Travelling Tarot: Tips for Reading on the Road

I am writing this in Vienna’s tenth district, sitting inside a good friend’s combined studio/guestroom. A week ago I came to Austria from visiting family in Germany, and a week before that I was in Egypt touring ancient temples. Each place I’ve gone, I’ve arrived deck in hand, ready to read for whoever I might meet. This is how I’ve made so many friends so quickly during my time abroad.

I was shy at first. I was afraid of language preventing me from accurately reading, superstition and religion throwing brick walls against my offers to read for new friends, and cultural differences leaving me embarrassed and out of touch with the people I intended to help and become closer to.

Luckily, it really wasn’t that big a deal. In fact, all of the tips below are important at home or abroad, though I do believe its important to be more conscious of yourself when out of your element. While there is always more to learn, here is what I’ve figured out so far about reading Tarot while on the move…

1. Be Discerning: Map Out Beliefs

Although I doubt you will find yourself on death row, practicing anything resembling magic can stir up superstition and fear in many people – locally and abroad.

Map out the beliefs of people you meet by respectfully asking about the religion of their country and their family, picking up their attitudes towards other ways of life at the same time. Each time I’ve done this, I’ve been asked if I was religious also. I say I am not any specific religion, but my Mother is and I respect many faiths. This isn’t my life story, but it lets me be honest while letting them know I appreciate and respect their beliefs. This also builds connection and trust, which is crucial to an effective reading.

Based on what you learn about people and how much time you have, you can decide whether you’d be interested in reading cards for them. Reading only for open-minded, respectful people is your first step to a good reading.

2. Offering Readings: Take it Lightly

To get people interested in readings, I usually joke around about Tarot a little bit first. When the inevitable topic of career comes up I say rather ironically that I am a fortune teller. Later on in the conversation, I tone it down by comparing Tarot reading to very light counseling, and an entertaining way to talk about life’s problems. Usually people begin to ask for readings, or if they can see me do it. Offering up an example card can quickly lead to a whole night of Tarot readings for a roomful of new friends.

Take the Tarot lightly with strangers. No matter how magical you may be, when discussing a reading it can protect you to mention beforehand that you and the cards are not supernatural in any way. There is no reason to try to sell beliefs on how, why, or if the cards ‘really work’ to people who may rather see the cards as just a fun way to look at problems. And remember: If someone doesn’t know what to ask about, just say “Pick one – Love or Money?”

3. Reading the Cards: Language is a Bridge, not a Barrier

Something I’ve discussed recently is that the language barrier is usually something we throw up as an excuse when we become lazy communicators. If you work at it, you can be understood by just about anybody.

Being a native English speaker is a big advantage since people learn English all over the world – at least a little. Of course, talking about prices and the weather is only going to get you so far in a Tarot reading, so to be more comprehensively understood use simple language, rich facial expressions, and gesticulate – a lot. Having a good translator is just a bonus – Pointing to the three of swords and saying ‘sad’ and then putting a hand over your heart and looking pained is going to get you a lot farther than stumbling through an explanation of the symbols with a severely clipped vocabulary.

If you need help to know how to communicate more expressively, try people watching in other countries. Especially in communities which value privacy less than our US/European standard, I’ve noticed an incredible amount of emotion and energy in speech. If you can communicate in this animated, expressive way, whatever you wish to say will be understood better, and as a bonus you’ll probably make a lot more friends on your trip also.

4. Taking Care: Being Understood

No matter how expressive you are, you might be misunderstood. Anything from the wrong word to a misconstrued gesture may leave them feeling like something bad will happen to them because you read their cards, or worse, you might lose touch with them in confusion. Once this happens, cultural and linguistic differences become more difficult to reconcile, so its important to be very deliberate with your message.

The best guard against errors is to keep the messages – no matter how complex – in the simplest possible language. Also, keeping the good side of every single card in your language gives them the biggest chance for taking a positive message from your reading. Especially in the ‘darker’ cards, keeping the idea of Renewel in the Death, Tower, and 10 of Swords can really help keep you in rapport.

I will keep moving and honing my Tarot skills. I hope these ideas are helpful, and feedback is always welcome and encouraged. Thanks for reading!

7 thoughts on “Travelling Tarot: Tips for Reading on the Road

  1. Great to read this entry Lionel – and very valuable tips also for my own pratcie. Since I am pretty fluid in languages I rarely read for people by having to rely on gestures and mimic, h0owever your point to stay simple and positive in one’s message is universally valid – thanks!
    For others reading this post I’d like to share my own observation of the “Lionel Traveling Tarot” process:
    So I sit in the Hurghada Hotel on the shores of the Red Sea coast, and am waiting for Lionel, my son, to emerge for a game of Canasta. 6 o’clock – no Lionel. Seven o’clock … eight o’clock – no Lionel – I look for him in the internet Cafe – no Lionel there either. I decide to check the merchants row shops, where Lionel made some acquaintances the first day we arrived in Eastern Egypt. He is not in the Papyrus shop, the owner is nowhere in sight either – just an empty place. I look in the T-shirt and souvenir shop – no one there either. Finally I open the door to the perfume shop. That place is buzzing and the energy is high. Positively radiant. Lionel sits in a big chair, a gaggle of shopkeepers and assistants gathered around him in breathless silence, while Lionel is animated, eyes flashing, gesturing, explaining a Tarot spread on in front of him. “Hi mom” he waves. Two of the young men jump up offer me mint tea urging me into a comfy armchair. Immediately they resume the listening and then discuss among each other in Arabic what Lionel has been saying, questions come in English, Lionel laughs and nods and stirs the energy pot having everyone full of life and excitement about the message from the cards, from their hearts… The fragrance of the perfume oils lend persuasion the this message (an Egyptian thing, these heavy and flowery perfumes – their scent permeates the atmosphere of even the humblest towns.). Lionel then slowly packs up – the connection is made. He tries to make himself understood to a young man whose cards showed a strong transformative challenge. Friendship blossoms, cards are exchanged. No intellectual and distanced process here. Good warm, vibrant sharing. “He’s my son” I say to one of the young men. He looks me deep into the eyes and says “He is my brother”. El Hamdulillah!

  2. Lionel you are such an amazing being! I can’t wait to hear your stories, Karin’s leave me thirsting for more and for pictures!

    But in regards to this post: I find your tips very astute and wish I’d had them years ago. I traveled in South America a few years ago and I did have my cards with me and while I did do a number of readings in English I did not have the confidence at the time to read for people in Spanish, (which I did not know much of, yo hablo poco espanol ahora), and I did get asked to a couple of times. I hadn’t considered the possibility of doing readings without a common language prior to my trip and I think that being armed with some of your experiences and thoughts on the matter I could have been comfortable doing so. At least I feel inspired enough by your communication skills not to shy at the prospect should it arise again. Thanks!

    1. I also missed out on working with Tarot during my trip to central America. I did confront some particularly superstitious and conservative attitudes in the areas I visited, but especially among the other travellers I think it would be invaluable!

      Thank you so much for your comments Morgan 🙂 I look forward to seeing you in Boulder soon!

  3. It sounds like your great amount of wisdom has guided you well. Knowing you you’re probably living it up but even so I hope you stay safe and happy. I was wondering, how long your trip was going to be? – Yuki 雪 星

    1. Hello Yuki! I’m surprised and please you’re here 🙂

      I will be back in Boulder on the 11th, and available to meet after the 15th or so. I’ll be in touch. If you get a chance to play with your cards, the tips on this page are good even at home, so give them a try.

      See you then!

      1. Emily told me you had a blog. Not sure when but I’m going to be here. I’ll be going to D.C, North Carolina, and the Bahamas. I hope I get to see you before then – Yuki 雪 星

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