Travel Addiction

Scientists Discover the Existence of a ‘Wanderlust Gene’

gypsy soul

Well, travel lovers everywhere…You can now come out of hiding. Because science has discovered that there’s a reason behind your chronic restlessness and compulsive need for midnight road trips to Guatemala. You no longer need to feel ashamed about the excitement you feel over a new addition to your passport stamp collection or feel embarrassed about that lump in your throat that you experience each time you pick up the latest Travel + Leisure magazine.

Because you’re not crazy, and moreover, you’re not alone. Stanford has now confirmed that age-old “travel is in my blood” theory with the discovery of the ‘travel gene’. Yep, your love for travel is not only a natural and innate tendency, but it could also mean that you hail from a long line of risk-taking travel-enthusiasts. You could very well be the great-great (to the millionth power) grandchild of the likes of Marco Polo or Ferdinand Magellon.


According to this book published by Princeton:

“There is now growing evidence that the behavioral traits which predispose some of us to risky and novelty-seeking behavior have a genetic basis. A recent book, American Mania, by a colleague, Peter Whybrow, director of UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute, summarizes this evidence. He begins by noting that human migration is one major form of risky and novelty-seeking behavior. Only a few of our species left their ancestral home in the African Savannahs and began that long walk to the ends of the earth which allowed homo sapiens to colonize the world. Who were these earliest migrants? It turns out they had a particular genetic profile. They had a higher percentage of an exploratory and novelty-seeking gene than those remaining behind.”

The gene is called D4. And certain cultures display a higher percentage of the gene, which can be traced back to the earliest population migrations in Africa approximately ten to 20 thousand years ago. Apparently, the Chinese who migrated from Taiwan to South East Asia, for example, have a “greater percentage of D4-7 allele in the population than the aboriginal population of Taiwan who stayed behind”. The same goes for the South Americans, particularly the Colombians. The theory is that those groups had to migrate (I.e., walk), the furthest when crossing from Asia to the Americas during the Ice Age, which would explain why the ‘travel gene’ is prevalent among South Americans today. Not surprisingly – when you consider their history of isolationism – the travel gene is almost non-existent among the Japanese.


Our desire to wander has been passed down from our ancient ancestors. Photo courtesy of chiaralily.

And apparently the travel gene is not strictly reserved for homo sapiens. It’s also found in fish as well, specifically in the Stickleback fish; a small, bony, fresh-water fish that never likes to stay in one spot for long. According to a study conducted by the University of British Columbia, Sticklebacks possess an “inclination to move into different salinities – a sort of ‘wanderlust gene,’ if you will – instead of staying put and acclimatizing to the current salinity”. Or as Dr. Rowan Barret put it, “they just like to go to new places”.

So take heart in the fact that at least you have a friend in the fish world. And next time you have to explain to your mother why you feel it’s of utmost importance that you put off grad school to volunteer in Thailand for three months, remember your ancestor Chris. I bet he must’ve had a frustrating time assuring Mrs. Columbus that the world wasn’t flat and that it was a perfectly sane idea to sail to a “new world” to prove it.

What do you think? Is it possible to be genetically predisposed to travel? Or is science just grasping for explanations where there are none? What motivates you to travel?

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7 thoughts on “Scientists Discover the Existence of a ‘Wanderlust Gene’

  1. Considering the Japanese isolationist history… for the past several hundred years. Which in DNA time, is nothing. But before that the Japanese mostly came up through Macronesia, and some from mainland Asia.

    I've done a DNA tracking experiment with National Geographic, and it shows my maternal/Japanese line to have come from Asia… by way of South America.

    Just one example. It sounds like an interesting study.

  2. Really??? That's fascinating. Where in Japan did they settle?

    Yeah, it's definitely an interesting idea. I'd like to read more about it.

    The book also used Americans as an example of a population with a high frequency of the gene, which I found interesting. In a way it makes sense though, since the US was founded by immigrants. But that doesn't explain why they're risk-taking behavior doesn't extend to international travel…Hmmm…

  3. thanks for your html help! i am so technologically defunct :p

    reannon you need to write a book. and now. i am not joking

    get to work

  4. They settled in Japan! This DNA picture, though, covers hundreds of thousands of years and uses genetic markers to paint a big picture.

    To further the example, though, my grandparents traveled all over the world, as my grandfather worked for the foreign service. So maybe they're an exception… or maybe the study needs a lot more work!

  5. Sorry… my grandparents eventually settled in Tokyo and died here.

    Or if you mean my maternal line, I'm not sure where they settled more than several generations back. The genetic markers aren't yet nearly so specific to trace time periods less than thousands of years.

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