Author and YouTube sensation, John Green, was once wrongly attributed to having written this quote in his book ‘Paper Towns.’ Even so, the romantic quote caught on like wildfire among travel enthusiasts, popping up all over the internet on Instagram, Pinterest, and Etsy and in posters, on pillows, and scribbled over notebooks. It became a mantra of sorts like other quotes that came before it:

  • “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” —St. Augustine
  • “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” —Ernest Hemingway
  • “Not all those who wander are lost.” —J.R.R. Tolkien

These quotes go hand-in-hand with the now widely anglicised word ‘Wanderlust’ and our obsession with romantic idealism.

So what is wanderlust exactly, how did it spread, and is it attainable?

Etymology of Wanderlust

Hannah McBride wrote a short but sweet article about the etymology of wanderlust. In even shorter terms, the word was imported from Germany at the turn of the 20th century. Wanderlust in German means ‘the desire to hike’ and stems from the German verb ‘wandern’ which means ‘to hike,’ but the root word can also be used to describe taking a year off to travel after schooling: ‘wanderjahr’. It caught on over the last decades and the English form added more emotion behind it, creating the word we know today.

The perfect German definition of wanderlust – “a desire to hike” (picture taken in Germany)
Copyright: Lauren Maxwell

Wanderlust (Oxford Dictionary): A strong desire to travel

Notice the addition of the word ‘strong.’ This additive makes us want to leap out of our seats and run straight out of the door into the unknown.

The world of Instagram

Instagram has become a breeding ground for wanderlust. I discovered this once I began using Instagram more frequently after having moved abroad. I was introduced to other expats across the globe and self-made ‘freelance travellers’ all using the hashtag #wanderlust. Scroll after scroll, I was taken on journeys to the Great Barrier Reef, campsites along the Arctic Circle, street markets in China, and the endless sandy shores of Tahiti.

And there were millions of these pictures. Millions of choices and millions of opportunities to live life differently. Thus an idealism was born.

Exotic places and exotic cultures. ‘Wanderlust’ being used to it’s fullest extent.
Copyright: Lauren Maxwell

Social media continues to plant seeds in our minds that the world is our oyster. Making the term ‘wanderlust’ not only a strong desire but a romantic ideal. And quotes that support the notion to travel stick with us because they show us that our lives are filled with endless opportunities.

Is ‘wanderlust’ attainable?

In America I had this notion that once I finished college I had no more opportunities to live abroad. Clearly I was proven wrong, but nonetheless the traditional American social construct had dictated to me that traveling the world happened either during requested vacation time, in retirement, or in my college years. And because of that I thought my travel dreams were just restricted to the quotes on pillows at Target or pins I favorited on Pinterest.

After having made the leap to move abroad, I realized that traveling the world doesn’t require vast amounts of money (an excuse I found myself and others using) but it does require risk. Deciding not to follow the herd and going your own path even with consequences looming at every corner is a risk many of us are not willing to take for various legitimate reasons.

These wandering travelers on Instagram continue to crop up because people follow them, too cautious to take the opportunity to travel themselves and post their own adventures. These quotes by not John Green and Ernest Hemingway exist because it gives us hope that one day we too will become travel nomads.

Specifically from an American perspective, I’ve found it difficult to move past the desire of wanderlust and turn it into something attainable. But it is attainable for Europeans (i.e. See German wanderjahr explanation above), which means it should be attainable for Americans as well.

But for Americans, including myself, this tangibility can only occur when we choose to think outside the box, go against the herd and ask ourselves:

“What is the worst that could happen?”

For resources on turning wanderlust into a reality, check out some options here:

  1. Working holiday visa: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_holiday_visa
  2. Housesitting opportunities: http://www.hecktictravels.com
  3. Freelance work: https://www.upwork.com/?r
  4. Teach English: eslcafe.com