The “wanderlust gene” – is my need to travel hereditary?

Wanderlust is defined as “a strong desire to travel”.

It’s an insatiable need to getaway, a hunger for adventure. It’s itchy feet when you’re in one place for too long, and depression when you haven’t got any upcoming trips to look forward to. For anyone consumed by wanderlust, the only cure is to carry on travelling. Happiness is booking a flight, a hotel, a hostel; it’s packing a bag, a suitcase, a rucksack, and jetting off, driving off, walking off into the sunset, the distance, the unknown.

I have wanderlust.


Have I always had wanderlust? No, I don’t think so.

Up until 2015, before I accidentally embarked on my 12 countries in 12 months challenge, I hadn’t really been much of a traveller at all. Sure, I’d had the odd holiday here and there with family, friends and ex-partners, to standard tourist hotspots like France, Spain and Florida, but nowhere too exotic. They were holidays after all, not “trips”, I wasn’t “travelling”.

Then, towards the end of 2014 (when I went to The Gambia, one of the lesser-visited-by-Brits countries on my travel résumé) and the beginning of 2015, when I went on my first solo travel adventure, I began travelling more frequently, to more exciting (and less-mainstream) destinations.

However, whenever I was back in the UK, sat at my desk working a 9-5 job, my mind would wander (literally) – I daydreamed of my next trip and the experiences awaiting me. Where would I go? What would I discover? There is a big wide world out there, and I want to see it – not be stuck in one place staring at the same four walls.


After managing to visit 12 countries in a year, I set myself another challenge: to travel to 30 countries before my 30th birthday. With 18 months to complete it in, the challenge seemed more than achievable. But then life got in the way; I fell in love and moved to Yorkshire. I semi-gave up on my mission and concentrated on making my new relationship work instead. But my efforts were futile; for reasons I won’t go into now, my partner and I broke up and I had to move back down south. Taking some time out after my unexpected return to Reading, I decided to treat myself to a holiday in Cyprus. It was a chance to recover, recuperate, a trip to help me learn to love myself again.

After just a week away exploring foreign lands, my burning passion to travel was reignited. Within a week of being back, I was restless and my feet were itching. As I had no job to go to, I hastily booked trip after trip, managing to tick off the five remaining countries I needed to achieve my 30 before 30.

That was in July 2017. So am I done travelling now? Hell no.


I’m still trying to decide what my next travel challenge will be (so if you’ve got any suggestions, please pop them in the comments below), but until then, I’ll carry on travelling as much as I can, work commitments and budget permitting.

The need to travel is in my system, perhaps even in my blood. Which poses the question: are we genetically predisposed to be being bitten by the travel bug?


Psychologists and behavioural scientists have looked into why certain individuals, such as myself, have the inherent urge to travel. Though geneticists are quick to point out that no single gene determines a particular behavior, the findings do suggest that a penchant for breaking away from routine, throwing caution to the wind and going with the flow could be caused by a mutation in our genetic makeup.

According to experts, a strong desire to travel can be traced back to one gene – a derivative of the gene DRD4 – which is associated with dopamine levels in the brain, which prompts motivation and behavior. The mutation has been identified as DRD4-7R, and is dubbed the “wanderlust gene,” because of its correlation with increased levels of curiosity and restlessness, for the most part.


The gene is not all too common; in fact, it’s only possessed by about 20% of the population. Studies have found there is a much higher prevalence of this gene in regions of the globe where travel has been encouraged in the past, such as Europe.

A separate study done by David Dobbs of National Geographic supported the research – and provided reason not to just draw the link to curiosity and restlessness, but specifically a passion for travel. According to Dobbs, people who possess the DRD4-7R gene are typically “more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities.” He adds that bearers of this gene “generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.”


Do I have the gene? Quite possibly. I like to challenge myself, to push myself out of my comfort zone. On the other hand though, I don’t depend on drugs, don’t take financial risks or gamble, and I don’t have ADHD (at least I haven’t been diagnosed with it). So where has my love of travel evolved from? Is my wanderlust inherited?

Mum is undoubtedly a traveller – maybe not on the same scale as I (she loves her home comforts too much, especially a strong cup of British tea), but a traveller nevertheless. The daughter of an engineer in the airforce, she was born in Bahrain, living there for a year with my grandparents and aunt before moving back to the UK. Of course she doesn’t remember it, she was only a baby – but she does remember family holidays to Malta, as well as living in Cyprus for three years. Perhaps this was what spurred my natural affinity with the Mediterranean island when I visited it last April?

Anyway, today, aged 55, Mum’s travelled to a grand total of 17 countries, the most recent being our all-inclusive holiday in the Dominican Republic. Along with my dad and brothers, we’ve also been to Portugal and Florida. And then separately, Mum and I have been to Majorca in the Canary Islands, The Gambia, Tunisia and Puerto Rico. She’s even been to countries I’ve yet to visit, including Sierre Leone and Kenya.


Travelling certainly runs in the family on my mum’s side. My maternal grandparents love it too.

In April 2016 I arranged a trip to India for Grandma and I. It’s somewhere that had been on my bucket list since I first watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Enamoured by the colourful, cultural country that the film portrayed, when I mentioned it to Grandma, she too said she’d loved the film and wanted to go to India, but as Grandpa “didn’t fancy it”, she’d never had the chance.

So when a deal came up on Travelzoo for a cheap tour package for the Golden Triangle, I sent details to Grandma and asked if I should book it. I was in Colombia at the time, but an email came back almost immediately: “Yes” followed by a thumbs up emoji.


The trip didn’t disappoint. We spent seven days touring India’s infamous Golden Triangle, visiting the biggest temples and palaces in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, including the Taj Mahal, of course – somewhere that’d been on my bucket list for years.

But there was more to this trip than just the historical places our little group was chaperoned around by our tour guide Dilip; we learnt about modern day culture, too. We had an Indian cookery lesson in a family home, were shown how carpets and textiles are made in a “traditional factory”, we risked our lives on a rickshaw ride in Old Delhi and got caught up in the traffic in New Delhi. It was a series of experiences, rather than just a holiday – and I got to share all that with Grandma, creating memories I’ll cherish forever.


Now both retired, my maternal grandparents try to get away as often as they can, on trips they affectionately call “SKI holidays”. These aren’t actually skiing getaways, oh no – instead they’re Spending Kids’ Inheritance on cruises and long haul flights to exotic destinations. And why not? Both now in their late 70s, they’ve earnt it.

They’ve been on three different Caribbean cruises, and taken a cruise to the Far East, with stops in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Alaska. They’ve explored Malaysia several times too, as well as Thailand, Kenya and the Philippines. And up until the summer of 2016, Grandpa regularly scuba dived off the coasts of Malta and Canada – two very different places. Unfortunately due to medical problems, he’s unable to dive anymore. However that doesn’t stop him travelling with his diving buddies wherever they go, helping them with their underwater photography (something he’s rather an expert in).

With all that in mind, I think it’s safe to say that travelling runs in the blood on Mum’s side of the family. But what about my paternal side? Are the Talbots also consumed by wanderlust?


Nope, not so much actually.

Our first family holiday abroad – a fortnight in Florida – was the first proper flight Dad ever boarded. Though he’d been in a plane when he was a teenager, apparently the whole experience had scared him so much he’d not wanted to fly since. It was only our relentless pestering to go to Walt Disney World, and tickets to the Daytona 500 Nascar race, that eventually made him change his mind in 2001.

I remember the holiday – and the flight – well. Though I’d been on flights before, it was my brothers’ first flight as well as my dad’s. Needless to say, aged 8 and 11, they were both super excited about boarding the plane – perhaps even more excited than they were about Disney or Nascar. Dad, on the other hand, aged 39, was a nervous wreck, with white knuckles gripping the seat and eyes screwed tightly closed.

Last Sunday, when I told Dad I was writing this post, I asked him about his fear of flying, what caused it, what was so bad about his “first” flight…


He corrects me: it’s not a fear of flying, it’s a fear of dying.

A bit dramatic, I think as I try not to laugh. He’s straight-faced and serious as he tells me about his “near death” experience on the maiden voyage of a friend’s father’s homemade biplane, when he was 15. “The whole thing was held together with tape and string… I could see the grass beneath my feet…” The plane made it just metres down the runway and a foot off the ground before my dad started screaming to get out. He hadn’t been in a plane since – until 2001.

Instead, whenever he went abroad, he would drive. This sounds limiting, but he’s still managed trips to France, Belgium (via Luxembourg) and Italy (via France and Switzerland). Adding to this a work trip to Ireland and our family holidays to Portugal and Florida, Dad’s made it to a total of six countries. Not quite a travel résumé as long as mine or Mum’s, but not bad for someone with a fear of flying.


So, has my wanderlust stemmed from genetics? Is my need to travel innate, or incidental? Condé Nast asked its readers the same question, to which it received mixed replies. Some favoured nature over nuture, while others believed their passion for adventure came from congenital habits picked up from immediate family members.

It would explain a lot if a geneticist were to find that I do possess the DRD4-7R mutation. But on the other hand, perhaps it’s the inherited balance of my Dad’s dislike of travel and my Mum’s love of it that keeps me coming home after every trip…


144 thoughts on “The “wanderlust gene” – is my need to travel hereditary?

  1. My family always traveled as I was growing up. Now, I like to travel with my kids. My parents still go with us if their health allows. I don’t know if the travel bug/wanderlust is hereditary, but our whole family loves traveling!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. With all the traveling and there was a HUGE amount on your maternal side then even your father visited several countries, even by vehicle, it is still traveling I’d have to say your family are part of the 20%. Also growing up around all the traveling makes it kind of part of a normal life for you. That’s my opinion.

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  3. My Mum travelled a lot as a small child as she was born in Singapore in 1940, and moved between Australia and England a few times. I think this made her love the stability of staying in one place, and this has stuck with me, too.

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  4. I’m a firm believer in the existence of this gene as it’s the only way to explain my own wanderlust. My family didn’t travel, so as a child growing up in a rural area of the American South in the 1950s and 60s, I travelled via atlases, Naional Geographic magazines and encyclopedias. I’ve always had wanderlust, moved constantly, lived in multiple cities on both the East and West coasts of the USA, I left the USA in 2003 to become a world-wide wanderer and have lived and worked in a variety of countries on 4 continents over the past 15 years. So, believing that I possess a gene that predisposes me to wander our planet is the only way I can explain my impulses for exploration and challenge. Thanks for sharing your post for those of us who constantly need to be reminded that we aren’t insane because we left our home countries, friends and family behind in a our quest to see what was just over the horizon.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What an interesting theory! My family aren’t really into travel, so I’m pretty sure that’s not where I get my wanderlust from. In fact I know where I get it from – my boyfriend. He’s desperate to see the 7 Wonders of the World. Only 2 more to go! 😀

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  6. I am glad to see a scientific explanation for my wanderlust 🙂 I do believe that there are certain people more predisposed to travelling, exploring, moving out of their comfort zones as compared to others. And when I think about my parents, I can see that my dad always loved to travel as well, although he mostly explored places within our country rather than travel to foreign countries. Also, he was in the Air Force because of which we did move around a lot, allowing me a way to explore new cities, meet new people constantly. I guess I attribute my wanderlust majorly to that lifestyle 🙂 I can totally relate to your post Becca x

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  7. I think I have excessive amounts of this gene, I have lost count of the countries we have visited over the years 😀 I definitely get it from my parents though, they also lived abroad so I knew it was something I always wanted to do as well… 🙂

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  8. I am constantly plagued by a feeling of ‘fernweh’. It’s been a while since I have travelled and my feet are starting to get really itchy. My sense of wanderlust was brought about by the experience of living in Thailand and South Africa when I was younger. Now I can’t get enough of exploring

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  9. I have wanderlust too! I love traveling and as soon as I get home I am already ready to plan my next trip. I do believe it could be a genetic thing. I love seeing all your travels and beautiful pictures

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  10. You are so amazing! I can’t believe you have travelled to so many countries already. Reading your post I’ve learnt something new..about the travel gene, which I never knew about. I just thought that some people liked to travel more than others.

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  11. We love to travel! 30 countries under 30 sounds like a fabulous wish for any 20 something year old. We recently added a travels section to our blog and are planning more trips this year.

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  12. I love this ❤ We traveled some when I was growing up, but it wasn't until I convinced my mom to take an epic two week road trip with me that the travel bug bit her. Now she goes everywhere! It definitely runs in the family I think. 🙂

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  13. You are so pretty, loved reading this post and knowing how you got to know you have wanderlust. I am really impressed with your challenge, all the pictures look so good. It is interesting to know that the strong desire to travel can be traced back to a gene…wow!

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  14. I’m a wanderlust gene too . I keep getting urges of traveling place every now and then . By your pictures I think you have explored many places . I haven’t explored many yet but surely will in future.Happy traveling 🙂

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  15. I think a wanderlust gene is a gift. Getting the urge to travel the world is amazing, you can’t learn all the different cultures and see the beautiful sights from one place!

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  16. I enjoyed reading this. You took me back, shared your experiences and now I’m looking forward to my own travel future plans. I love the 30 for 30 idea, here’s hoping you have an awesome journey and I’m looking forward to hearing more places from you.

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  17. My Dad isn’t interested in travelling at all but my Mum has been to so many countries that we’ve lost count. I definitely feel like I have the Wanderlust gene, I can’t not go away at least once a year. I’m actually off on 3 holidays this year, one of which will be my first solo trip to Malta in December

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  18. I think a lot of it is whether you travelled much as a child. My parents took me on some amazing trips when I was younger and its given me a real love of travelling. Hubby just finds the whole thing stressful, until we are there that is

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    1. I don’t entirely agree with that Kara – I didn’t travel at all as a child, our family holidays were “staycations” to Cornwall and the Isle of Wight, so we didn’t travel much. My wanderlust has only really set in over the last few years x


  19. The travel gene is definitely an interesting concept and actuality. I do not know if my family has had much travel really, I personally have the drive to travel although I like the idea of exploring my home country (USA) because there is so much here to see that I have not had the chance to, yet. I’m certainly jealous of all the places you’ve been and your family as well, it’s quite impressive!

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  20. Oh, I have some kind same thing. I have a weird anomaly, I am much more productive when I travel. Wrote half of my thesis in airports. When I stay at home for too long I become lazy and bored.

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  21. Really great thought provoking post about life and travel. I can’t say that either side of my family has been big on traveling when it comes to parents and grandparents. I would say I have started to create that gene in myself now. Seeing what is out in there in the world is what keeps me going back out.

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  22. I like your way of thinking and your “travel challenges” really nice way of doing it. To force yourself in one way to do more – I like it. I always want to go somewhere new and experience new countries but I always end up in the same country – at least I change the town xD But I need to start practice your method – it seems fun and adventures! 🙂

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  23. The post is so well researched and I love seeing you traveling with your family. As a child I dream of traveling the world and I am encouraged by my mom to go and roam the universe. I hope many families can go travel together.

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  24. Seems like it does run in the family. Maybe the fact that you were bought up traveling is one of the reasons you love it so much. Enjoy every minute of it that you can!!

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  25. It is amazing that genes are involved even in travel. But I totally get it. I think it is great that you have done 12 countries in 12 months, what a challenge. Your travels seem like so much fun and very adventurous.

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  26. What a great post. I also love to travel and for certain reasons don’t do, as much as I wished. I can see what you are saying. My mom is not much of a traveler and my dad traveled lots when he was young. I suppose it’s a balance.

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  27. This has to be one of my favorite blog post I’ve read! Maybe it is in peoples genes or something. My husbands loves to travel, I am more of a homebody–but I do love travelling, as long as it is with my loved ones. This was an amazingly interesting post.

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  28. This is such an interesting post! I never thought that there was a gene that was responsible for wanderlust. But it does make sense. I’m sure from an evolutionary standpoint it provided a survival advantage. I like to travel myself, but I’m very much content to live near where I grew up.

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  29. I wish so much I could do your 12 countries in 12 months challenge!!! I dream of traveling so I absolutely adore following your blogging g and seeing all your amazing adventures you are blessed to have!,

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  30. Wow its really fascinating to think that wanderlust could be hereditary. I definitely think it would make sense for there to be a higher percentage coming from europe since more travel is encouraged there. Really fascinating!

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  31. DRD4 really?? Oh my god, you just put me in another thought, I think I am missing it. But enjoy people ‘s travel story. Even though places are same, the experiences of individuals most importantly the learnings are different. Travel story like your makes me take challenges in life, I love your challenge to visit 30 countries before turning 30. I know its hard to be a wanderlust, for that I really appreciate your strength to follow your passion.

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  32. It could be hereditary but I also think it is a birthright for all of us. If you have been exposed to traveling as a child then of course you will love traveling more when you get older but i wish for us all to see some world.

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  33. I’m so glad you’ve been having such a great time traveling and making new memories. Ive been doing a lot of traveling myself with in the last year and it is definitely a goal of mine to travel to at least 2 different countries a year. There’s so much world to see out there!

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  34. I loved reading this Becca, especially as I got to read something about your family too! Love the photo of you and your granny, so cute! I don’t think I have the gene, but I certainly have the lust to wander! I also know how your dad feels about his fear of dying, I have that too! Still, I love reading about your travels, and you’re doing so well, and still super young! Keep up the adventures xx

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  35. My 8 year old loves to travel. I do believe it is in the genes. I grew up in the army with my dad being posted to different countries so I want the kids to see as much as they can.

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  36. I think you may be on to something. There is likely both nature and nurture involved, but it does seem like there is some degree of natural tendency to travel. I had a neighbor basically tell me that she knows it’s interesting to see new places and cultures, but “I’m not into all of that stuff at all.” She’s perfectly happy to go to Florida every year. I didn’t even know what to say! To each their own.

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  37. It sounds like your wander lust was sparked in 2015. Wow that was interesting about the gene. I don’t think I have it myself as I am not really much of an adventurous traveller. On the other hand it could be that I’m exhausted thanks to my 3 little ones as my parents travel loads to all sorts of places.

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  38. This is fascinating. I did not know there’s actually a wanderlust gene. I probably have it though I’m more like your Mum because of my love of home. Thanks for going through all the trouble to research this and share it.

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  39. My father moved from Sicily to the UK when he was in his 20’s. I don’t know whether the intention was for him to stay or not, but he met my mother and did stay. A few years later I was born. I have wanderlust bad.

    When I’m at home in the UK (it happens very rarely) or when I stay in the same place for too long, I feel like I’m wearing a helmet that’s too tight for my head. I just feel so limited and constricted. I’ve seen that… I ‘ve been there…. I know that I’m missing out on something new and wasting time. I can’t stay for long. I NEED to get out and be somewhere different, It’s just how I am. My personal motto ‘I’m most at home when I’m not at home’.

    I attribute my wanderlust to my father. He isn’t a traveller himself. He has been to 4 countries and would never go anywhere apart from Italy or Spain. However, him making that change from Sicily to the UK is what I believe gave me my need to always move.

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  40. I actually don’t know if traveling runs in my family. When I was little me parents used to take me and my sister on a 10 days holiday at the seaside, but we would always go in the same place and do the same things. Even stay in the same hotel. 🙂 I however reached 40 countries so far and can’t stop the travel bug. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  41. This is so inspiring; I wish I could travel like you do! For now, I will just live vicariously through you and your experiences; thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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