Almost Fearless

Do You Have the Traveling Gene?

genetics, traveling gene, science, travel world


If you find yourself with an itch to travel, you might have more in common with early migrants than just wanderlust.  Stanford University geneticists have identified a gene that could explain why early man left his farming communities to explore the world, why Americans are natural capitalists and perhaps even why you can’t wait for your next trip abroad (and why some people have no interest in leaving home at all).

Risky and Novelty-seeking behavior

The logic is as follows.  Scientists have found a gene that is attributed to risky and novelty-seeking behaviors.  When  looking at the genetic profiles of the earliest migrants, the ones that left the African savannahs and started man’s journey to colonize the world, they found they had a high percentage of this shared gene.  When looking at those who stayed behind, they had a much lower percentage of the gene.  So over time, those who left, were naturally self-selecting themselves as born-travelers, and would produce children that shared this same genetic profile.  Those children were more likely to carry it, and so on.

So are travelers just the great, great (x1000) grandchildren of early nomads?  Is the reason some people are perfectly content to never see the world more about their DNA than their life experiences?

Risk-takers and Immigrant populations

In this Princeton book, the author goes a step further to suggest in highly immigrant populations, you have a higher concentration of the wanderlust gene.  It makes you willing to take risks, but it also pushes you to try new things.  This lends itself nicely to capitalistic societies, where risk and new ideas are rewarded and encouraged.  While I’m sure there are many more factors to world economies than a single gene, it does make me wonder… are people from certain countries more likely to travel?  Is it purely an economical equation or is there something inherent in our DNA that pushes out the door?

What do you think?  Could there be a traveling gene?

Thanks to Expat Expression who first covered this topic

Photo:  Spr Msh

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • I don’t know if I buy the explanatory premise these scientists are forwarding; it seems like a very privileged sort of perspective. Many people weren’t necessarily inherent risk-takers– economic necessities and political realities have always compelled people to migrate. Though people who migrate certainly seem to develop traits of resilience that might otherwise be latent, I definitely need some persuading to buy the traveling gene argument! 🙂

    Julies last blog post..Mi Colegio/My School

  • Hi Julie,

    I agree with your point on a micro level, but I think they are referring more to the changes over several thousand years. Even within communities with economic and political incentives to leave, only a fraction do… over time, what is the difference between those who stay and those who leave?

    Anyway, it’s fascinating to me, the entire field of genetic study, as there is little we know. Even the scientists at Stanford can’t possible understand all the ways people are influenced. But if there is a travel gene, I definitely have it.

  • Hi Christine, I think both arguments can be true.

    I’ve always thought about this.. coming from any country in the Americas (in my case Brazil), we do have something in our genes inherited from the navigators that “discovered” our continent in the 15th century.. and all the immigration we had later, from several different countries in the world, they were very brave people, throwing themselves to the unknown.. this thing must remain in our blood somehow.

    But the economical situation can also be decisive. For individual cases, it can be the lack of money or the fear of loosing security, stability. In the case of a country being capitalist/wealthy or not, the economical situation can be reflected in several other social and cultural reasons that stop people from travelling more.

  • I think we like to simplify science down a lot (especially in books that publishers are trying to sell to a lay audience) and say that there is “a gene” for this or that, when usually it’s actually a whole lot of genes or proteins that all act in combination to produce one type of result and that sometimes that “result” only happens when it’s stimulated by environmental forces. I think a desire to travel (or the reverse desire to stay at home) has some sort of genetic basis in so much as it’s a part of our personality, but determining how much of personality is nature and how much is nurture is one of those ongoing issues that no one can quite seem to parse out.

    Theresas last blog post..A Night at the Ballpark

  • Y’know, I dunno if there is a traveling gene, but when you start traveling internationally from age two and you take a road trip from Orlando to Tegucigalpa, Honduras when your five and spend one month in California when your eight and get to travel to Europe with your mother for two weeks when your 14, I guess it only comes naturally to me to leave for two months to a part of the world no one in the family has ever gone 😀 Thanks mom!

    Antoninis last blog post..Sabotage Two Weeks Before Takeoff

  • This travel gene theory plays nicely into my own highly unscientific theory that there are so many mealy-skinny people in France (and Europe) as compared to the US because only the tough ones left home, survived the trip over the ocean on a rough voyage and then subsequently didn’t get turned away at Ellis Island giving us a strong, resilient gene pool from which to create big, strong people. Just a thought.

    Tanyas last blog post..Closing Time

  • A traveling gene….if it exists I have it. And my parents passed it on to me. (They are currently in China for three weeks as I write this)

    I believe some people just need to explore, need to discover, and need to experience what can be learned on the open road…it energies us. If it is not something in the water, maybe it is something in my genetics….but I love the journey.

    stay adventurous
    .-= Craig Zabransky´s last blog ..StayAdventurous: To be there today. Feliz Dia de Indepencia a Mexico RT @Travel101Info Going On Vacation To Mexico City. What Is The Best Kept Secret? =-.

  • Tanya I see your point about having to be physically strong to make the journey to the States in those days but I rather imagine that natural famine and wars over the last 400 years in Europe would be a bigger factor in this. Generally speaking (on the male side) it is the stronger and larger who go to war first and many are ultimately killed in action thus reducing the genetic pool from which sturdier people can come from. Besides in Northern Europe the people are significantly taller than in the US. Diet obviously plays a large part also. Famine in Europe and higher calorie diet in the US over time would result in some of the differences of bulk.
    .-= Darragh´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  • Why do people need an ef’ing “Lifetime Network” explanation for everything? Apparently there’s good money in research to tell people how special they are.

    If there’s a “traveling gene” then I have a “walks on a sidewalk” gene and a “washes the dishes” gene and a “cleans the litter box” gene.

    /me rolls their eyes.

  • I’ve always thought there must be a travel gene, and I have it. I’ve been to over 30 countries and just completed my second trip around the world in the past two years. Twenty years ago I threw everything on a truck and moved to California from the Midwest. Nearly everyone here (San Francisco & Silicon Valley) is from somewhere else. It’s all the risk takers creating computers, the Internet, Google, Facebook, etc.

    I started studying my genealogy (ancestors by name back 500 years & origins 800 years). All travelers & risk takers. Normans descended from the Vikings, Knights in the Crusades, Norman invaders of England. My 12th great grandfather sailed from England to Massachusetts in 1630. Other ancestors were mariners. Family moved to Ohio in 1808 (41 days by Ox cart). My son is 8 and already telling me he wants to move to Australia.

    I just took a trip from San Francisco to Dubai and India. People are telling me “they could never go” and “it’s a trip of a lifetime” and it makes no sense to me. Just buy a plane ticket and go. What’s the big deal? My ticket cost no more than the amount they spent on a big screen TV at BestBuy to plant themselves on the couch permanently. They can afford to go anywhere as easily as I can, but they just won’t go. They see it as some monumental barrier. It’s my second trip around the world in the past 2 years and I’ll be on another trip soon enough.

    Circumstances (e.g. famines, wars, economics) may create the motivator, but some people pick up and go to seek better opportunities while others just stay stuck in the same place. Based on my own experience I think the tendency to travel is genetic.

  • This has nothing with genes. If person has both hands left and can not do anything around their place – that person will have natural drive towards travel’g 😉

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