6 Signs You Have the Wanderlust Gene

traveler looking out into starry sky

Written by Shannon O’Donnell on

Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008 and has lived everywhere from Southeast Asia to Barcelona, where she now calls home. She travels slowly and supports responsible tourism along the way, winning numerous awards for her work advocating for the communities impacted by travel and tourism.

traveler looking out into starry sky


Did you know there is a gene related to those with a thirst for travel and adventure? Cutting-edge research shows DRD4-7R, nicknamed the "wanderlust" gene, impacts your dopamine levels and thus impacts your tolerance for risk taking, and possibly shapes other behaviours and motivations common to travel lovers.

There is a small, but prominent body of research regarding a “travel” gene variant known as DRD4-7R, which is thought to be present in around 20 percent of the population. DRD4 is a dopamine receptor that regulates the amount of dopamine in our brains. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that releases happy/excited feelings. It’s triggered in most people by experiences as mundane as a Hershey bar or a saucy text from a loved one. For people with the DRD4-7R mutation, however, there is a lower sensitivity to dopamine, meaning they seek out bigger, braver, and adventurous experiences to get a rush. 

This allele has been nicknamed the “wanderlust gene” because of its connection to fearless globetrotters who chase new experiences and excitement at every turn.

Do you think you have the wanderlust gene? Keep count of how many of these typical characteristics of a genetic wanderluster that you possess! 


1. You’d rather climb a mountain than lie on the beach.

Most humans enjoy travel, but for 80 percent of the population, this desire can be quelled by a long weekend by the sea or a posh week at an all-inclusive resort getting massages and basking beneath the sun in a jacuzzi. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—we love nothing more than packing a bag for the beach! But wanderlusters aren’t content to sit by the ocean—they want to cross it. Your classic wanderluster wants to sip fermented mares’ milk in a Kyrgyz yurt or summit Kilimanjaro. The more extreme the thrill, the more amped these travelers get. You won’t find them lost in a good book at a Paris cafe; they are lost somewhere on the Spanish Camino following the pilgrimage route. 


Tip: Wanderlusters with the travel gene want a glamorous, adventurous life like the kind seen on the silver screen. Model your experience on these can’t-miss travel movies


2. Your attention tends to be scattered. 

On top of being called the “wanderlust gene,” DRD4-7R has also been dubbed the “ADHD gene” because its carriers Can. Not. Sit. Still. Were you the kid in seventh period English tapping a pencil eraser frantically on the edge of your desk, literally counting the seconds until soccer practice? Do you often find yourself lost in a daydream, with your friends trying repeatedly to literally snap you back to reality? This behavior likely fuels your dreams of adventure, as your feet truly cannot keep still. One destination will never be sufficient to content you; you have to move. 

Tip: Keep yourself focused at the gym or during free moments during studying with some epic travel podcasts that will take your mind on an instant vacation while you find ways to travel more.


3. You lean to the liberal side politically.

It’s a weird quirk of the wanderlust gene that the overwhelming majority of carriers tend to lean to the left politically, regardless of where they live. A big common denominator behind the emotional effects of the gene is openness to new ideas, which is a hallmark of political liberalism. You are more likely to be out marching in protests, campaigning for social justice, and having epic social media clashes with your long-suffering conservative loved ones.

Tip: Be the change you want to see in the world, and vote. No matter your candidate or leanings, your voice counts. American citizens can check out a nonpartisan hub for voter registration for all states. 


4. You buck the status quo like it’s your job.

Traditional norms and traditions are not for the earmarked wanderluster. Do you have any of the following:

●      An unconventional hairstyle or color?

●      An unorthodox piercing or unique tattoo —or multiples!

●      A love for music that your peers find “weird?”

●      Interest in esoteric categories of non-fiction reading?


Congratulations! You may be a true wanderluster and carry the travel gene. Carriers of DRD4-7R dance to the beat of their own drum, and tend to veer hard away from the mainstream. You were probably one of the “weirdos” in the high school hierarchy, and unabashedly did your own thing.

Tip: Keep your music player, phone cords, and all your other tech-y goodies in a small packing cube, and ensure that you’re never losing the fiddly things as you march to the beat of your own drum. 


5. You follow your whims.

Decided this afternoon that you can’t live without your favorite Thai food—and you’re not talking about takeout? Bam! You’ve packed your travel bag with compression cubes and you’re on a plane to Bangkok by 10am tomorrow via a plane ticket purchased with your many, many airline mileage points. It might sound like madness to some in your life, but it’s just another example of how you roll. When you get a great idea, especially when it comes to your bottomless need to explore the world, you act on it and don’t spend a bunch of time sweating the small stuff. 

Tip: If you stay ready, you never have to get ready. Keep a small, but roomy travel bag packed at all times, and last-minute adventures become effortless. 


6. You’ve added extra pages to your passport at least twice.

For a wanderluster with the travel gene, the thrill of newness and novelty is a potent drug! No matter how many cool places you’ve been, there are at least ten others on your “must visit” list. You collect passport stamps like Pokemon—in fact, you probably have some sort of bucket list goal, like visiting all seven continents (Antarctica keeps eluding you), climbing “x” number of mountains before 30/40/50, and/or hitting all 50 United States (an epic road trip is a good way to make that happen!). And, if you accomplish any of those lofty travel goals, another one will slot immediately into the queue. You can’t stop yourself from smashing that link to yet another clickbait listicle about “the top ten hot destinations,” endlessly hoping that you’ll be intrigued by a mysterious new place to go. 

Tip: No matter where in the world you go, there are some basics that you can’t live without. Keep them all—along with destination-specific gear—in a bag that’s as rugged as your constitution


Are you a restless spirit plagued by wanderlust without an outlet? Check out eight  books about travel  that are the next best thing to actually being there. 


Related Links (from the Eagle Creek blog):

4 Inspiring Female Travelers of the Last Century

Put Pen to Paper: How to Plan a Trip

The Best Travel Movies to Stream Right Now