The Wanderlust Gene

COMMENT: The Wanderlust Gene


In 2010, a student at Columbia University asked me:

“Im working on a story about how some people have a genetic predisposition to travel, and I’d love to get comments from you about people who have a compulsion or are obsessed with travel and have an appetite for adventure and risk. I’ve stumbled on a number of your great insights in various travel-related articles while doing my research.

Sata Hamdan, Columbia News Service (Columbia University)


“Do some people just have an innate appetite for risk and adventure when it comes to travel?  Could this be enhanced by a person’s environment? Is it possible that the things that overwhelm some people when it comes to travel, like packing, visas, vaccinations excite others? Could this also be related to fear: conquering it, identifying it?


“This story is for my class, Columbia News Service, which is a news wire service that spreads our stories to over 400 publications across North America – so the story will likely get published, too.



Wanderlust may be driven by the desire to escape and leave behind depressive feelings of guilt, and has been linked to bipolar disorder in the periodicity of the attacks.[7] Or it may reflect an intense urge for self-development by experiencing the unknown, confronting unforeseen challenges, getting to know unfamiliar cultures, ways of life and behaviours.

In adolescence, dissatisfaction with the restrictions of home and locality may also fuel the desire to travel.[8] ]

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The Travel Psychologist’s Take:

It is somewhat futile in human terms to define and measure a so-called wanderlust gene, since the human condition is so complex and does not lend itself to simple measurements of complex behaviors influenced by a multitude of social, cultural, environmental, biological, and, finally, psychological factors. Nonetheless, it is interesting to speculate in ‘pop’ psychological terms how such a gene might conceivably manifest itself in human behavior . . .

3 thoughts on “The Wanderlust Gene”

  1. Hi,

    I am doing some research into the phenomenon that some humans have inherited the Wanderlust gene, and was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about it from a physiologist point for view?
    How can it be proven that we do have this gene?
    Are we born with it?
    How can we find out if we have it?

    Thanks so much!


  2. I’m afraid that I do not have sufficient expertise in the physiological aspects of the subject to really be able to address your questions, which are excellent ones.

    I suspect that there is probably something more fundamental to physiology than a simple notion of ‘wanderlust,’ per-se. That is, maybe it’s more to do with inquisitiveness or curio-sity, which would express itself in a number of different ways.

    By way of an example, take, for instance, art ability: Is there an artist gene? Or is there something more akin to creativity that expresses itself through learning and the environment?

    This is somewhat akin to the problem of personality factors in psychology. Almost any psychological theorist has his or her own idea of what are the basic components of persona-lity. But, in reality, there are just about as many personality theories as there are people talking about it.

    How to translate human personality into a discussion of specific genes that may give expression to any untold variety of true gene-factors that, in turn, express themselves in human behav-ior.

    I’m afraid your questions are so fundamental and so complex that I wonder if there are people out there that can address them.

  3. Hey, I have no real Psychology experience (other than what I’ve studied on my own). I’m currently a Marine and I have experienced this “wanderlust” for practically all of my life. I had never had the term to explain the burning desire I’ve housed to really just get up and go like this all describes. I truly believe this is me to a core. Anyways, I guess I’m writing this to see a psychologist’s viewpoint or something on this. I love how I am and it keeps me super happy, but I’d love to see the “scientific” side of it. Please e-mail me anything.

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