What is Mercury retrograde and what does it mean for travellers?

Welcome to another month where virtually every little misery, misunderstanding, or mishap is explained and excused by looking up at the sky and muttering about Mercury retrograde. If you think astrology sounds medieval, you just aren’t modern enough – so inform and enlighten yourself with our handy explainer so you can start whining to heaven when things go wrong.

Main Photo: Could Astrology Influence Your Travel Plans? (Getty Images)

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Could Mercury retrograde be the reason you forgot to pack your phone charger?
Could Mercury retrograde be the reason you forgot to pack your phone charger? ((Getty Images)

What Is Mercury Retrograde And Why Is Everyone Excited About It?

According to astrologers, Mercury is the ruling planet of communication, logic and consciousness. So when the planet goes into retrograde (which happens about three to four times a year), we can expect our travel plans to go awry at every turn and our phones and laptops to go haywire.

“When Mercury goes retrograde, there will be road closures, flight times changed, hotels double booked, tickets lost, services canceled,” believes astrologer Francesca Oddie. “Strange things happen, like when we arrive at the airport and our flight just isn’t on the board. Or we swear you packed our phone charger but it’s gone. Expect chaos, instability, the unexpected.”

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But ask any astronomer and they will say that Mercury retrograde is nothing more than an optical illusion. Abigail Beall, who leads New Scientist Discovery Tours to stargazing hotspots, explains: “Mercury orbits the sun in just 88 days, much faster than Earth in 365 days. That means Mercury overtakes Earth in their respective orbits every few months. From our perspective, Mercury appears to be traveling backwards, or in retrograde motion. In reality, this is just an illusion – Mercury is moving in its orbit as usual.”

So is it either an impending catastrophe or a stupid deception? nothing in between?

So far we haven’t found much commonality or heaven between astrologers and astronomers. But it is a scientific fact that very few of us will make it to October 2nd, when the current period ends, without hearing people talk about “Mercury retrograde” and how it has messed up their travel plans.

Always check if you have your travel documents, whether Mercury is retrograde or not
Always check if you have your travel documents, whether Mercury is retrograde or not ((Getty Images)

Right, and what are we supposed to complain about in heaven?

Anything we want, really: For travelers, this could be canceled trains, double-booked hotels, outdated passports, faulty Covid certificates on NHS apps, flight delays, lost luggage… thanks to astrology until October 2nd. we can attribute it all to Mercury retrograde. Instead of our girlfriend, our husband, our travel agent, our airline, our old smartphone – or ourselves.

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“Understanding Mercury retrograde helps us know what to expect,” says Oddie. “Don’t be paranoid, but be meticulous. Double check everything, show up hours early at the airport, pack your phone chargers and communication gear and pack it again.”

But astronomers would say it’s best to relax. There has been plenty of travel chaos this summer – which did not occur during a period of Mercury retrograde – which we can blame on earthly things like Covid absences, less baggage handlers and the weather.

So, is there any evidence that Mercury retrograde is causing travel problems?

anecdotes from the time travel team count as proof, right?

Tour guide Claire Irvin recalls going through the requirements for a family holiday in South Africa, which required her children’s birth certificates – which they then left at home. With the help of their mother and a taxi driver, the family boarded the plane in seconds. “We felt like we were being ripped off all the time, that whatever could get in our way, despite our best efforts, was getting in our way,” she says.

She also recalls their honeymoon in Tahiti, where they arrived at midnight to find their hotel was double booked and they were booked three days later. For astrologers, Claire’s experience perfectly proves Mercury retrograde mischief.

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Astronomers are tempted to point out that the widespread summer holiday mayhem of 2022 took place as Mercury, as usual, swung nose-first around the Sun. But strangely nobody mentioned the planets at the time.

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Should I just cancel my vacation plans?

Definitely not, and astrologers and astronomers agree on that.

“Personally, I love traveling during Mercury retrograde,” says astrologer Francesca Oddie. “After all, travel is about embracing chaos. Good travelers solve problems, make the best of things, look for solutions. We know travel memories are made when things go wrong — we’re forced to befriend strangers, come up with a plan B that might be better than our plan A. Mercury retrograde is over-hyped as a time of doom and chaos, but the universe always gives us the lessons we need to learn.”

Astronomers also insist that you don’t have to cancel your vacation plans just because astrologers say Mercury is going backwards — because it’s not going backwards at all. “It’s really just an illusion,” repeats Abigail Beall. “Mercury moves in its orbit as usual.”

More information on astronomy and astrology

Astronomer Abigal Beall will lead two New Scientist Discovery Tours in 2023, including a 12-day Chile: The World Astronomy Capital departing March 27 and an eight-day Astronomy and Radio Telescopes Tour in New South Wales: Australia departing April 9 .

Astrologer Francesca Oddie leads astrology courses and offers personalized readings and consultations in Rome, Richmond and beyond.

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