Wanderlust: Where Does It Come From?

Candice Gaukel Andrews June 8, 2010 7

“Wanderlust” means you have a strong longing for or impulse toward wandering.

At three years old, my son left home.

He didn’t leave for good, of course; but from the time he could get around our neighborhood under his own steam, Travis was traveling. After waking up in the morning, he’d wash up and get dressed, strap on his little backpack outfitted with a peanut butter sandwich and a thermos of milk, and off he’d go down our two circle of streets (we lived on a corner) to explore with friends all day. When one playmate had to go inside, he’d knock on the door of another buddy’s house for more adventures. I wouldn’t see him again until late afternoon. It feels like I’ve hardly seen him since the time he turned three, although now he’s reached the ripe old age of 26.

I had never traveled much before I hit my forties—neither had my husband—so Travis couldn’t have gotten this “urge for going” under parental influence. And even if we had been world travelers, how much could he have absorbed in three short years, one of which he spent as an infant? Where does wanderlust come from?

Planting the seed

At three years old, my son left home. ©John T. Andrews

My Webster’s Dictionary defines “wanderlust” as “a strong impulse to travel.” As much as we parents would like to think that we make the most lasting impressions and have the greatest influence on our children’s lives, I will have to give credit to a teacher for Travis’s inclination to roam. At three years old, my son began attending public school. The district had a program called “Early Childhood,” which was meant to give “at risk” kids a chance to enter kindergarten on an equal footing with the average child. Travis wasn’t truly “at risk,” but since he had an older sister with attention deficit disorder and the syndrome tends to run in families, Travis was granted admission.

My son’s first teacher was Miss Jan. She was well traveled and talked to her young students a lot about “Eng-a-land,” as my son pronounced it. Was his wanderlust spawned then? Are the passions we have as adults planted into our psyches before we’re barely four years old?


Today, the United States is facing what some have described as an epidemic: the loss of the adventurous childhood. According to a recent annual report from the Outdoor Foundation, youth participation in outside activities has declined for three straight years. Many of the respondents surveyed for the report cited a lack of time or a lack of interest for choosing to go outdoors to recreate. And when we parents overschedule our kids and insist on being involved in every one of their activities—in other words, when we become “helicopter parents”—we kill our children’s desire and their freedom to explore. The spark for wanderlust goes out, permanently.

The fire for adventure was still there. ©John T. Andrews

What’s on the other side

A few weeks ago, my husband and I took a trip to Yosemite National Park from our home in Wisconsin. At the last minute, Travis, who lives in San Francisco, asked if he could tag along. With a lot of lessons planned (yes, he became a teacher—of music) and gigs he’d committed to, he had to work hard to rearrange his schedule so that he could manage to get away for a few days. And for a while, the reordering task seemed monumental.

But the fire for adventure that I’d first noticed in him so long ago was still there.

After all, Yosemite was a place he’d never seen.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,




  1. Jack June 12, 2010 at 8:53 pm - Reply

    Can’t explain…

  2. Kit Nordeen June 12, 2010 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    Being able to travel with Nat. Hab. and our wonderful travellers has been a really meaningful part of my life. Thanks for making it all possible. Couldn’t have travelled with any nicer people than everyone who make up our group.
    Candy, can’t thank you enough for all you did to make our trips possible and meaningful and such fun.


  3. NineQuietLessons June 11, 2010 at 11:32 am - Reply

    I never traveled much myself, but I always enjoyed reading stories about travel. That’s the great thing about nature writing; it gives everyone else the chance to travel with you.

  4. Art Hardy June 11, 2010 at 4:49 am - Reply

    Is it nature or nurture that instills that need to get up get out and go? Probably a bit of both…but I’m leaning toward it being a part of a person’s nature. As parents, we always notice how unique our children’s personalities are. No matter how much we want some children to do something or do something our way, they have a mind of their own and have to go their own way. As worrisome and frustrating as that can be in a child, it makes for some pretty interesting adults.

  5. Kris June 9, 2010 at 11:17 am - Reply

    I agree that the urge to travel is instilled at an early age. My third grade teacher, Ms. Thyne, called us her explorers and her entire room had an African theme. We felt so special! I still to this day have the urge to go to Africa, and I know that I owe this curiosity to her!

  6. Joel Andrews June 8, 2010 at 1:33 pm - Reply


    I feel as though the deep desire and rigor of truly exploring one’s self is the gateway to exploring and really seeing what surrounds us.

    By knowing our selves, we are better able to fit in whatever surroundings and circumstances we find ourselves in.

    Then wanderlust becomes an extension of our learning about connections.

    Travis fits into his surroundings, in both pictures his smile communicates the joy of discovery and the fun in being curious.

  7. Dorothy Klinefelter June 8, 2010 at 1:06 pm - Reply

    I, too, believe that the urge to travel is instilled in us at an early age. As a child I formed a fasination with the North. Mother read me all the dog books about the North–Kazan the Wolf Dog, White Fang and others and Dad talked constantly of his dream to drive the Alcan Highway to Alaska. The only real vacation we took was when I was 14 and we drove to Florida to visit relatives. But I have spent all my adult life visiting Alaska and Canada whenever it was possible. I’m determined to go again. Dad never got to Alaska but I took him and Mom to Hawaii for their 50th wedding anniversary. At that age they thought they would enjoy the sun and flowers more than ice and mountains.

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