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Global Travel Superstitions and the Stories Behind Them

Superstitions are beliefs or practices that have no real basis in scientific fact. Some are cultural, others are personal or unique to an individual, but they're real to those who believe in them. Psychologists say superstitions are a way to control the unknowns in our lives, a specific way to bring about good resolutions to unknown circumstances, like those we encounter when traveling to new places. Whether protection comes from a personal ritual or a lucky charm, travel superstitions help us adapt to the unfamiliar.

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01The unlucky number 13

Young woman has just arrived in Budapest and waiting for check-in martin-dm / Getty Images

Many sojourners refuse to travel on Friday the 13th, many American planes don't have a 13th row, and many hotels in the western countries don't have a 13th floor. In Mexico, Spain, and some Latin American countries, it's an unlucky day any time the 13th falls on a Tuesday. The number 13 has a variety of negative undertones rooted in Christian beliefs about the end of days and the Last Supper. In Spanish, the word for Tuesday is "martes," which has ties to Mars and the god of war, death, and destruction. Some believe these signs make Tuesday the 13th a travel day that is more likely to end badly.

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02Disastrous numbers

crashes planes tragedies superstition airlines halbergman / Getty Images

The number 13 isn't the only unlucky number, according to superstition. In Italy, the number 17 carries bad luck, and in Asia, it's the number 4. Many people refuse to travel on days when disasters or historical tragedies occurred, such as September 11th. Airlines don't take chances either and no longer use the flight numbers of the planes that went down that day. Most airlines won't assign the numbers 666 or 911 to their flight numbers, and they retire any flight number that ends in a close call or a crash. Both Delta and American have dropped flight 191 due to both airlines experiencing crashes from planes with that number.

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03Sea-faring superstitions

Group of dolphins jumping from the sea (Zanzibar island). View from the boat. borchee / Getty Images

The list of bad omens and superstitions with connections to sea travel is long, and many have been around for hundreds of years. Sailing on a Thursday or the day of Thor could raise the ire of the god of storms and thunder, bringing forth weather conditions that are never good when you're at sea. Another long-held superstition forbids whistling while on-board a ship, which sailors believed would rustle up a storm. Rest easy if you see dolphins swimming alongside your vessel, however. Seafarers have historically interpreted them as signs of good fortune.

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04Lucky destinations

lucky destinations coin trevi fountain DorSteffen / Getty Images

If you're seeking to improve your luck, make plans to visit a destination that helps you give fate a push for things to go your way. For generations, people have headed to the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Illinois, to do just that. Rub the nose of the bronze bust statue of the much-loved president located there, and good luck is bound to head your way. Travel to the Trevi Fountain in Rome, and using your right hand, throw a coin over your left shoulder into the fountain to bring good fortune. If you're planning a trip to the Isle of Man in the British Isles, make a stop at the Fairy Bridge to gain the favor of the magical beings who live there. Be sure to greet them politely before crossing to avoid their wrath and or be cursed with bad luck.

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05Baggage Claims

woman sitting on her suitcase waiting for the sunset in a spectacular view fcscafeine / Getty Images

There's an age-old superstition in Russia that sitting on your luggage for a few moments once you've finished packing will ensure a safe journey. If you have dreams of traveling and need some help from the universe to make them come true, try following this Mexican superstition on New Year's Eve. Once the clock strikes midnight signaling the start of the New Year, grab an empty suitcase and run around the street with it. You may be packing those empty bags for a trip soon after!

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06No-travel days

ireland saint wheels superstition friday Ekaterina79 / Getty Images

Around the world, many people believe that choosing the right days to travel are key to a safe trip. In Ireland, adventurers avoid travel on November 11th because it's St. Martin's Day. The saint was thrown into a river and crushed by a mill wheel, and many still believe that no wheels should turn on that day. Some Europeans won't travel on a Friday. The superstition dates back to the crucifixion of Christ, which believers say, occurred on a Friday.

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07Rituals and safe travels

clap kiss ground protective ritual Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

If you've ever wondered why people kiss the ground or clap their hands once landing in their destination, they both have links to superstitions that are especially popular among sojourners from Latin American countries. Some travelers may kiss the ground once they've arrived back in their home country, a way of paying homage and thanking their ancestors or a higher power for bringing them back safely. People who travel by car or motorcycle may kick the tires or pat the gas tank to ward off mechanical issues, flat tires, or other misfortunes. If you see someone knocking on wood or spitting over their shoulder before boarding a plane, they're performing a protective ritual that originated in Russia.

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08Lucky charms

golden toads dala horses token Sefa kart / Getty Images

It isn't unusual for globetrotters to carry a special token with them to ensure safe travels, from coins to amulets, stones, small religious statues, or objects that hold special personal significance. Most people are familiar with the Irish belief in four-leaf clovers, but other countries have their versions of lucky charms. In Sweden, it's the painted Dala horses that fend off evil spirits. In China, it's golden toads, and in Egypt, it's scarabs. During World War II, fighter pilots often brought fuzzy dice with them.

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09Choose your room location wisely

yin energy corridor hotel room whitebalance.oatt / Getty Images

In Chinese culture, there are many superstitions when it comes to travel. One of them is to never stay in a hotel room that's located at the end of a corridor. They believe that this location accumulates excessive amounts of Yin energy. If this occurs, you may feel cold, and your body slows down. The effects can remain in your body for years, wearing you down and leading to listlessness.

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10Say your goodbyes quickly

goodbye traveler superstition retrieve items flukyfluky / Getty Images

When saying goodbye before heading off on your trip, it's best not to linger, according to popular superstition. Wave, but don't dawdle or draw out your farewells. People who see others off shouldn't watch the departed traveler until they are no longer in sight. The superstition advises to just say your goodbyes and get on with things to keep the traveler safe. Another superstition has to do with forgotten items. Once you head out for your destination, it's bad luck to turn around and go back home to retrieve the items you left behind.

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