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The English loanword "wanderlust" was already extant in the German language dating as far back as Middle High German. The first documented use of the term in English occurred in 1902 as a reflection of what was then seen as a characteristically German predilection for wandering that may be traced back to German Romanticism and the German system of apprenticeship (the journeyman), as well as the adolescent custom of the 'Wanderbird' seeking unity with Nature.
The term originates from the German words wandern (to hike) and Lust (desire). The term wandern, frequently misused as a false friend, does in fact not mean "to wander", but "to hike." Placing the two words together, translated: "enjoyment of hiking", although it is commonly described as an enjoyment of strolling, roaming about or wandering.
In modern German, the use of the word Wanderlust to mean "desire to travel" is less common, having been replaced by Fernweh (lit. "farsickness"), coined as an antonym to Heimweh ("homesickness").
Robert E. Park in the early twentieth century saw wanderlust as in opposition to the values of status and organisation, while postmodernism would by contrast see it largely as playfully empowering.
Among tourists, sociologists distinguish sunlust from wanderlust as motivating forces – the former primarily seeking relaxation, the latter engagement with different cultural experiences.
Wanderlust may be driven by the desire to escape and leave behind depressive feelings of guilt, and has been linked to bipolar disorder in the periodicity of the attacks. Or it may reflect an intense urge for self-development by experiencing the unknown, confronting unforeseen challenges, getting to know unfamiliar cultures, ways of life and behaviours.
In adolescence, dissatisfaction with the restrictions of home and locality may also fuel the desire to travel.