By Andrew Braverman; illustrations by Lukey Walden
I’ve always felt a pull to move. Staying in the same locale for extended periods of time makes me anxious, to be quite honest. I travel whenever I get the chance. Naturally, I felt a special attraction when I first tottered across the word ‘wanderlust.’ “I most certainly have a lust for travel!” unlearned Andrew exclaimed. Little did I know, the word’s roots trace back to the early 20th century, evolving from a compound of the German words wandern and lust, respectively translated to “to hike,” and “desire.”
In the past half-decade or so, the word has assumed a drastically new identity, primarily through the skyrocketing growth of social networking sites like Pinterest and Tumblr. Nary a period of technological procrastination can pass for today’s adolescents without glossing over an image of a romantic mountain range covered with a cliché—and syntactically questionable—definition of wanderlust. Perhaps you’ve witnessed another one showing some mysterious beautiful woman sporting Birckenstocks and a large backpack, finished with a chrome filter, as she nonchalantly saunters into the sunset—or something along those overly-specific lines.
The platitude associated with the phrase ‘wanderlust’ is an unfortunate one. Through popularization, the timeless and innate dream of wanderlust is warped. The updated, overwrought nature of the term has disenchanted many from subscribing to the idea. It is best put like this: people, particularly at a young and impressionable age, often spurn that which is popular, even if they liked it before it became so. No longer is it this insatiable desire to move, to travel, to see and experience all the different and beautiful cultures, cuisines and people in this world. Now, wanderlust is the caption of your brother’s ex-girlfriend’s Instagram. It’s the tattoo your affluent friends got while drunk and high in Amsterdam after their month of eurailing.
The initial conception of it—and what I’ve always understood wanderlust to mean—is more subtle than all that. You don’t make a statement about it. The necessity of movement is so deeply engrained in your being that it’s part of you, an image to project or an identity to assume. Wanderlust, for me, has gone from an experience—of the pungent smell of a guinea pig being cooked in Ecuador or street soccer in Brazil—onto a tablet or smartphone.
Sociologists and psychologists have long kept tabs on the scientific merit of wanderlust. While no medical diagnosis exists, the basic idea of wanderlust connects with a number of deeply-rooted psychological states. Some studies suggest that it is a rationale for escape: The wanderlustful are dodging confrontation with reality or running away from personal problems. Perhaps home has become a place of discomfort that is best avoided, and wanderlust is a pretty label to paste over insecurities and personal issues. These thinkers represent the far more critical end of the spectrum. They cite studies that have linked wanderlust to leaving behind feelings of guilt. Others suggest that it should be interpreted merely as a synonym for “travelphilia” (I think I made that word up). Some humans foster a natural proclivity toward travel. At this juncture, I find it worth mentioning that etymologically, the word became an antonym for ‘homesickness.’ Wanderlusters may not feel any particular intrinsic pull towards home, and instead feel the external pull to travel, or wander. The sociologist Robert E. Park has proposed that initially, wanderlust embodied ideals that scorned society, traditional existence and the values of status and organization. I found this theory especially interesting, considering the 180-degree rotation in the meaning of “wanderlust.” Undeniably, most cases of wanderlust are searches for answers in one way or another. This search has proven forever linked with unraveling the mysteries of the human condition. Confronting unexpected challenges and discovering previously alien cultures or ways of life seems like a reasonable path to these people. As it does me. Almost unanimously on my travels–whether it be a road trip to the next town or across the world–I experience substantive and sincere reflection. I return home with a refreshed perspective and peace of mind.
Now, what connection is shared between the notions of home and wanderlust, you ask? In this context, home should be evaluated in two drastically different contexts: the abstract, more philosophical context versus the physical place where there is a tangible home. Wanderlust is so often linked with adolescence as the developmental years of life are most likely to leave a person dissatisfied with the restrictions of home. Thus, they prove the most likely to catalyze a desire to travel. Maturing to understand you can’t just go wherever you want whenever you want is frightening and naturally causes resistance. Acknowledging that reaction, we see a correspondence with what one recognizes to be one’s physical home, as an idea that repels the young mind. For those with more loosely-defined conceptions of home, wanderlust has nothing to do with this. If, to you, home just means a place that is capable of enveloping you in comfort then anywhere can be home. It’s not a means of escaping home, but finding new homes.
Having moved a number of times throughout my childhood, I never felt any particular attachment to a physical location as my home. It was more where my family was than anything else. Without this physical tie to a place, I felt less restrained and more able to see different parts of the world. I have always perceived my wanderlust as a means of building my identity. Every place I’ve been makes me realize a new part of me and confronts all my wonders with answers, then more wonders. This keeps me yearning to travel, and to experience anything I can, anywhere I can.