How Wanderlust May Actually Be Genetic

People talk about catching the travel bug. Well, we may actually inherit our desire to keep moving. In other words, we don’t catch the bug; we inherit it.

Conde Nast Traveler published a story about a human gene that some scientists believe makes people more likely to want to travel. Researchers found the gene, known as DRD4-7R, in about 20 percent of humans and nicknamed it “wanderlust gene.”

Some scientists say the 7R variation of the DRD4 gene links to “restlessness and curiosity,” which can manifest itself in “buy a last-minute plane ticket to Bangladesh.”

“The wanderlust gene is so powerful. It appears that the DRD4 gene is more predominant in the traveling type of person,” Kaplan University’s Dawn Maslar told Condé Nast Traveler.

This gene affects levels of dopamine in the human brain. When our brains experience excitement, it releases dopamine. That chemical helps us feel pleasure. Those feelings lead many people to keep searching for ways to boost excitement going.

“Dopamine is the liking hormone, and when you want to get more, it doesn’t sate you  — you get hooked,” Maslar said

travel photo
Getty Images | Joe Raedle

Does Travel Gene Also Make Adrenaline Junkies?

An article in the New York Times also looked at whether this same gene is responsible for adrenaline junkies. A review of research proved inconclusive and some of the behaviors studied included gambling and drug addiction. These behaviors don’t mirror the same type of risk-behaviors involved with traveling.

Due to the lack of conclusive evidence, some researchers don’t fuly buy into the genetics angle. They think that societal factors are a greater influence on a person’s desire to travel. Our own history as a people of hunters and gatherers may play into our wandering ways, as well.

“Personality is polygenic—in other words, a ton of genes contribute to it—and it’s hard to separate them out from chemicals [in our brain] or the environment,” said Dr. Cynthia Thomson, a researcher at Richmond Hospital in Vancouver.

Still, it could be interesting to tell your boss you need to take a week of to go to Europe because you have a genetic, medical condition. It’s all in good fun, right?