The wanderlust gene: Why some people must see the world

Do you yearn to travel? It might not be just that your restless, it might be in your genes.

Blue Skies - Image by Vincent Stokes - All rights reserved

PROVO, December 21, 2015 – Certain people never feel the need to leave home. They are more than content to stay in the same city in which they were born and find their immediate surroundings the only area in which they truly feel comfortable. Then there is another group of individuals: those who have a difficult time staying in one place. If you are in this category, you need to see and experience new things on a regular basis and view a sedentary existence as a prison sentence rather than a fulfilling life. When you compare yourself with the majority of the population, you may wonder if your urge to travel is a genetic predisposition.

Possibility of a Wanderlust Gene

The golden hour | Image by Vincent Stoke all rights reserved
The golden hour | Image by

Whether its called wanderlust, insatiable curiosity, or simply a love of new experiences, the hunger to explore is impossible to quench in certain people, regardless of how much they travel or how many vacations they take. Seeing and experiencing new parts of the world creates a feeling in such individuals that cannot be fulfilled any other way. Recently, theories about a “wanderlust gene” have surfaced and according to recent studies, it is possible that there is a genetic predisposition to such activity. Therefore, if you are a hopeless traveler who cannot settle down, it may be embedded in your DNA.


The gene referred to by scientists as DRD4 is associated with your brain’s dopamine levels, and it is believed by certain psychologists that the urge to travel is due to a mutation of this gene, identified as DRD4-7R.

Some scientists believe there is a distinct correlation with this gene and increased levels of restlessness and curiosity: people who carry this gene usually share one thing in common, a history of traveling.

The gene itself is uncommon and is only found in approximately one-fifth of the American population.

Most world history experts and anthropologists believe that the origin of mankind began in Africa. In keeping with this theory, a 1999 study conducted by scientist Chaunsheng Chen, suggests that the gene is more common in modern-day societies where individuals migrated longer distances from where life first originated.

In other words, Chen believes that civilizations that have diverged the farthest from Africa may be more susceptible to carrying the “restless and curious” DRD4-7R gene.

According to David Dobbs of National Geographic, the new form of the DRD4 gene–7R–causes individuals to embrace change, as well as be more prone to take risks. Dobbs goes on to say that those who carry this gene embrace adventure overall, but particularly in the form of travel.

They are even more likely to relocate with ease, while others typically dread moving.

Wanderers in History

Water fall | Image by Vincent Stokes - click to enlarged - all rights reserved
Water fall | Image by – click to enlarge –

Studies by Chen and Dobbs lead to a world of fascinating questions about how long this gene has been in existence. Naturally, DNA studies were not perfected until recently, and therefore it is impossible to know who may have carried this gene centuries ago.

For example, perhaps famous explorers such as Magellan, Columbus and Americo Vespucci had this gene, thus allowing them to overcome their fears of the unknown and strike out on the open sea to discover new lands.

Similarly, perhaps it was the wanderlust gene that motivated a group of individuals in Australia known as “sundowners” to wander to new areas on a consistent basis throughout their lives. Such individuals often worked in the Australian goldfields, and sometimes simply wandered away in the middle of the day to seek unknown territory, only to show up years later to resume their employment, if their employers would take them back. Now we must wonder if this wandering pattern may not have been entirely their fault.

Perhaps even those who sail ships, fly planes, work as traveling life insurance salesmen carry this gene, which subsequently plays a role in their choice of vocation.

Researchers may continue to study various groups, including Gypsy communities to determine if those who have migrated through history, even if it were not necessary, may simply have a genetic predisposition to do so. Regardless of the level of scientific research that continues on the subject, it is obvious that interesting examples of this gene’s potential to affect behavior can be seen all through history, thus making it an intriguing study.

Born to be Free

Until recently, people who traveled frequently or moved on a regular basis were regarded as irresponsible individuals who could not “settle down.” Perhaps you were looked at funny when you mentioned a South Seas adventure cruise or a Japan Tour. Hopefully, with the discovery of the DRD4-7R gene, it will be proven that the more accurate assessment of such individuals is simply that they possess a strong urge for self-development through becoming familiar with other cultures and societies, and experiencing the unknown.

If you carry the wanderlust gene, you are certainly in a minority, as 20% of the population is a small margin. However, you know that the happiness and fulfillment you get from traveling and experiencing new sights and sounds cannot be acquired any other way. Therefore, you should make the most of your life and enjoy your travels, regardless of whether or not your actions make sense to others.

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