6 min read
- “Fernweh” is a German word that roughly translates to “the desire to travel.” This is a feeling that many people experience.
- You can satisfy the feeling of “fernweh” without traveling far by regularly getting out in nature and actively exploring new places in your own city.
- Satisfying your desire to travel won’t make you permanently happier. What will make a noticeable difference in your overall happiness is being a member of a community, developing meaningful relationships, and finding meaningful work. Sprinkle travel into your life as much as you’d like, but be mindful that it isn’t a permanent solution to lasting fulfillment.
The other day I was doing some research for an upcoming trip to Iceland when I stumbled across a fascinating word: fernweh.
“Fernweh” is a German word that literally translates to “farsickness,” the opposite of homesickness. It’s the longing for places unseen.
An English word that has a similar meaning is “wanderlust” – a strong desire to travel.
I suspect that if you ask people who are on the road to financial independence or early retirement what they plan to do with their free time once they quit their job, many would say that they’d travel more than they currently do.
Research studies actually show that most people experience some degree of “fernweh” or “wanderlust,” but one barrier that prevents many from traveling as much as they’d like is finances. Traveling is simply not in the budget for many households.
Given the prospect of winning the lottery, many users on the subreddit If I Won The Lottery also mention that they would travel far more than they do now.
Where does this desire to see new places actually come from?
Perhaps most people just have an innate curiosity about what the rest of the world looks like.
Perhaps people want to gain insights on different cultures and see firsthand how other people live.
Or perhaps National Geographic Travel’s Instagram account is infusing wanderlust directly into the population.
No matter where the desire to travel comes from, there’s no denying that most people experience some degree of “fernweh” – to see new places and have novel experiences.
And while taking an exotic trip abroad is certainly one way to satisfy this desire, perhaps it’s possible to cure the feeling of “fernweh” without even leaving your city.
How to Satisfy the Feeling of “Fernweh” Without Leaving Your City
A couple easy ways to satisfy the feeling of “fernweh” without traveling abroad are through regularly getting out in nature and actively exploring new places in your own city.
Get Out in Nature
U.S. News recently compiled a list of the 30 best places to visit around the world. What’s interesting about many of the places on this list is that they’re filled with nature.
Places like New Zealand, Tahiti, Maui, Bora Bora, Phuket, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite are all part of the top 10. Each of these locations is full of forests, mountains, and bodies of water.
There’s a reason that humans have a tendency to take trips to these types of places: spending time in nature makes us feel really good. Nature offers so many physical, mental, and psychological benefits, as outlined in one of my favorite books The Nature Fix:
- Spending time in nature is correlated with increased cognition, reduced anxiety, improved mood, and enhanced creative thinking.
- Increased time in nature is correlated with reduced stress and lower blood pressure.
- Even small doses of nature like house plants, 10-minute outdoor walks, and screensavers of forests have been shown to improve overall well-being.
- Surprisingly, most of the benefits from nature come from the sounds we hear and the scents we smell while spending time outdoors. Specifically, birdsong has been shown to reduce stress and make us feel more relaxed.
While traveling to an exotic island is one way to immerse yourself in nature and experience these benefits, an even easier way is to simply spend a few hours in a local park or nature reserve.
In The Nature Fix, Florence Williams shares that “spending as little as five hours per month outdoors has been shown to reduce both stress and blood pressure.”
It’s incredible how much of an impact regular, small doses of nature can have on your quality of life.
Explore Your City
Along with the desire to be in nature, another reason people love to travel is to simply experience new places. It’s fun to explore different cities, try out new restaurants, experience different coffee shops, and wander through new parks.
But sometimes you don’t have to travel around the world to try new things. Instead, try exploring your own city. There are probably tons of interesting places around you that you never even knew existed.
One time I challenged myself to check out 20 new places around my city in just 20 days. Through doing this experiment, I discovered several new restaurants, hiking trails, frisbee golf courses, and coffee shops within a 20-minute drive of my apartment that I never even knew existed.
On an even grander scale, I have recently challenged myself to discover the coolest places around my entire home city of Cincinnati. I have been documenting my findings on a site I started called Wander Cincinnati.
Since starting the site, I have discovered tons of cool places around my city that I never even knew existed like art museums, parks, nature reserves, disc golf courses, theaters, bars, breweries and more. Recently I compiled a massive list of every independent coffee shop around the city and discovered that there were over 45 different shops, most of which I had never even heard of.
There’s a maxim that says “When one teaches, two learn.” In other words, the best way to learn about something is to attempt to teach it to someone else. By doing so, you’ll learn a great deal about the topic yourself.
Similarly, the best way to learn about what there is to do around your own city is to attempt to compile a guide to your city. This will force you to do the research necessary to find all of the cool places to explore around you.
Any Place is Interesting If You Look Hard Enough
Before starting my site, I had no clue that Cincinnati had so much to offer. Once I started digging, though, I found that there were plenty of cool places to check out around the city that will likely keep me occupied for months and even years to come.
This directly ties in to an idea that Jenny Odell shares in her book How to Do Nothing: anything can be interesting if you look into it deeply enough.
One example that Odell uses in the book is the activity of bird-watching. She explains that when she first started, she didn’t know a thing about birds. The more she practiced observing and listening to the birds around her, though, the more she realized just how complex and intricate they could be.
Each species of bird has unique sleeping habits, eating patterns, mating rituals, and migratory patterns, but it was only after she started taking the time to observe birds and research them that she discovered just how fascinating and diverse their lives could be.
By default, many people seem to think that they must travel far to discover new places and try new things. But I would argue that there are tons of cool places to check out around your own city. You just need to look a little harder.
Will Satisfying the Feeling of “Fernweh” Actually Make You Happier?
Discovering new places in your own city and regularly getting out in nature are two easy ways to satisfy the feeling of “fernweh” without traveling abroad. However, there’s an even more important question you should ponder in regards to travel: will satisfying the feeling of “fernweh” actually make you any happier?
Many people seem to think that traveling will bring them an increased sense of happiness and fulfillment. And while trips can certainly be things that you reflect on over and over again with fondness, most people underestimate just how much of a permanent change travel can have on your daily happiness.
One of my favorite articles on the topic of travel is titled Travel Is No Cure for the Mind. The author of the article points out:
“We tend to grossly overestimate the pleasure brought forth by new experiences and underestimate the power of finding meaning in current ones. While travel is a fantastic way to gain insight into unfamiliar cultures and illuminating ways of life, it is not a cure for discontentment of the mind.”
Travel can serve as an excellent way to gain insight into unfamiliar cultures and places, but lasting happiness is more dependent on finding fulfillment in your daily life.
In particular, if your daily life is filled with meaningful relationships and meaningful work then you’re likely to feel a strong sense of fulfillment. I once summarized this thought in a tweet:
Of course, the best way to gain the ability to spend your time doing meaningful work and being around people you love is to prioritize your finances so that you can buy freedom over your time. Once you own enough assets and/or have the means to generate income in an enjoyable way, you can leave a shitty, time-consuming day job and be free.
And once you have freedom, you can prioritize meaningful work and meaningful relationships, the two things that lead to a truly satisfying life.
Sprinkle travel into your life as much as you’d like, but be mindful that it isn’t a permanent solution to lasting fulfillment.
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