Old Socks, Lucky Spoons and Stained Towels: What’s Your Favorite Travel Talisman?

That’s right – travel talisman. As in amulet – or four-leaf clover, fuzzy dice and St. Christopher’s medal.

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You’d be surprised how many travelers carry something they consider will bring them good luck.

What with those precipitous roads, mad dash bus drivers and errant wildlife, that little ‘extra’ can’t do any harm, can it?

There’s no lack of unusual travel talismans if you look around. In my travels I’ve come across a chewed-up teddy bear, a copper bracelet, a stained towel, a heavy stone, a plastic ‘lucky spoon’ and my very own green tin mug, whose name was Kermit. I say was because after three years of faithful service, it finally got lost.

There’s hardly a bus, matatu or jitney that doesn’t have its share of medallions, cards and charms hanging from the rear view mirror or sitting on the dashboard. Their power must be so great drivers don’t mind their view being totally obstructed by a kaleidoscope of saints and martyrs.

I can’t say I really believe in talismans and amulets – but I don’t disbelieve either. It’s more the precautionary principle: Lets get one, just in case.

Travel Talismans and Amulets
Travel Talismans and Amulets / © art_es_anna

The Origin of the Travel Talisman

Many talismans are religious in origin, like the St Christopher medal that was once almost compulsory for any Catholic traveler (St Christopher was subsequently de-canonized and stripped of his powers by the Catholic church in the 1960s). His fall from grace doesn’t stop medals from still being worn and St Christopher cards carried by concerned travelers.

In Islam, items with a quotation from the Holy Qur’an may be used as talismans to ward off evil or as a charm to preserve health.

In Judaism, the Star of David is an extremely powerful talisman.

In China, a golden likeness of the Buddhist goddess Kwan Yin hangs from the rear view mirror to protect both the car from an accident and the pedestrian from the car.

Is it a Talisman or an Amulet?

Many people use the words interchangeably but the two are not exactly the same. Usually a talisman is something that brings you good luck. You wear it on your body as part of a necklace or bracelet, like a charm or a stone worn in a pouch around your neck. What makes it special is that it has been blessed or imbued with what some say are special powers.

An amulet, on the other hand, is something that keeps bad things from happening to you.

Lets just say that amulets and talismans attract good things, like a pleasant journey, friendly fellow travelers and accidental adventures, and protect you from the bad, like robbery or broken bones.

Talismans and amulets come in many shapes and forms, and can be different things to different people. They can be crystals or semi-precious stones linked to your birth month – amethyst in February or aquamarine in March. Talismans can be made of animal parts, such as a shark’s tooth, an animal claw or a bunch of bird feathers. And who’s never heard of a rabbit’s foot?

A talisman can be a piece of jewelry, an intricate brooch or charm or pendant. It can be a traditional good luck object, like those fuzzy dice that hang off rear view mirrors, a favorite stuffed toy or a special sock (yes, I did meet someone with a good-luck sock!). It can even be something that has a personal meaning for you, like a stone or a rock you’ve found during your travels or in my case, Kermit.

Believe It … or Not

The amulet itself doesn’t matter – what makes it work is your belief in it. And the more you believe, the more effective it gets. You don’t believe me?

Surely there’s no point in carrying around a good luck charm if you’re secretly making fun of it. So the rumor is, the more it’s surrounded by belief and intention, the stronger it gets. If someone you care about gives it to you, that’s even stronger. So take that talisman, hold it tight, and concentrate!

Sarubobo Japanese Amulets
Sarubobo Japanese Amulets / © timtom.ch

What If You Can’t Find the Right Travel Talisman?

Make one! That’s right. Simply draw an ancient symbol on a nice piece of paper and carry it with you when you travel. Here are some that are ‘proven’ to work:

Whatever your beliefs, there’s a travel talisman out there for you. You can buy it, make it, or receive it as a gift. It doesn’t matter.

Just believe in it – whatever it is. Kermit wasn’t a particularly magical mug, but it was the first thing I bought for my three-year trip around the world and it never left my side. Nor did anything horrible ever happen to me. Coincidence?

Do you carry a travel talisman or amulet? If so, tell us about it in the comments below!

  1. Great post Leyla! I’d never even thought about it, but I have long carried around a couple of small things in the same spot I have my passport, and I guess I have them there for luck. One’s a grubby old “1 Pfennig” coin, and the other a (now grubby and old) Japanese toy – it looks like a tiny old man, but it’s blue – given to me by one of the kids I taught years ago. I wouldn’t travel without them!!

  2. I’m not a particularly superstitious person, but this makes me think I should start carrying out something for luck. Perhaps a lucky beer stein.

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