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The Wanderlust Gene: Are Humans Hard-Wired to Travel?

  • By Charles Smith
  • July 17, 2019

The Wanderlust Gene: Are Humans Hard-Wired to Travel?

You might come across people who never feel the urge to leave their home. They're content with the very place they have stayed in forever, the couch they sit on, and the 360 degrees that directly surround them.

Then there's the rest of us wanderers: the folks who can't sit still, possibly meditate to Anthony Bourdain and always have their passports on them – just in case.

Whether you name it wanderlust, a love for traveling or steady old curiosity – the truth remains the same: Your craving to explore the ends of the world simply cannot be quenched, irrespective of the number of journeys or vacations you take at SKY ITL.

The genetic biology suggests that it might be possible to inherit traveling bug from our ancestors. It turns out there’s a so-called “wanderlust gene” that could have been passed down by our parents — and chances are if you’re reading this, you might have one too.

The Wanderlust Gene

If traveling causes a rush of adrenaline in your bloodstream, it’s possible that you possess a certain mutation in receptors for dopamine D4 (DRD4), which could be a contributing factor towards your wanderlust.

National Geographic quotes multiple types of research demonstrating that migratory populations are more likely to have definitive variants of DRD4 than populations believed to be more sedentary. The D4 receptor is related to risk-taking and the craving for new stimulus, which may elucidate why the same variant of this gene common to migratory populations also seems to trace its roots to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Go through this readable review of the research connecting the dots between two. This source states that the gene variant occurs in less than 1% of particular populations while more than 70% in others, with a strong correlation to extensive migration histories.

Could a gene related to migration and novelty-seeking help elucidate why some of us are hooked to travel? It does make sense: Get a firing gene that makes humans want to see new things, do new things, be new places, and try new things.

Of course, it’s doubtful that a single gene is exclusively responsible for a traveler’s wanderlust; other environmental and genetic factors are almost unquestionably at play. But there is indication all around us (both commonsensical and scientific) that there has to be something innate in us that invigorates us to migrate. The human species has oscillated over Earth in a way that no other species has in the evolution of the planet so it would not be astounding if there is something embedded in the genetic makeup that stimulates us to be on the move — even if it’s perhaps not a single Wanderlust gene.

The Wanderlust Spectrum

Just like some folks are short and others tall, and everyone else falls somewhere in between, the same is true for sleep habits: some of us are truly night people, others strictly morning people, and everyone else falls within a spectrum along the extremes.

The research is not as profound, so it’s not yet deciphered why the same effect seems to be in play when it comes to wanderlust. Could our genes alone elucidate why some folks love to travel a lot but always return home, while others choose to stay on the road forever or even live in a foreign country? Could DNA enlighten why many expats seem perplexed by those who don’t wish to retire overseas, while the homebodies spend their whole lives in a single home for decades and appear to be genetically inclined to sit tight?