The Travel Bug

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We can’t all be Wandering Earl, the seemingly footloose and fancy-free traveler who’s been trotting the globe for the last 12 years without pause. He’s seen 76 countries on six continents so far, and as far as I can tell, lives absolutely the coolest life of anyone on the planet. I’m ridiculously jealous, as are most people who read his blog.

Of course, I should offer a giant disclaimer right now, which is that I really can’t complain. In addition to a recent trip to Peru, I’ve been to many countries myself, and in my short life have seen more than most people in the world ever get to see. Yet as is common with people who travel frequently, I can’t wait to see more.

So my question is … what’s up with that? Why is traveling so addictive? Why do the people who get to do it a lot want to do it more and more? Why aren’t we content to just stay at home with our pets and all our nice things? If humans are naturally filled with wanderlust, why is the nomadic lifestyle now so largely obsolete?

Scientifically speaking, the answer is muddled at best. After much online research, the closest I got was several blogs asserting that people love travel because it’s just soooooo great and one extremely disturbing article about the ineffectiveness of shutting down air traffic in the event of global pandemic. Science simply didn’t have a lot to say on the matter.

I did, however, find one blogger’s take illuminating, mostly because she took the time to lay out, step by step, the reasons people find exploration so addicting: the challenges, the new experiences, the opportunities to find oneself, and so on. What interested me about this was not what she was saying in particular – that was fairly rudimentary – but that it reminded me so much of another article I read a while back.

Beautiful Brains is an amazing piece of research by David Dobbs, filled with insight into the nature of the developing teenage brain. He finds that adolescents, who have long enraged their parents with inconsistent behavior, risk-taking, and generalized idiocy, are actually undergoing an acutely sensitive phase in their lives: moving from their parents’ home to the wider world. Their need to explore new things, meet new people, fill themselves with a sense of awe … it’s all for the purpose of making their transition exciting and therefore bearable. (How fun would it be to leave the rents’ house, after all, if you didn’t desperately want to?)

So is that it, then? Do we leave that sense of wonder behind when we become adults? Can we only get it back through consciousness-altering experiences, the most acceptable (and legal) of which is traveling? Or is wanderlust simply a natural part of the human condition for some other evolutionary reason?

For now, it remains an unsolved mystery. Any insight, however, would be most welcome. I’ll be sure to take a break from Wandering Earl’s most popular post to read your comments.

Photo credit: Sarah Moore

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