My wanderlust

“Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures.” (Lovelle Drachman)

Our language has a lot of words borrowed and adapted from other languages. That’s how we got the word, “wanderlust.” In its original German it means a love of hiking. In its contemporary usage in our language it is the desire to travel far and wide. I seem to be affected by it. From as early as I can remember, I loved going on trips. With pilots for parents, there were frequent opportunities. Whether it was a routine check of Yellowstone National Park or a charter to Oregon, my father kept the airplanes ready and when the weather cooperated we took some really grand adventures. Our whole family flew from our home in Montana to Indianapolis, Washington DC, Chicago, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle among other destinations closer to home. When we graduated from seminary, we spent six weeks traveling with my parents and sister and her husband in Europe, driving around in a rented van and visiting friends, many of whom had visited our home.

I come by the wanderlust naturally. My parents loved to travel. They visited Japan and Taiwan and New Zealand and Australia. They took trips to the Bahamas and Bermuda. They wandered around Hong Kong. After my father died, my mother toured China, the Philippines and Sri Lanka on her bicycle. She also took cycling trips around Montana and did a New England tour as well. Later she went on several cruises and traveled with her brass choir to Germany. She had a list of possible future destinations that she kept with her and talked about for all of her life. Had her health permitted, she would have traveled even more.

I am constantly thinking of and planning trips. Some of them are only dreams. They involve destinations and modes of travel that I cannot afford and are trips that I probably will never take. All the same, we have been fortunate enough to travel to Costa Rica several times and we had a wonderful trip to Australia with our adult children in 2006. We’ve been to England and made two trips to Japan. And we enjoy hitching up our trailer and exploring the northwest. One of the kayaks I built has been in the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Bay of Fundy and the Salish Sea. It has been paddled in Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron as well as the Yellowstone and the Missouri and countless little lakes and ponds one the way.

Not long ago I read a piece published on the BBC website that reminded me that this desire to explore and travel is not universal. While some of us find travel and adventure to be a huge part of our lives, there are others who focus their energy and attention on staying at home. They may travel, but their true joy is in remaining where they are rooted.

Scientific research has discovered a variant of the DRD4 gene, the gene that affects sensitivity to the near sensor dopamine, a chemical that is involved in the perception of pleasure. Dopamine research has produced significant progress in treating illnesses as varied as Parkinson’s and bipolar disorder. It isn’t as simple as having the 7R variation of the DRD4 gene means that one has a craving for travel. People with that variation, however, are less sensitive to some of the simple pleasures that give others satisfaction. While one person might feel intense pleasure with a taste of chocolate, a walk in the park, lingering with the newspaper or a favorite coffee, another person might be able to recognize the value of those things, but not feel the deep pleasure experienced by the first person. Those with the 7R variation seem to need more dramatic stimulation in order to experience the same level of pleasure. Those with the 7R variation are more likely to be risk taker and thrill seekers. Those people will go farther than others in order to get those increased dopamine levels.

I have never had genetic testing. I don’t know whether or not I have the 7R variation. I don’t seem to be attracted to the most extreme forms of risk taking. I’ve never had the desire to parachute, an experience both my son and my brother have had. I’ve never been attracted to bungie jumping. I got great pleasure from staying home with our children. I enjoy paddling in the same lake over and over again. I never tire of the sunrise view from my home.

We know that genes don’t determine one’s personality. All sorts of different factors play into the personalities we have. Relationships can affect the amount of travel and the amount of staying at home one experiences. One’s career can have a big impact on the opportunities for travel. Furthermore, the 7R variation has been linked to addiction, a short temper, and delinquent behavior. I don’t think I’m especially prone to any of those things. Of course all humans have addictions, but my primary addiction is to my family and perhaps to some of the gadgets in my life. I drink perhaps a half dozen glasses of wine a year. I gave up caffeine without a big problem. I did have a rather short temper when I was younger, but I’ve learned to control that without problems and I don’t think people would describe me as having a short fuse these days. I haven’t been one to get in trouble with authority, where inside of the church or in my life in the community.

If I do have the 7R variation, the desire to travel and explore seems like a much better expression of that variation than struggling with addiction or destroying relationships with a violent temper.

I suspect that my urge to travel may be more psychological than genetic, however. With the Internet and other forms of instant communication, I am constantly aware of what others are doing. Most of our recent travel adventures have been to visit family who are in distant places. I am inspired by the lives of my colleagues, who live in many different places around the globe. The church is a world-wide fellowship and I am continually aware of ministries and missions taking place in countries and on continents I have never visited. I only have to open up YouTube to view another camping trip or canoe trip or a trek to a very remote part of the globe. My mind wanders even when I am at home.

Jack Kerouac wrote, “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that damn mountain.”

I think I may have a few more mountains in my system before I really settle down for good.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!