I’m a fan of words. I love reading words, writing words, and those that know me best know that I have no trouble speaking what’s on my mind. What fascinates me most about words is how quickly a term or phrase can spread depending on its use. Social media, of course, contributes greatly to this. Often, words become popular because they are created to keep up with “the times” (As my grandmother might say). For instance, one undoubtedly uses the word “text” or “google” more now than six years ago. Other words seem to show up randomly yet consistently in my life. As of late, there is one German word in particular that continues to appear, and therefore, continues to stay at the forefront of my mind. Wanderlust. I have heard it mentioned in the classroom, in preparation for travels, in books, and one need not spend much time evaluating its merit as a title for the most recent Jennifer Anniston movie. According to my friend Molly, who just recently left for a semester in Vienna, the German word simply means, “a desire to travel.” This makes sense. It doesn’t take too much critical thinking to pair together the meanings of “Wander” and “lust” to figure out what Wanderlust might mean. Believe it or not, however, my intention isn’t to write about words and their origin. I simply want to pose a question to myself and to others. Why do we travel? And what is induced by the art of traveling? For the sake of this piece, I am going to argue that walking and traveling are of the same nature. For, it is through walking that one is able to truly experience all that travel offers.
Last May, I found myself walking slowly on a hiking trail in Keswick, England. Keswick lies in the Lake District of England; it can be labeled as one of the most lush, green, and quiet places I’ve ever encountered. Its nearby town, Grassmere, is home to William Wordsworth and many other British Romantic writers. I won’t elaborate, but I was in English major, nature lovin’ heaven. I spent the afternoon walking beside my much respected history professor. He offered me wisdom, historical facts, and a list of literature he insisted, “I had to read.” One of these “Dr. Barnett recommendations” was called Wanderlust: A History of Walking. The book is written by Rebecca Solnit and covers a broad history on, well, you guessed it! Walking! Now, I know this puts a big ‘N’ for Nerd on my head, but the book was actually not only interesting in regards to history, but also brought up a lot of questions regarding one’s lifestyle.
Solnit offers this thought towards the beginning of the book:
“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.”
Thus, according to the author, we are in our thoughts and present in our environment during a walk. I love the explanation and definition Solnit gives. Walking changes our state of mine. It creates its own sort of essence and produces thoughts that might not be created if one was simply sitting still. Creativity begins to flow; one comes in contact with new ideas, new images, new sounds. Of course, Solnit also comments on Thoreau’s essay “Walking” agreeing that walking inevitably leads to other things (subjects such as stars and flowers, and philosophical questions about nature and life). In essence, walking is vital to the formulating of new ideas and new creations. Solnit goes on to paint this picture:
“I think it was the walk in the rain that constituted the real education, at least of the senses and the imagination….It’s the unpredictable incidents between official events that add up to a life, the incalculable that gives it value.”
When thinking back on some of the most memorable moments of travel, aren’t they all somehow tied to an experience one had that was unplanned? The time this went wrong or you forgot that thing you were supposed to remember, or you left your umbrella at home and had to turn around in the rain? For me, it was a day of wandering around Edinburgh with sore feet and a chatty companion. Our day was unplanned, we walked every street of that city looking for a museum we never found, and yet, in the process I saw a red door and I wondered very much who lived behind it.
This is why I have wanderlust, this is why I desire to travel, and this is why I believe travel and walking are generally the same thing. They are not the same because of any definition or any sort of physical representation, but rather, are alike because of an emotional reaction to both. One is able to be both in and out of reality.
This brings me to my last point–to something I find myself becoming quite adamant about lately. Walking is vital to being. Why do we shut ourselves in small confined cars when we might walk everywhere? I drive a car daily and understandably so considering I live in a Suburb where one cannot walk to buy groceries or to pick up a movie from the drug store. If I had a choice, however, (and perhaps I do?) I believe that I should attempt to walk when given opportunity. Walking, and allowing time to walk here and there creates an overall holistic experience out of a grocery trip or a trip to the library. It creates an experience for both mind and body. I offer one last Solnit excerpt in hopes of swaying you all to go pick up her book.
“New time saving technologies make most workers more productive, not more free, in a world that seems to be accelerating around them. Too, the rhetoric of efficiency around these technologies suggests that what cannot be quantified cannot be valued–that the vast array of pleasures which fall into the category of doing nothing in particular, of wool gathering, cloud gazing, wandering, window-shopping, are nothing but voids to be filled by something more definite, more productive, or faster paced”
Most of us have wanderlust because we desire to see something different. We desire to take a “break;” we desire a “vacation,” from our reality. I side with Solnit and a slew of others before her when I say that we have that within our grasp daily. Jessica Simpson’s rather trashy rendition of “These Boots are made for walkin’,” can be adapted into this: Our feet were made for walking!
So, let us walk. Let us travel. Let us take time to notice unexplored alleys, graffiti messages on brick walls, a cracks in sidewalks. Let us smile at those we see, let us wonder what it’s like to picnic beneath that patch of trees we’ve never seemed to notice before. Let us have wanderlust wherever we go!