Understanding the Meaning of "Fernweh"

Rachael in Australia. Rachael Doyle

What happens when travel isn't just a want, but a need?

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to travel. I was lucky enough to take my first trip overseas to Florida when I was just 4. While I holidayed in the UK with my family growing up, we nearly always went abroad at least once a year and flying quickly became my favourite thing.

Starting at a young age is what ignited my passion for travel. Of course, we all love going away on holiday—whether that be in our home country or abroad—but some of us spend every waking minute of every day thinking about where to go next.

I’m one of those people.

Understanding the meaning of fernweh

When my university course finished in 2012, all I wanted to do was jump on a plane and explore the world—but real life got in the way. I started a job as a journalist and began to build a career. But it wasn’t enough. Before I knew it, the urge to see the world got to be too much.

It’s been three years since I changed my life by moving to Canada for a ski season. Since then, I’ve come to realize that travel chooses you; you don’t choose it. And that’s even more true of long-term travel.

Fernweh means "the desire to travel," but with a sense of urgency. Fernweh is a need to travel.

My young adult years were still filled with trips abroad—mostly in Europe, purely because it’s just so easy and cheap to get around—but it wasn’t until I decided to travel long-term that I realized having a love of travel and seeing the world is almost a curse! Those little trips will never be enough.

Apparently there’s a word for this: fernweh. Essentially a German word for wanderlust, fernweh means "the desire to travel," but with a sense of urgency. Fernweh is a need to travel.

The digital nomad craze

This "need" seems to have become a bit of a thing nowadays. Although there are plenty of people who still choose to live out of a backpack and keep moving, more and more of us youngsters (and oldies) are making a life as digital nomads and actually living abroad.

Making the decision to pack up your life and actually move abroad—be it for six months or a year or longer—is a bold choice. In my case, it was also an easy choice. 

Packing up your life to move abroad is always going to be an emotional rollercoaster, though. The obvious battles being with leaving your family and friends behind. I only really struggled with this when it came to my Mum, because we’re just so close.

Modern technology is a godsend when it comes to keeping in touch and I feel pretty lucky to be able to chat to friends and family as often as I want and see their faces. I never thought it would bother me as I’m not really the homesick type, but the past few months have been more difficult. Connecting via computer or iPhone screen just isn’t the same.

Pros and cons to life abroad

There are always going to be pros and cons to living abroad, and it will affect every person differently. The obvious downsides are feeling homesick and not being able to spend time with loved ones, as well as missing out on milestones like weddings and babies being born.

Having said that, whenever I speak to family and friends and on the few visits I’ve had back to the UK, I’ve realized that really nothing much changes. My best friend is always telling me I’m not missing much, and it’s true. It makes me realize that whenever I feel sad about not being there, what I’m doing and experiencing every day living abroad will always be better than if I were still living my old nine-to-five life.

I try to remember that at the end of the day, what I’m doing is an amazing experience. It’s a journey most people would kill to go on. There are endless pros to a life abroad but the biggest ones for me are it means I get to really see a country and get to know the people, culture and just general way of life. I learn more about a place by living there than I ever would on a short visit or reading about it online. Travelling the world long-term is also shaping me into who I want to be and what I want from life.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Rachael Doyle

Rachael Doyle is a British expat working her way around the world one visa at a time. Currently Down Under in Australia, she’s saving for an epic road trip. Find her hiking, snowboarding or chilling on a secluded beach.

Website: www.hilltopsandflipflops.com

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