Tag Archives: travel

New Years Tradition: Empty Suitcase

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American/Nicaraguan
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

Informant: One other thing that we do on New Years is we get up on top of furniture, like chairs or tables with empty suitcases or carry-on bags. Think luggage for planes. And this has to be at exactly midnight on New Years’ Eve.

Interviewer: Why, why do you guys do this?

Informant: Well, apparently this is supposed to signify or help whoever does this travel more in the coming year.

Interviewer: So if you do this, it is more likely that you will travel in the new year?

Informant: Yes.


My informant is a friend and a fellow student at USC. She was born and raised in Florida but her father comes from Nicaragua and her mother comes from the Appalachian region. This tradition is something she got from her father and is something her entire family does regularly. She is under the impression that this is a common tradition that many families from Latin American countries participate in but she is unsure as to which countries specifically do or don’t participate in it. She thinks of it as another fun, special New Years’ tradition.


I had set up a Zoom call with my friend because she said she had some examples of folklore that she could share with me. This sample was shared during that call


This seems like a fairly straightforward tradition to me. Some researching online shows that it is a tradition in Colombia specifically to do what is essentially the same thing, but walking around the neighborhood instead of standing up on a table. Walking around a neighborhood makes sense because it is like you are imitating on a micro-scale, the travel you will be doing in the future. You’re walking instead of on a plane, you’re holding an empty bag instead of some stuffed luggage. So thinking about why standing on top of furniture would be a part of it, I think it makes sense that by standing on top of furniture a person gets higher up in the air and would, in this way, be simulating the flight that is usually associated with travel.

Peruvian New Years Tradition: Run the Suitcase Around the Block

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Peruvian-American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/19
Primary Language: Spanish
Other Language(s): English

AS is a USC game design major who’s family hails from Peru, she enjoys spreadsheets, Dungeons and Dragons, and spreadsheets about Dungeons and Dragons. AS grew up in Texas after her family moved there from Peru.
AS: My family had a lot of traditions for New Years, I’ve heard a lot of people do this one though

AS: We fill like a like a suitcase of some sort and we run it around the block and that’s supposed to represent like good luck in traveling and like safe travels and all that stuff.

AS: So my mom makes me do it every year cuz you yeah gotta have that good luck

MW: Do you have any particular attachment to this?

AS: I mean I would still do it if I didn’t live in South Central LA and that’s dangerous

AS: I guess it’s it’s it’s kind of just like a superstitious thing to me

AS: Or it’s just like it’s a cute tradition that makes New Year’s feel different than what like normal people celebrate even it doesn’t have like a very deep impact I guess it also fills me with nostalgia for things you did as a kid so you feel like you should do it anyways.

The symbolism of running around the block mimics the cyclical nature of the calendar year and separates it from the idea of linear time. The suitcase is also filled, meaning that the carrier takes home with them when they travel and provides a direct connection to home and family life. Likewise, the fact that you run around the block and return to the starting point sort of carries the message that no matter where you go you can always return home, this centers the importance of home even in a tradition that’s all about travel. The desire for safety also reveals anxieties about leaving the home. Travel to new places is scary, a journey into the unknown thus the hope for good luck works in combination with the carrying of the known with you and the promise of a safe return to that known space.

Get on the plane with your right foot: travel superstition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Jewish-American
Age: 50
Occupation: Mother
Residence: Hollywood
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/20/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): none

AW sits with her daughter preparing for the second night of her Passover Seder, the room is bustling with activity as people get food prepared for AW’s many relatives. AW’s Daughter chimes in every so often to ask questions


M: You have a very particular travel superstition is that true?

AW: Yes, I have more than one, but yes

M: could you elaborate

AW: Ever since I got on the plane since I was a little girl my mother would remind us to start every new venture, not just the airplane…the first day of school, when I walked down the aisle…

[AW gets absorbed back into seat planning for the seder]

MW: Ohhh that’s why you tell me to do it on test days

AW: Exactly, every time you start something new you do it with your right foot, it’s good luck.

AW: The first time anyone in the history of our family did it, my grandmother got onto the ship that took her to America, she did it with her right foot and my mother reminded me, so I remind you.

Meaning to the informant: AW: First of all it reminds me of my recently departed mother, and it’s kind of a talisman, like a rabbit’s foot. It can be a bit of a ritual. I’ve done it as long as I can remember.

Analysis: The association between the right foot and luck is well documented and speaks to a general insecurity regarding new ventures. As one crosses a threshold into a new space, as AW did when she walked down the aisle, or any time she boards an aircraft. This step ensures that transition happens smoothly. Other examples of this can be throughout the archive as seen [here] and reflect an overarching anxiety about the unknown. In addition to providing luck the action adds a familiar element to an unfamiliar circumstance, a location with which the actor can situate themselves to provide comfort when encountering something new. For another example of travel superstition surrounding the right foot see Southbound (Paniker 174) a journal of Indian Literature

Paniker, Ayyappa, and Chitra Panikkar. “SOUTHBOUND.” Indian Literature, vol. 39, no. 4 (174), 1996, pp. 127–156. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23336198.

Re-entry into a Home: Indian Folk Belief

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: New York City
Date of Performance/Collection: 1st February 2019
Primary Language: Hindi (urdu)
Other Language(s): English


MM: “See when we return home after a long time, then it is supposed to be pretty auspicious that in front of the main door of the house someone pour oil on like both sides of the door – before you like enter the house.”

MS: “Is it usually when the person is already at the door, or before they show up?”

MM: “No like when you show up, you have to wait at the door, and then someone pours the oil and then you’re allowed to enter.”

MS: “Was there ever a time this ritual was done differently?”

MM: “Yeah there was this one time when we showed up somewhere and they had already put the oil on the doorstep and the door wasn’t even open yet and it was supposed to be like a super bad omen. Like you’re supposed to do it the right way, after the people show up, not before.”

MM: “My grandparents believe in this pretty ardently and some people from my parents’ generation do as well, but we kids like definitely don’t see the point and I don’t think I’d like continue to do it if it were just me.”



The informant is a college student from India, currently doing a study abroad program in America. The conversation was in response to my question about any odd things that happened in the informant’s past that she did not agree with but had to partake in anyway. The informant is also bilingual so the conversation happened in a mix of English and Hindi. I have translated the relevant Hindi parts to English as per my own interpretation and in an attempt to retain the meaning as best as possible. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.



The informant does not really understand the reasons behind the ritual herself, and is adamant in not taking part in it, but she still acknowledges the proper way to do it and the consequences of messing up even the order in which the actions must take place. I think this ritual developed because there was a time when people would often go away for long periods of time and the lack of communication abilities would imply that there was no way of knowing if and when they would be coming back. Further, there was implicitly more of a risk in travel earlier than it is now. The ritual seems to be a response of gratitude for a safe return as well as a prayer that even return be as safe and sound as this one.

Blue Ghosts in Okinawa, Japan

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: college age freshman
Occupation: student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

AM: So, it was- like the first month or two when i moved to Japan and I was hanging outside at like…2am like at night in a park. Um, the military base we was staying on was built like near like Japanese Shrines and whatnot and they said that you know the shrines are haunted and there’s a lotta “superstitions” with those. So while we’re out hanging, there was like oh look- you can see a bluf- blue figure on a hill like on top of the shrine and when I looked over you- I saw like a bluish like glow from the hills where the shrine was and they said that this island is one of the most haunted places and that there’s a lot of spirits around.

VG: Woah. What island was it?

AM: Okinawa.

VG: Woah-

AM: And that is- it is very common to see those there… so we was like “yeah, let’s get the hell out of here.”



Location of Story – Okinawa, Japan

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night


Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore. This story came after a few others. The one prior was specifically about a high school grade being cursed.


Analysis: One point of interest in this performance is the effectiveness of the subtlety of the description of the “spirits.” The only physical description the audience receives about these supernatural beings is that they humanoid in figure and blue. The color is particularly notable because, at least in my experience, I have always viewed the ghosts in ghost stories as being neutral toned or white. Therefore, this description was able to create a whole new image for me and draw me deeper into this performance. It also reinforces the foreignness AM might feel since he had just moved to Japan: not only is the location different but also all of the local lore. One might even go so far as to say that this story was presented with a negative conation despite having no description of graphic hauntings or threats. 

Month-Long Vacations for Argentines

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Argentine-American
Age: 44
Occupation: Director of Residential Services at local health center
Residence: Claremont, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 25, 2018
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

“In Argentina, when people go on vacation, they take a whole month of vacation. When people say they are going on vacation, they’re gone a whole month. A lot of people will come to the states to Miami. A lot of them will go to Brazil. That’s a popular place to vacation. Some will go to Europe, like Spain. They don’t joke around with vacation in Argentina. They have the right idea, and I think we need more of that here. Most people have their own businesses, so it’s not uncommon to pick a month, usually in the summer, and take a vacation. It’s impossible to get anything done in the summer in Argentine. It’s a completely different way of life in Argentina that you wouldn’t understand if you haven’t lived there.”

Background Information and Context:

This topic came up when the informant told me that the lifestyle in Argentina is completely different from life in America, and I asked her to explain. She knows this from experience because she was born in Argentina, and she still has family that lives there.

Collector’s Notes:

As the informant said, this different approach to vacations, and the fact that most Argentine’s own small businesses shows a marked difference between the way of life there and that at of Americans. A month-long vacation in America is often thought to be reserved for those who do not care about money, especially those who are already rich. Living in a deeply capitalist society, most Americans do not think to take so much time off work, nor would their places of employment allow it. America is a place where large companies flourish, and financial growth, security, and what it means to have a successful life are often the same.

Souvenir Keychains

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Collector: Um, do you have any, like, souvenirs you’ve gotten from any place?

Informant: Yes. I collect keychains from different places.

Collector: Where have you been?

Informant: Florida, Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Maryland, London, Germany, Switzerland, France, um…


Informant is a freshman at the University of Southern California. She is studying Theater Arts in the School of Dramatic Arts here. She is from Austin Texas. I spoke to her while we were eating lunch at my sorority house. Much of what she told me was learned from her sister or her own experiences.


This seems to be a common thing that people collect when they go somewhere. I think it’s a pretty stereotypical traveler or tourist thing to pick up, and there are often many different types, so the appeal is that you don’t get the same thing as everyone else all of the time, These can be taken with people wherever they go, and might represent some special part of the visit.


--Informant Info--
Nationality: Italian-American, Portuguese-American, but a couple generations removed
Age: 55
Occupation: Engineering Professor
Residence: Boston, MA
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/25/15
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):


“They’re not from around here.”


“This is a line that sometimes still gets used in our house.

We went out to visit Jimmy (his wife’s brother) in San Diego. Him and his girlfriend at the time. We were going to some fair in the town just north of San Diego. I forget the town, maybe it was Carlsbad. I’m not exactly sure of where.

I was driving the rental car. It was like a big one too because we had to fit us five in the family plus Jim and his girlfriend, Amy. So we get to the fair and there are people there to direct you where to park. You know it’s this big lot and they wave us in, you know, go, go, go. And they are giving us directions, like turn left, go straight, turn right, turn left.

The next thing you know we’re about to exit. They directed me through the lot to the exit. And if I go out the exit, I’m stuck because it empties onto a one-lane highway. So I stop and do a U-Turn to turn around.

Next thing you know the guys are yelling at me saying that I can’t do that. And I’m just like, “I want to park the car.” And then I hear from the back Amy yelling, “They’re not from around here.”

“They’re not from around here!” Even though that had no relationship as to why I didn’t park the car. Me not being from San Diego did not account from those people not navigating me correctly through the lot.

So now my wife and I use it when we get lost or don’t understand something.”


I feel like people can learn a lot about others during travel. Traveling is just one of those times when the best and worse is brought out of everyone. It is in those moments of stress that so many funny things can happen that make for great stories later.

This is one that apparently is told with some regularity to it, with that line being the real gem of it all. To adopt it and say it, of course brings this family back to those days of traveling in a new location, half-way across the country. I think their might even be some unconscious cultural bias here. Amy, I was told is from the west, and is generally remembered as being somewhat ditzy. So that line kind of encompasses that stereotype of dumb blonde California girls.

More than that though, I think it is one of those really funny, organic moments that people tend to hold on, not wanting to forget. That line is a perfect excuse for whenever something does not go your way in a new location, and can also serve as a way to ease the tension and stress. If something goes wrong, just say, “I’m not from around here.”

Bermuda Triangle

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Caucasian
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Florida
Date of Performance/Collection: April 16, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Basic French

So when I was a kid, uh, when I was like 4 or 5 probably, I first heard about this whole thing with the Bermuda Triangle? My brother told me about it, probably. And he told me that basically it’s this place in the Atlantic Ocean where if you fly over it you, like any of the planes that would fly over it would crash, they’d all crash, and like everyone would die. That’s like the 7 year old kid version, I guess. But . . . and then over the years I heard that it was more like there were mysterious disappearances and stuff, um. Wait, who was the famous pilot? There was a famous pilot, uh, uh, uh . . . um, Amelia Earheart, maybe? . . . There was a famous pilot who went down in the Bermuda Triangle. And there were a bunch of maybe World war 2 related things as well, where planes went down mysteriously, like, without any weather or anything, they would just go off radar, and then they would, the plane would disappear. Um, so a lot of people would dispute that it was like aliens or something. Some sort of mysterious energy, like magnetic energy over this triangular area of the ocean that made planes crash, and then the pilots were like abducted or something, or taken by, by the squid people of the Bermuda, I don—something like that.
It was kinda scary, cause we traveled a lot when I was younger. And we would fly over the Bermuda Triangle sometimes, and I would be like, “Uh, oh! We’re going to die! We’re gonna get captured by the squid people!”

The unexplained disappearances and technological failures of the Bermuda Triangle remain fascinating, because in a world where all seems explainable, all of us still feel helpless and ignorant in the face of the ocean, or when in an airplane flying across the globe. American explanations for the Bermuda Triangle tend to be exclusively scientific, or science fiction oriented. American is obsessed with science and the future, but when we were pushing the limits of technology during the time when circumnavigating the globe by airplane was becoming possible, planes, such as Amelia Earhart’s, would at times disappear without a trace. That mankind still did not possess the technology to fully explore the globe by air fascinated the nation. Even now the legend of the Bermuda Triangle is prevalent. My friend is particularly fascinated by it because he traveled as a child and was very frightened of their plane getting lost.
In this case his older brother, who did not believe the story, told him the story to scare him. When my friend grew older, however, he no longer believed the story either. Growing out of believing in stories like the Bermuda Triangle or the Loch Ness monster are signs one is maturing and entering adulthood.

German Folksong: Auf du Junger Wandersmann / Get Up, Young Wanderer

--Informant Info--
Nationality: German
Age: 65
Occupation: Professor of literature, then a mom
Residence: Santa Barbara, California
Date of Performance/Collection: March 17, 2012
Primary Language: German
Other Language(s): English

Link to audio recording of song: Auf du Junger Wandersmann

Background on German Folksongs:

Q. Do you know how old these songs are?

A. No, and I think that’s part of folklore—you don’t really know where it comes from, it wasn’t written by anyone in particular. My mother must have taught me some, and at school, I imagine I learned some.

Q. When would people sing folksongs?

A. While we were walking places in a group, we would sing. And singing while walking, you know, is kind of fun. You can walk to the beat, and it gives you something to do. And I remember that they were calling on me because I used to know all the words. And I was the littlest one on the group, I was only five years old, but I used to know all the words, so whenever they didn’t remember the words, the older kids would call me, “Eva, what are the words again?” so I would come running and tell them the words, and it made me feel good, it made me feel important because here are these older kids, and I have to tell them the words. Those are some of my earliest memories.

Songs were often sung while working. If you had some menial work to do, and you’d get bored doing that, you would sing. For example, when spinning—women used to do a lot of spinning—they would sing, just to amuse themselves. Or when they were ironing; my mother used to tell me, “this is an ironing song,” because they had to do a lot of ironing, and it’s boring work. And my mother and I would sing when we did the dishes because that, too, was boring, menial work. She would do the dishes, and I would dry them, and we would sing together. And we would harmonize. You sing when you work or you walk, and you don’t use any machines, because machines make noise and then there’s no room for singing…so it’s kind of part of the preindustrial age.

Q. People don’t sing as much as they used to?

A. We sing in certain contexts, like at school in choir, but just while doing stuff, not very much anymore. It’s really sad—it’s kind of a dying tradition.

Q. Do you know if German folksongs are very different from other folksongs?

A. Well, you will see that most German songs are in the major key, which sets them apart from eastern European folk music, which is usually minor.

Informant’s Explanation: “This is a song about the journeymen, the craftspeople that used to walk. Once they finished their apprenticeship—there was a very tough system for craftspeople. They would have three years of apprenticeship, and you start that when you’re young. So you would have three years of apprenticeship, and then pass some kind of exam, and then you became a journeyman. And the journeymen journeyed throughout Europe. So they would come, and walk from town to town, and come into a town, and find a master craftsman in that town and ask them, “Do you need someone?” And they would work for this guy for a while, and then they would journey on. So, this is how they broadened their horizons and learned more about their trade. It’s a great system, really—they got to see the world. And there are songs that these people would sing as they walked from town to town.

“The story is about a young man who goes and carries his belongings on his back and says, ‘Sometimes it’s painful and it’s tiring, but it’s worth it, I’m getting to see the world, I’m in Innsbruck now’—Innsbruck is a town in Austria—’and they have good wine there. And anyone who hasn’t been out in the world, I couldn’t recognize as a journeyman or as a master; you have to go out into the world.’”

Analysis: This song’s rhythmic pattern, in which shorter notes lead into longer notes, gives it a strong beat which certainly makes it well-suited for walking. In terms of tone, the song feels confident and almost heroic. Thus, the melody fits the song’s subject well; we can feel the speaker’s sense of adventurousness and excitement at travelling to new and exotic places.

German lyrics can be found online on numerous websites, including these ones: