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10 Telltale Signs You've Caught the Wanderlust Bug

The word wanderlust even sounds magical, rolling off my tongue like a whisper from far away. I lust after it, I want to wander the world on a magic carpet, guided by stardust... but I'll settle for boarding a plane.

Turkish coffee in Istanbul, to sate your wanderlustSometimes it's just about waking up somewhere different, where the sky is larger, the raindrops fatter, the wind sharper, and the tastes different. Somewhere not home. Photo Anne Sterck

Wanderlust comes from the German 'desire to wander', and the Urban Dictionary defines it as:

  1. A very strong or irresistible impulse to travel. 
  2. A strong longing for or impulse toward wandering.

Does this sound familiar?

I admit to having this illness (to me it is a privilege, one I accept with gratitude).

Some of us are born with the travel bug, others will develop it later in life, and yet others will amplify what they already have.

When I read James Michener's The Drifters so many years ago, all I could think of was Morocco and Mozambique (it took time but I got there)

If and when it strikes, wanderlust, like an addiction, can be difficult to dislodge. It will insinuate itself into your dreams and take the shape of faraway places. It will sear visions into your mind, visions of places you have yet to see. It will, often, make you wish you were anywhere but where you are, now.

Buenos Aires - away from home wanderlustA street scene in Buenos Aires, which I have yet to visit (but desperately want to). Photo Annabel Haslop

The travel bug, strange syndrome that it is, can manifest itself in many ways.

  1. Do you stand forlornly at airports reading departure boards and watching planes take off?
  2. Do you window shop for strange items like mosquito netting or super-absorbent towels?
  3. Do you fold and unfold maps at the bookstore, mumbling to yourself... been there... and there... going there soon?
  4. Do you walk by the local hostel and strike up conversations with the gang hanging outside - and then go home seething with envy?
  5. Do you catch a movie - but only if it has subtitles?
  6. Have you ever thought of downloading the entire Travel Channel or buying an old - but complete - set of Lonely Planets?
  7. Are you always the first to try any new foreign restaurant in town?
  8. Do you change your computer screensaver to a new exotic location - every day?
  9. Do you subscribe to every new (and old) travel blog?
  10. Do you log on to lastminute.com before bedtime... just in case?

And if not, how does your wanderlust manifest itself?

Cointrin airport, Geneva; people with wanderlust, heading outThe airport, one of my favorite haunts in-between trips

There's not much you can do once wanderlust hits.

What to do with the feeling? It can be so gripping it overturns life as you know it, transforming you into an obsessive traveler wannabe.

You can ride the feeling, or try to push it away.

You can ignore it, badmouth it, think or write about it, actively try to eliminate it, even philosophize it to death.

In my experience, resistance only strengthens the obsession.

Once it's lodged, pushing the insistent thought of travel away only brings it back with a vengeance. 

Coming to grips with wanderlust has guided many of my life decisions by forcing my hand, making me choose - between travel and a job, travel and a relationship... I haven't always chosen travel but yes, at times I have, knowing that staying put would only jeopardize everything else.

Once you recognize and accept the wanderlust in you, you'll have to decide whether to give in right away and quit your job to see the world, save up money to travel as soon as you can, or get a job that involves travel. You'll have to decide how to tell your friends - and they won't always be supportive.

To some people your dreams of travel may seem self-indulgent, financially unwise, irresponsible even. They have every right to feel that way, and they may be right.

But you also have every right to succumb to your wanderlust.

The mere act of writing this has given me itchy feet.

I was born with wanderlust.

  • I'm always happy on the move, planning a journey, choosing a destination, doing research... 
  • I am thrilled to meet people whose lives face different victories and challenges, from whom I can learn and with whom I can share. 
  • I thrive on tasting new foods and learning new languages and coping with new cultures. 
  • I like things that are different, experiences that stretch me. Inside my loud, boisterous self is a basically shy person, and travel encourages both personas to meet.

Eventually, after weeks or even months of travel, my wanderlust is satisfied, at least temporarily. I love returning home. It grounds me. When I was traveling around the world, a home base was one of the things I missed the most.

Over the decades, I have given in to my wanderlust often.

I have tried to fight it: it is stronger than I am.

So I go along. And once I get through it and come out the other side, I'm always, always a better person for it.

And then the cycle begins again.


Wanderlust in Istanbul

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