Traveling in our genes

While traveling may make some people happy easily, some people are perfectly content never leaving their home country. Although it varies greatly among individuals, some are wanderlusters and like to travel.


Being happy. That’s what life is all about. It’s why we try to find a job that pleases us, it’s why we try to save money to be able to go on holiday, it’s why some of us take a gap year to explore the world, it’s why others settle down and start a family. And even though we all have a pretty good idea of what we consider as ‘happiness’, there’s a more scientific side to it too. Because like all emotions we feel in our lives, in the end, being happy can be reduced to a set of chemicals.

Imagine you are slowly stepping away from your office desk and preparing to travel to a new place. Buying tickets, experiencing different cultures and tasting different flavors … Each of these steps seems like enough reason to get you excited and happy. However, some studies suggest that travel gives us happiness because of biological reasons.

81 percent of American travelers say they regularly take vacations where a primary goal is “mental wellness,” and they overwhelmingly see a vacation as a chance to “hit the reset button” on stress and anxiety (91%), according to the latest Expedia Vacation Deprivation Study, an annual survey on American traveler behavior and attitudes.

The hormone dopamine, which is very important for the body and brain, is a chemical that directly affects the mood of people and releases adrenalin. When it is secreted in excessive amounts, feelings of happiness and pleasure are triggered, while low levels of dopamine reduce motivation in people.

According to research, people who have high levels of dopamine are deemed to have the DRD4 gene, which has been associated with various addictions. Therefore, there is a link between the excess dopamine in the brain and a person’s tendency – or addiction – to participate in dangerous and impulsive actions like traveling.

Justin Garcia, a biologist at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute, has suggested that high dopamine levels and the DRD4 gene are the reasons why primitive people left their homes and discovered new regions in the hope of seeking food, mates and shelter. Although the survival needs are no longer of use in today’s world, the biological background, that is, high dopamine levels and the DRD4 gene might be the reason why people love traveling in the modern world.

Thus, Garcia states that the DRD4 gene is a significant explanation of why some people deem traveling to be exciting and others as terrifying.

In short, those with the surplus dopamine and this gene are probably more likely to be passionate about travel and embrace change or adventure.

The main thing that a good vacation can do for our mental health is to reduce levels of chronic stress. By having time to relax, our brain will be able to reverse, at least temporarily, the negative effects of being stressed.