious beliefs, from avoiding ladders to fearing broken mirrors, sprinkle a touch of mystery on your journey, making it all the more intriguing!

A Glimpse into Asia’s Enchanting Beliefs

Asia, a colossal continent rich in culture, tradition, and spirituality, hosts a plethora of fascinating superstitions that intricately weave through the daily lives of its inhabitants. 

India: The Lemon and Chili Totem (Nimbu-Mirchi Totka)

Widely seen hanging at the entrance of shops, homes, and vehicles in India, the Nimbu-Mirchi Totka is a common superstitious symbol designed to ward off the evil eye and bring prosperity. This totem, typically consisting of a threaded lemon and seven green chilies, is believed to capture negative energies, ensuring they don’t enter the space or affect the people within. Travelers might adopt this superstition by hanging a small Nimbu-Mirchi charm on their luggage or rearview mirror, hoping to protect their journey from any untoward incidents or malevolent spirits.

China: The Fear of the Number Four (Tetraphobia)

The aversion to the number four, known as Tetraphobia, is deeply embedded in various East Asian cultures, but it is particularly pronounced in China. Due to its phonetic similarity to the word for “death” in Mandarin and other Chinese dialects, the number four is often avoided. You’ll find that buildings might skip the fourth floor, products avoid packaging in fours, and addresses containing the number four might be less desirable. For travelers, being aware and respectful of this superstition is vital, ensuring that gifts and gestures do not inadvertently cause discomfort or fear among locals.

Psssst…fun fact: this means that when traveling to countries with Tetraphobia, you may even find buildings missing level number four.

Japan: Whistling at Night Invites Snakes

An intriguing Japanese superstition cautions against whistling at night, as it is believed to invite snakes and potentially malevolent spirits into one’s abode. This belief might stem from historical times when whistling was used to signal or communicate covertly under the cover of darkness. Nowadays, whistling at night is thought to draw in negative energies and misfortune. Travelers strolling through the picturesque landscapes of Japan might heed this belief, respecting the silence of the nightscape.

Navigating through Europe’s Intriguing Beliefs

This culturally rich continent whispers enchanting beliefs and age-old traditions that have meandered through time. Let’s dive into a few of these captivating tales together!

Italy: The Fear of the Number 17 (Heptadecaphobia)

In Italy, the number 17 is often associated with bad luck due to its representation in Roman numerals (XVII), which can be rearranged to spell “VIXI,” translated from Latin to mean “I have lived”—an implication of death. Thus, some hotels might skip room number 17, airlines omit the 17th row, and certain cities avoid having a route 17 bus. Travelers explore the charming landscapes and vibrant cities of Italy, they might encounter this intriguing superstition.

Spain: Eating 12 Grapes at Midnight on New Year’s Eve

A delightful and widely practiced superstition in Spain involves eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, each grape symbolizing good luck for every month of the coming year. As the clock chimes 12 times, individuals consume one grape per chime, hoping to secure a year of prosperity and good fortune. Visitors joining the celebration might partake in this jovial tradition, feeling the collective hope and joy that cascades through the lively streets of Spain as a new year dawns.

Iceland: Respect for the Elves (Huldufólk)

In the ethereal landscapes of Iceland, a charming superstition around elves, or Huldufólk (“hidden people”), holds a notable presence. Many Icelanders harbor a respect, if not belief, in these mythical beings, often integrating this into their daily lives and major decisions, like building roads or houses in a way that avoids disturbing rocks where elves are believed to reside. Travelers meandering through the mystical terrains of Iceland will often encounter stones or areas deemed to be the homes of elves, marked with tiny doors or left undisturbed, quietly respected by the locals.

Unveiling America’s Mystical Beliefs

Navigating from North to South America, you’ll encounter a mix of intriguing superstitions rooted in varied histories and native cultures. These beliefs serve as a direct window into the fears, hopes, and mystical elements embedded in societies across the continent.

United States: Knocking on Wood to Ward Off Bad Luck

In the United States, a common superstition involves knocking on wood to prevent misfortune or ward off bad luck after making a favorable statement about one’s own life. This practice, believed to originate from ancient pagan traditions related to spirits residing in trees, is often instinctively performed by individuals hoping to avoid “jinxing” themselves and to keep fortune on their side. 

Mexico: The “Evil Eye” and Protecting Infants

In Mexico, the belief in “el mal de ojo” or the “evil eye” is deeply embedded in the cultural psyche, especially concerning the well-being of infants. The superstition holds that babies can be afflicted with illness or bad luck if admired too heavily by someone harboring jealousy or malice, even unknowingly. To ward off the evil eye, it’s common to see infants adorned with red bracelets or small amulets featuring an eye, believed to deflect any malevolent gazes or intentions. You can pick up these symbolic charms in the street market!

Canada: The Apologetic “Sorry” Stone Ritual

Canada, often globally known for the polite demeanor of its citizens, has a charming superstition in some regions related to uttering apologies. When an unintentional wrongdoing occurs, especially in more rural and indigenous areas, an individual might place a small stone at the doorstep of the wronged person as an unspoken apology. The recipient might leave the stone untouched if the apology is accepted, embodying a gentle and silent reconciliation.

Mystical Beliefs from Down Under

Embarking on an adventure in Australia? Prepare to encounter a diverse realm of superstitions, as colorful and varied as the country’s legendary landscapes and unique wildlife!

Australia: The Cursed Kangaroo Paw

Australia, with its exotic wildlife, has fascinating tales woven around its indigenous creatures. One such superstition revolves around the kangaroo paw. Once carried as a charm for good luck, it’s now considered unlucky to possess one. This transition in belief aligns with modern conservation ethics and a profound respect for kangaroos as significant beings in Australian Aboriginal culture, symbolizing harmony and agile survival.

Australia: The Terrifying Dropbear Folklore

Another intriguing Aussie tale features the ominous Dropbear. Picture a koala, but a vicious, predatory version. According to local folklore, Drop Bears are large, predatory koalas that lurk among the branches, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting passersby. These mythical creatures embody the darker, more terrifying aspect of Australia’s wildlife in the imagination, turning the ordinarily cute and cuddly koala into a creature of nightmarish allure. While exploring Australia’s stunning outdoors, travelers might find themselves jokingly warned by locals to be wary of these vampiric marsupials!

Bad Luck Superstitions

From black cats to broken mirrors, these beliefs often emerge from ancient tales and long-held notions about the spiritual world, offering both cautionary tales and intriguing glimpses into the fears and uncertainties that have lingered through the ages. 

The Menacing Black Cat

Black cats, often associated with witchcraft and magic, are deemed unlucky in various cultures, particularly in parts of Western Europe and the United States. The superstition suggests that if a black cat crosses your path, bad luck will follow. Some theories propose that this belief stems from the Middle Ages, associating black cats with witchcraft and dark powers.

Beware the Broken Mirror

The superstition of broken mirrors bringing seven years of bad luck can be traced back to ancient Romans, who believed that a mirror could confiscate a part of the user’s soul. Breaking it, therefore, could result in misfortune until the soul had fully restored itself, a process thought to take seven years. This belief has permeated through various cultures, becoming a widely recognized symbol of inadvertent misfortune.

Unfortunate Number 13

Considered an unlucky number in many Western cultures, the fear of number 13 even has its term—triskaidekaphobia. From omitted floors in buildings to avoided rows on airplanes, the aversion to this number is visibly embedded in various aspects of society. Legends suggest the negativity towards 13 might originate from the Last Supper, where Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th individual to sit at the table.

Opening an Umbrella Indoors

An umbrella opened indoors is often considered to bring bad luck, a superstition believed to originate from ancient Egypt. Umbrellas were used to shield from the sun, and opening one inside or in the shade was considered an affront to the sun god, Ra. This belief has morphed through the ages and is now a common superstition in various parts of the world.

Walking Under a Ladder

To walk under a ladder is often considered a perilous path towards bad luck. This superstition may stem from its triangular shape, symbolizing the Holy Trinity in Christianity, and passing through it might suggest breaking the unity, thus inviting misfortune.

The Verdict on Superstitions

A whisper of this belief might have reached your ears at some point: never place your purse or wallet on a bed, for it will bring bad financial luck. This notion permeates several cultures, finding its roots in various old wives’ tales and traditional beliefs. But does this travel superstition hold any real credence, or is it a baseless myth tethered by coincidental mishaps?

Origins of the Belief

The superstition that it’s bad luck to place a purse on the bed has diverse origins, varying broadly from one region to another. In some cultures, it is believed that placing a purse – often associated with wealth and livelihood – on a bed (a place associated with sleep and vulnerability) signifies disrespect towards prosperity and wealth. It’s symbolically indicating a careless attitude towards financial stability, thus attracting misfortune.

In others, the belief is somewhat practical. A purse travels with you, collecting germs from various surfaces. Placing it on the bed could transfer these germs to a place where you sleep and recover, potentially affecting your health. Though this latter perspective leans more towards practicality than superstition, it melds seamlessly into the broader belief, fortifying its place in cultural norms.

Psychological Impacts of Believing in Superstitions

Engaging in or even ardently following superstitions may have profound psychological implications. For instance, some travelers may genuinely harbor anxiety or fear related to violating such superstitions, impacting their overall travel experience. On the flip side, those who heed these beliefs might experience a placebo effect, perceiving enhanced fortune or safer travel, attributed solely to their adherence to such superstitions.

Scientific Perspective on Superstitions

From a scientific standpoint, there’s no empirical evidence to substantiate the claim that placing your purse on your bed can directly influence your financial status or luck. Often, belief in superstitions may inadvertently influence decision-making or perception, potentially leading one to attribute unrelated misfortunes to a seemingly inconsequential act.

Breaking Free from Travel Superstition

While respecting cultural norms and beliefs is pivotal, it’s equally vital to approach travel with a rational mind. Debunking travelers’ superstition involves understanding its roots, respecting the belief without internalizing fear or apprehension, and adopting a more logical, scientific approach to interpreting events and outcomes.

Navigating travel superstitions can be a labyrinth of myths and tales. But don’t worry, there’s a friendly guide to help – the “Solo Travel eBook“. It’s like having a chat with someone who’s been there. Straightforward, filled with practical advice, it’s a companion that brings a sense of clarity and ease as you wander the globe.

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The Sharmini

Sharmini has built technology projects across the world. Angel investor, truth speaker, self proclaimed guru – she is currently working on a her novel on the cliffs of a tropical island.