Fernweh, Wanderlust’s Cousin & 7 Signs You Have It

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You’ve probably heard of wanderlust. If you’re reading this, you probably have wanderlust. Or have had it at some point. It’s a pretty self-explanatory feeling. The clue is in the portmanteau-esque name. It’s a magically giddy desire to rip the clothes off the world, explore its beautiful skin and unearth its hidden secrets. (That got weirdly sexual very quickly, didn’t it?!).

There is, however, another feeling that is in a similar league. One that is lesser known but widely felt amongst travellers. It is one of those words that has no English equivalent, like Hygge or Lagom, but is so perfectly summed up in German. It is Fernweh.

You can have wanderlust and fernweh at the same time. They both make you crave faraway places, but where wanderlust is irresistible and impulsive, fernweh is longing and aching. Wanderlust is a fling, the honeymoon period, the ‘let’s do something crazy’ stage. Fernweh is the ever-lasting relationship, the one you pined for and will always pine for.

When we’re homesick we crave familiarity. The thought of a hug from Mum is enough to induce tears, to be able to sleep in your own bed, to look at your things and just be comforted by the memories that they hold. To treat homesickness, we go home.

Fernweh is a yearning for new experiences and emotions – a hunger for the unknown. You want to see faces you don’t recognize, a language you don’t understand and streets to make you stop and change direction. Instead of coming home to people you love, you want to travel to find a home in yourself and in the world. Fernweh’s ambiguousness is hard to rectify. It cannot be cured quickly (that’s a lot of ground to cover in a short time) and, even if you did, that longing never really goes away.

Wanderlust is not something to aid, it is a desired feeling, one fed by ticking off lists and spontaneity. Fernweh encapsulates a voyager’s heart. If you’re one to look out at the sea, stare at the stars, or stand in the middle of the desert and think, ‘I need to see it all’, Fernweh has got you.

New Zealand south island fiordland national park mountains

Here are 7 signs you have fernweh:

  1. Your feet never stop itching: People are always saying to you, ‘oh, you’ll be jetting off again in no time’, and you laugh at the absurdity, but feel like replying, ‘you have no idea.’
  2. You miss the world: You wish you could call up the earth and have a right old natter about what you’re missing, or write a postcard to it just saying, ‘I’m coming soon, I promise’.
  3. You start to go on home adventures: You’re looking for an escape, anything that’s different to what you’re currently seeing and even driving a couple of hours to the nearest beach to ease the pain just a bit.
  4. You feel lost, even at home: You’re probably feeling depressed because you’re not out in the world right now, doing what you long to do most. You’re sad because you’re not travelling.
  5. You want a change of scene: The thought of waking up to a 9-5 day fills you with dread, you know your friends and family too well, you’ll know exactly what you’ll be doing tomorrow and the next day, you’re feeling strangled by the monotonous routine and you look around the familiarity of home and wish it were somewhere else, anywhere else.
  6. If you never feel satisfied or settled: Fernweh is a constant longing, so even if you get out of your home and travel again, after a while travelling in that place, you’ll want to continue, see more, go further, always pushing the boundaries of your freedom.
  7. You don’t just want to get away… This is not a longing to look at your own back garden. You want your legs to stretch and see the far and wide.

So, what should you do about it?

  • When you have Fernweh you’ll often feel down because you long to travel. If travelling isn’t an option right now, feed the nostalgia by reliving your travels. Stare at pictures, watch your videos and talk to friends in countries on the other end of the world to you. Ask them what it’s like there right now. Remind yourself how good it was, and how good it will be again.
  • If you are travelling, write a postcard to yourself or a friend every day. Ask them to keep them somewhere safe for you, when Fernweh rears its head, ask for them back and read them.
  • You have a need to travel, so try and find adventure on your doorstep. Drive a couple of hours in the wrong directions, take hikes, cycle away. Visit somewhere close by that you’ve never been. Even small things like this will help the ache.
  • Make sure that this sadness isn’t something else that is underlying. It could go deeper than your need to get away purely because you need to see the world.
  • If you have Fernweh then you’re a long distance traveller. You’re not one to follow the crowds and look at the top 10 trending places of the year. You need off the beaten tracks, you need open expanses and real, raw travelling. Look for places that you’ve never even heard of – make a plan to go there.

Having Fernweh is not a bad thing. It’s a way of life. Sometimes it all becomes too much and the need to do it all just gets you. But now you know, you can put your finger on this feeling, this niggling, this urge and know it’s just your unending love for this globe and the need to travel it all.

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