From Coast to Ghost: Psychic Vacations Are Becoming America’s Latest Travel Craze

The 19th century’s Spiritualism craze is making a trendy travel comeback.

Like today, there was quite a lot of rapid change in the America of the 1840s. The abolitionist movement was growing, setting the stage for what would unfold into the Civil War. The Second Great Awakening was underway, ushering in a focus on women’s liberation and direct connections with the world beyond. A wave of technological innovation had recently swept the nation, introducing marvels like the telegraph and camera photography.

It was in this era of breakneck change that three teenage sisters in New York—or perhaps their enterprising parents—made headlines for their ability to channel spirits and answer questions from beyond via a series of knocks and rapping. It took 40 years before the middle child and then world-famous medium Margaretta Fox confessed that their “spirit rapping” was, in fact, an unsettling combination of toe cracking and rotating ankle joints. But by then, the movement was far bigger than any one person, and the confession hardly slowed the trend. Medium performers and lecturers continued to sell out shows from NYC’s Carnegie Hall to San Francisco’s Dreamland Auditorium for decades to come.

From the late 1800s to the 1940s, hundreds of thousands of spiritualists took advantage of the public, profiting off the widespread fascination with near-unbelievable new technology, the growing distaste for organized religion, and the expanding awareness of foreign cultures. First embraced by Civil War widows and later, high-society Victorian-era women looking to gently rebel against the shackles of the patriarchy, the Spiritualism movement swept across society, promising to connect the living to the deceased. Mediums offered services like “a first-class $3 reading” for the low, low price of 50 cents (or $1 for men).

Today, that level of direct connection with the spirits costs quite a bit more than half a buck, especially if you want to bring your friends along (which, in 1881, would cost you a hefty $5).

“I’m $150 for an hour or $100 for 30 mins,” says New Orleans psychic and medium Cari Roy. “If I go off-site, like for parties, it’s $200 for an hour. Reading several people at once is very taxing.”

Roy has been a professional medium and psychic since 1985; her mother and grandfather both dabbled in the art of prognostication or being able to predict the future. Roy says the supernatural is deeply rooted in the character of New Orleans, starting with enslaved Africans who merged traditional practices with Christian beliefs. “We’re very spiritual here,” she says. “That’s not a strange thing in this city.”

Despite the city’s long-held embrace of all things metaphysical and mystic, Roy says she’s seen recent changes and trends that mirror the turn-of-the-century Spiritualism movement—specifically, an increase in groups of women using her services as social events. “Events have become more commonplace now,” she says. “It used to be that the bulk of my career was one-on-one. But it’s probably a 60-40 split now.” She estimates that travelers have grown to represent about half of her clientele.

Cari Roy – quoted in Fodor’s Travel

In the mid-1800s, the services of Spiritualists were called on both by true believers and by groups of women using the chance to communicate with the dead as an excuse for a soiree, hovering just on the fringe of what was an acceptable way for reputable women of the time to socialize. And like back then, Roy says, she sees both clients seeking genuine spiritual insight and clients using seances and readings as pure entertainment. But instead of hosting seances in high-society Victorian homes with invites passed via whispered word of mouth, it mostly manifests as bachelorette parties and groups of women on vacation.