Traveling out on the open road can be an exciting time and can introduce us to new places, people and new adventures.  We plan them for days, weeks, or maybe even months so everything will go as smooth as possible; however, before we even leave the driveway, maybe we’ll rub the Jesus on our dashboard for luck or even plan the trip so we leave early Saturday because our mothers always told us it was bad luck to start a journey on a Friday.

Nearly everyone has some lucky charm or pre-trip ritual they do before they start their road trip “just in case” and today we’re going to look into a few of the talisman and rituals that our fellow travelers believe protect them on their way down the seemingly endless highways of America.

Lucky Charms

Whether you call them talisman or good luck charms, along with the rabbit’s foot hanging from your keychain, here are a few things people won’t leave home without before hitting the open road:

A St. Christopher Medal

Regardless of what you may have heard, Saint Christopher remains a saint even though certain legends about the life of St. Christopher are no longer endorsed by the Catholic Church. But, hey, we’ve all done things we’re not proud of. Anyway, St. Christopher is still widely beloved as the patron saint of bachelor’s and travelers, and not only among followers of the Church of Rome. Both Catholics and non-Catholics also wear or carry around his likeness as a safe travel charm.  While gazing at the medal, some may also invoke the saint’s aid with a little prayer like:

“Protect us, Saint Christopher, on our travels and wherever we may roam,
please keep us safe and guide us always safely home.”

Dashboard Jesus

Some people go around St. Christopher and straight to Jesus himself. That’s right – for about five dollars you can buy a four-inch, plastic, spring-loaded Jesus that sticks firmly to the dashboard of your car. According to the packaging, Jesus will happily “guide you through the valley of gridlock” and advises that you “place him where you need the most forgiveness”. In that case, it makes perfect sense to put him on the dashboard and ask for forgiveness for saying all those bad things you said while driving through Gridlock Valley.  Incidentally, like St. Christopher, Dashboard Jesus is also popular among both Catholics and non-Catholic Christians alike.

Japanese Omamori

Still other traveler’s may forego the above all together in favor of the omamori of the Far Eastern religions of Shintoism (神道) and Buddhism (仏教 “bukkyou”) in Japan. Omamori are small prayers covered in a silky cloth, stamped with the name of the site where the prayer or blessing originated, and are hung by a delicate thread. The small blessing should never be opened, lest you let your blessing fly away. Once it has served its purpose, they “expire”. Once they expire, you take them back to the temple where they burn them in the sacred fire, giving you a chance to pick up another one for protection on your next road trip.

Perhaps the omamori most often carried by road trippers is the Traffic Safety Amulet – (交通安全 “koutsuanzen”) and you can find one of these tucked under the steering wheel, hanging from the rearview mirror, or taped to the dashboard of a fellow traveler even while driving down American highways. Often times, they’ll also be personalized  with the roads the driver will be traveling like Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, or even Interstate 95, providing both believing drivers and passengers with a bit of comfort while traveling by car across the USA.

Hula Girl Dashboard Doll

While there are those traveler’s who turn to religion and prayers for protection on the road, there are others turn to good old-fashioned lucky charms like the Hula Girl. First brought home by travelers who visited the newly popular islands in the early 20th century, the Hula Girl has been a symbol of Hawaii ever since. However, it wasn’t until after an influx of both tourists and returning World War II soldiers in the late 1940’s that Hula Girl Dashboard Doll was created and became one of the most popular souvenirs during the next decade, however.

 

Made of plastic and springs in her legs that allow her to wiggle her hips as the car moves, the also came in a variety of poses including holding her hands in the air or holding a ukulele. When cars used to have metal dashboards, a magnet in the base of the doll held her firmly in place so she didn’t go sliding all over the dashboard. Today, double-sided tape is used to make sure she doesn’t hula her way out of the window on your way to wherever it is you’re going.

Originally adopted as a good luck charm by California surfers and beach-goers, the Hula Girl Dashboard Doll is just as popular as a good luck dashboard charm today, still wiggling her hips and bringing smiles and good fortune to all who gaze upon her.

Fuzzy Dice

Fuzzy dice also began hanging around rear view mirrors after WWII when fighter pilots returned home with their practice of placing dice in their cockpits (lucky 7s showing) for good luck. After the war, some continued the practice by putting dice on their dashboards which eventually moved from the dashboards  to hanging from the rear view mirror, possibly to make way for all of their Dashboard Hula Girls and Dashboard Jesuses.

Rituals of the Road

Flip a Few Coins

When you buy a new car (or at least a car that’s new to you) in New York or New Jersey, one of the common superstitious beliefs is for your friends to throw some change around the floor of your car for good luck.  This practice started as a result of there being many toll roads in the area. If you ever hit a toll and seemed to have run out of change, check the floor of your car. It might just be your lucky day.

Lucky Scratch-Offs

Coins come into play in another way where one coin is used to scratch a new car, usually in an inconspicuous spot like the wheel well. This ritual is based on the idea you’ll ward off any bad luck with car accidents because the chances of something bad happening to a car without any scratches or dents are greater than the chances of something bad happening to a car that already has a few nicks or dents here and there.  So you’ll often see superstitious new car owners scratching an unseen spot on their car.

Playing the Numbers

Just as the number 7 mentioned above seems to be a lucky number for travelers, the number 13 finds its way into all kinds of bad luck. We’ve all heard that there are hotels with no 13th floor, but did you know it can also be bad luck if your license plate number adds up to 13?  And though we mentioned traveling on Friday being bad luck, it’s even worse if it’s Friday the 13th, apparently.  The reason behind all of this is, of course, because it is believed that Jesus originally had 12 disciples who along with Jesus would have meant they needed to reserve a table for 13 at the Last Supper. As we know the unlucky 13th person at the table turned out to be Judas Iscariot who ended up betraying Jesus. As a result, Jesus was crucified on…wait for it… Friday the 13th! So, that’s how the number 13 became a number for bad luck. However, can a car be cursed if you have Dashboard Jesus traveling with you? Better get one… just in case.

Don’t Look Back

Yikes!

More than just a good rock song by Boston, “Don’t look back!” is also a warning if you want to avoid bad luck on your road trip. Along with looking back at home as you drive away, it’s also considered bad luck to return home to pick up something you may have forgotten.  (This probably wouldn’t apply to something like leaving the iron on, however, because one would assume that returning home after a week to find your home a pile of ashes would be considered way worse luck.)

You’re supposed to sit on it before your trip.

Not to Get on Your Case, But…

Before packing them in your car, sit on your suitcases.  This old custom brought over from Russia is supposed to bring good luck and is tied in with forgetting something and returning home to retrieve it. The theory is, by sitting down for a few minutes on your suitcases, you’ll allow yourself time to remember everything you need, saving you from potential bad luck. (You can also make a packing list…just in case.)

Get the Heck Out of Here!

“Bye. Tootaloo! See ya! Have a safe trip. Buh-bye… okay, that’s enough.”

While we’re on the subject of driving away, say your goodbyes quickly. Remember, don’t look back towards home at the other person waving goodbye to you, and if you’re the person waving goodbye, don’t watch the car drive out of sight. It’s bad luck all around for everyone.

Don’t Hold Your Breath…

Apparently, having a picnic in a graveyard was totally fine, however

… Unless you’re driving past a graveyard, that is, because three things could possibly happen if you don’t hold your breath:

  1. You could possibly breathe in the spirit of someone who has recently died.
  2. You could also wake a spirit with each breath you take, or
  3. You could make the spirits jealous because you’re still alive!

As an added bonus, tucking your thumbs into the palms of your hand will also save your parents from the graveyard’s ghosts.

The Right Side of the Tracks

Raise your hand (or should we say foot?) if you know the answer to this one:  Do you know why you should lift your feet when you drive over train tracks? The folklore on this one varies as well, but it is believed if you don’t lift your feet, you’ll lose your sweetheart. Now you know why you lost the affection of Mary Lou Walker or Johnny Needles after your 6th Grade summer vacation.

What are You …Yellow?

Touching the ceiling of your car when you drive through yellow traffic light helps bring good luck, avoid bad luck, or stay safe from an accident. There are some who even kiss their hand and then proceed touch the roof.

Do you have any strange rituals or lucky charms you carry with you before you start driving that we forgot?

One of our favorite rituals has always been stopping by a Stuckey’s along the way for their delicious pecan log rolls or other fine pecan candies. In fact, we even make it a habit to pick up some extras along with some other Stuckey’s merchandise as souvenirs for the folks back home. Might as well share the good fortune of eating a Stuckey’s pecan roll with everybody!

No Stuckey’s locations near you yet. Why not make a Stuckey’s stop on the information superhighway at stuckeys.com and have some of our fine pecan candies waiting for you when you get back home? Or you can order them for the trip before you leave. Either way, you’re sure to feel like the luckiest person on the road!