Have you ever felt this deep pain of missing a place that is far away? Not necessarily because you don’t like life at home but because your inner spirit tells you, you need to be somewhere else? It is that longing for diverse culture, a different smell, other people or offbeat streets, variant from what you pick up every ordinary day.
It can get stronger when you pass by an Indian restaurant and the smell of curry goes straight up into your nose. You might feel it when you watch a documentary about the Maasai tribe in Kenya as you hear them sing and see them doing the “jumping dance” in the evening sun of the savannah. All these impressions get deep under your skin until you get goose bumps. It might happen when you enter a Moroccan shop … you smell the leather, hear the Middle Eastern music and get offered a cup of chai. Time might stop for a moment when you bite into that fresh and hot garlic pizza bread and the Italian waiters’ loud laugh makes you feel like you’re in Rome for a second. It could also happen when you walk along a filthy canal that actually stinks… but suddenly that obtrusive smell of salt and fish makes your heart beat stronger and you are thinking of your last visit to the ocean, when you sat there, having a glass of wine and grilled calamari with your beloved..
There is no word in the English language that could possibly describe that deep longing for another place. In German we call it “Fernweh”.
“Fernweh” stands for the longing for far-off places. It is the very reverse of the word “Heimweh”, which means “homesickness”. The only English word that gets close to what I’m talking about is “wanderlust”. The funny thing is though, that this word too, is German. Wanderlust has a slightly different meaning though. Wanderlust is the impulse to explore and the longing for the act of traveling itself while “Fernweh” is the feeling of missing a place that is far away, no matter how you want to get there or what you want to do there. It is also very interesting to wonder about who can actually get Fernweh. Let’s begin with an easier example: do you know what homesickness is if you’ve never been away from home? Not really, right? So I guess feeling the pain of Fernweh is only possible if you have made the experience of being away from home. Of course you can also long for a far away place if you’ve never traveled before (I’m thinking of the shepherd in the book “The Alchemist”) but that might rather be curiosity for the unknown instead of that actually pain that you feel when you have Fernweh. So both, Homesickness and Fernweh you can only really understand if you have been away from “home” before. One you might experience when you’re on the road, the other one you may get to know after you’ve returned.
So is there a cure for having itchy feet? Of course: leave! Pack your backpack or suitcase and get on a train, a bus, a plane… and if you can’t because you don’t have money (maybe because you are saving for your next big trip) then satisfy your lust for traveling by not going past this Indian restaurant but go inside and enjoy that curry. Find out when the next East African party is happening, shake your hips and meet new people. Drink that chai that has been offered to you and have a nice chat with the shop owners. Sit down, listen to Italian music and read travel magazines or have a look at my website. Dive into it! Don’t be sad that you’re not there. Get excited about your next adventure! If you really want it, it will happen soon.