I would like to explore the idea of “wanderlust” and what it truly means, as a movement. When you think of wanderlust, you probably think of exciting vacations, Tumblr blogs filled with stunning landscape and cityscape images from across the world, airplane tickets and inked-up passport books. The term invokes an incredible feeling of whimsy, freedom, and adventure. The idea of this wanderlust aesthetic is an involvement in the new, the exciting, the diverse. But, for me, the feeling of wanderlust is not necessarily synonymous with whimsy and serenity. For me, wanderlust is a ravishing thirst that taps into my nerves and drives my mind wild.
I did some research on the word “wanderlust,” which, it seems, has been booming in popularity over the past few years. The term, which is defined as a strong desire for or impulse to wander/travel/explore, actually dates back to somewhere between the 11th and 13th century, and comes from the German words “wandern” (to hike) and “lust” (desire) [x]. I tried to find data on the online usage of the word over the last 5-10 years, but 30 minutes on Google only brought up incomplete and conflicting information, not allowing me to discern whether the term has actually been increasing in popularity, or if I have just been personally more exposed to the aesthetic due to my own interests. My point, however, is that this term has been a part of one society or another for centuries. This word, which is based on a sense of yearning, has filled peoples’ hearts and minds for what seems like forever. Why? Why do we as a species feel the need to yearn for what is all around us? Why do we desire, rather than experience, all that our world has to offer? Where is our movement of wanderlebnis? (I fashioned this term using the German words “wander” – to hike and “erlebnis” – to experience, adventure).
Many mornings when I wake (as soon as I have shaken the grog from my mind) I am filled with an incredible sense of excitement. This feeling is akin to the tingle I felt in my soul on the first days of summer vacations, when that wave of realization washed over me that I had three whole months of freedom to look forward to. I live in an incredible world, I am fortunate enough to have a roof over my head, a (very) comfortable bed, a job that I love, great health, and people who love me. I live on a planet that is so incredibly vast, filled with thousands of cultures, countless interesting and beautiful places, and a geographic diversity that I can’t even begin to wrap my head around. Just thinking about it now sends shivers down my spine. How freaking amazing is this planet!?
Every one of us is, at our core, a citizen of this earth. And yet, we spend the majority of our lives stagnantly wading in a single culture, across a handful of towns. We only expand our understanding of and experience with this planet we call home (and the billions of humans we share it with) on occasion when we are able to travel for short periods of time. Even time used to connect with our own friends and families, and to explore nearby towns and cultures, are specialty instances.
So, although I frequently greet each day with my mind open to the wonder that is my life and my planet, I proceed to perform my daily routine and I am slowly shut off from the rest of the world as I walk my path in society. As my day progresses, my excitement and sense of wonder is pushed aside. My mind wanders throughout the day, to dreams of seeing new places, exploring new cultures, trying new things, eating new foods, facing new challenges, and overcoming new obstacles. And this is where the wanderlust ache begins. I wake up so refreshed, but then I feel that these daydreams are, and most of the time will continue to be, just dreams. I am utterly stifled.
This is what wanderlust is to me. It is this frustrating feeling of being tied down by society and fighting so hard to break free, but always feeling like freedom is just out of grasp. I daydream about a life that, in my soul, I know belongs to me already. But these daydreams stay dreams because I continue to do what I am “supposed” to do. Wanderlust, for me, is being a fairytale princess trapped in a tower. I am well aware of what my real life is meant to be like. I know of the luxuries, happiness, and grand romance that belongs in my story, but here I am, following someone else’s rules, and sitting pitifully inside of stone walls instead of fighting to escape, because it would be useless to even try.
Well, I am terrified – so, so terrified – but I have finally decided that I would rather risk fire breathing dragons, moats of poison, and the wrath of my captor than live and die inside these walls. And so, my wanderlust drives me to fight back, and it has become an itch for what I need in my life, rather than a calming daydream of something simply out of my grasp.
I can hardly concentrate, I am restless, I feel the need to get up and run. Every time I get into my car I imagine driving past my destination and into the unknown. The primal cry in my mind constantly throws me off balance and into a pool of dreams. I remember that I am a citizen of the earth, first and foremost, and that my purpose here is undefined. My peers and successors do not know more than I do about the “meaning of life.” The society I was born unwillingly into does not somehow have it all figured out. I can follow my heart and my mind, and if I fall flat on my face then I can get up and keep running. The only things I know for sure about life is that we are all born, and one day, we all die. The in-between and how-tos are all to be determined. There is far too much out there for me to not give it a shot. If I’m doing it wrong, being irresponsible, wasting my potential, or ruining my progress, then so be it. But if I’m not, then I will stand proudly at the top of the mountain of happiness, adventure, and experience I have collected, and I will immaturely stick my tongue out at all of humanity from my peak and scream out into the crowds with glee bursting from my heart “I told you so!”
I’m sorry that I can’t sit silently in my straitjacket. I’m sorry that the buzz in my heart comes vibrating out of my mouth in words that sound repetitive, preachy, and pretentious. I’m sorry that I deceived you all these years, pretending to be just like you with goals of success and linear achievements. I’m sorry that I have gone crazy. But it isn’t my fault, nor am I ashamed. The wanderlust has infiltrated my soul and taken the reins. I truly believe it will guide me through this delirium and into enlightenment. That is, if I can stay brave enough to let it.