Wanderlust Lovers: Science Says We've Got a Traveling Gene

Many people are completely content with the lives into which they were born; they are perfectly happy staying in one place for their entire lives, and the 20 mile radius of their town is really all they ever know. I call these people homebodies, or easy to please.

There are, however, the other, more difficult human specimens who are thirsty; they are hungry; they are yearning to explore and discover the world because they understand how big it is. I call these people gypsies, globetrotters, nomads, restless spirits, and wanderlust fairies.

Being a serial traveler myself, I have wondered throughout my years of living out of a backpack, what exactly drives us to travel so much? What gives rise to the madness to explore?

Many homebodies will tell us that we’re running from something or avoiding real life, but in my honest opinion, I think that we’re the ones who know how to live; we know that there is more to life than a 9:00-5:00.

We put life before work.

Besides our free-spirited beliefs on exploration and discovery, there is, in fact, some science behind the need to gallivant around the world.

According to National Geographic, there is mutation within our genome that continues to pop up when discussing the urge to explore.

The DRD4 gene is known to help control dopamine levels in our brain. A variant of this gene, known as DRD4-7R, has been repeatedly tied to higher levels of curiosity and restlessness. National Geographic has named it The Restless Gene, and approximately only 20% of all humans carry it.

Those who carry the 7R gene tend to be higher risk takers, and crave change and adventure; they explore new places, foods, ideas, relationships, drugs, and sexual opportunities. Hey, travelers, sound familiar?

There have been studies, as well, that give proof to possible outside factors on the 7R gene. Research done among Ariaal tribesmen in Africa, shows that those who live in nomadic tribes and carry the 7R gene tend to be stronger and better fed, while those with 7R living in settled villages tend to be less nourished.

This just proves the idea that a restless person will thrive in a changing environment, but will wither in a stable one.

Furthermore, another recent study has found some traces of the 7R gene linked to longevity. The 90+ Study is one of the largest studies in the world, investigating determining factors associated with longevity: what types of food, activities, lifestyles, or genes allow us to live past 90? 

Great news for living long! Findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience, stating that there are significantly higher rates of the 7R gene in people older than 90.

A German geneticist, Svante Pääbo, has made a wonderful remark about those who continue to explore. He says, “We jump borders. We push into new territory even when we have resources where we are… In just 50,000 years we covered everything. There’s a kind of madness to it. Sailing out into the ocean, you have no idea what’s on the other side. And now we go to Mars. We never stop.”

As long as the 7R gene is present in our genome, looks like we are never going to stop pushing the limits; never going to stop traveling; never going to settle in a cage. And, hey, we’re gonna be the oldest damn people doing it!

So, for my fellow globetrotters, next time someone offends you by saying that you are trying to escape real life, now you can whip out a bit of scientific information to backup your lifestyle choices. That should shut them up!

Or at the very least, make you look, like, super smart.