For some people, travel is an extremely important part of their lives. They’re always itching to go on their next adventure or go somewhere new. People who travel thrive on seeing new places, experiencing life in ways different than their own, and trying different activities, foods, and ways of thinking.
Travel people know that these experiences are more valuable than money and that at the end of their day, it’s the trip to Rome or the cruise down the Nile that they’ll remember.
But is the love of travel just a personality trait, or is there an actual biological reason behind it?
An article in Elite Daily suggests that some people are born to be travelers due to one gene, which is the genetic derivative of the gene DRD4, which is linked to the dopamine levels in the brain.
A study found that mutations in this gene have been associated with various behavioral phenotypes, including autonomic nervous system dysfunction, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and the personality trait of novelty seeking, which sounds like a description of wanderlust.
A variation of the gene DRD4-7R is carried by about 20 percent of the human population, and is linked with restlessness and curiosity, along with being a named association with ADHD. This restlessness can influence people to take larger risks, like exploring new or different places.
Another study by Chaunsheung Chen found that the DRD4-7R form of the gene is more likely to occur in modern day societies where people migrated longer differences from where we first originated in Africa many thousands of years ago. In other words, Chen suggests that civilizations that have migrated longer distances from the theoretical origin of all mankind are more susceptible to be carriers of this mutant DRD4-7R gene.
However, in an article on Map Happy, writer Karina Martinez-Carter says that there really isn’t a wanderlust gene, but that DRD4-7R might be related to wanderlust or similar characteristics; people with the gene have been found to have certain characteristics like novelty and adventure-seeking, extraversion, environmental sensitivity, risk-taking, and impulsivity.
But what’s happening at a molecular level that links this gene to adventure-seeking? This is essentially a dopamine gene, meaning it’s related to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine plays a crucial role in reward and reinforcement learning, or pleasure and motivation.
When it’s released into the brain, we feel good. But dopamine isn’t the only chemical influencing the way we act. There’s also the neurotransmitter serotonin that’s associated with avoiding harm, which can counterbalance wanderlust.
You may or may not be biologically programmed to love to travel, but it’s still a good idea to want to visit new places and experience new cultures. Ultimately, those are the things that open up your worldview and lead to tolerance and understanding of other people.