We live in an age of unprecedented access to travel. Almost since birth, many Millennials and Gen Xers have had the means, motive, and opportunity to explore the world. It’s fueled in large part by the number of people working remotely, overall access to dirt-cheap air travel, and a desire among the latest generations to step outside the “normal” American Dream lifestyle. But some take it to the extreme, becoming what psychologists have coined dromomaniacs. In layman’s terms: They are travel addicts.
Can some people legitimately be addicted to travel? The short answer is yes. While it might sound ridiculous, the field of psychiatry (and, to a much more amusing degree, My Strange Addiction) has taught us that human beings can become addicted to just about anything. Travel addiction — sometimes called “vagabond neurosis” — was officially added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2000. This bible for the American Psychiatric Association classifies dromomania as both a “psychiatric problem” and an “impulse-control disorder,” noting:
“Sufferers have an abnormal impulse to travel; they are prepared to spend beyond their means, sacrifice jobs, lovers, and security in their lust for new experiences.”
Social psychologist Dr. Michael Brein specializes in travel and communication. He explains that phenomenon is rooted more in psychiatry than in biochemistry (the latter being the driving force behind things like drug addiction). Not surprisingly, it’s a little-understood addiction. The first studies of it appear to be from the late 19th century when French soldier Jean-Albert Dadas walked into a Bordeaux hospital dazed and confused. He’d evidently deserted his army troop five years prior and spent his time wandering Europe on foot — a relentless vagabond. In that time, he’d traveled as far as Moscow, Prague, Constantinople, and Berlin, though he had no recollection of any of it.
Although modern dromomaniacs are a bit more lucid about their travels, they may be no less addicted. Most anyone under the age of 35 has grown up in an age of cheap, ubiquitous air transportation, when jumping the pond to Europe from the U.S. can cost as little as $99 each way. The idea of working remotely has also caught on in a big way, with more and more employers allowing — even encouraging — their staff to work from, well, wherever they like: home, a national park, or a beach in Thailand. Add to that the fact the American Dream is no longer the pervasive aspiration it once was for the Baby Boomer generation. Of course, social media only helps fuel the fire. Nowhere is this more evident than a simple Instagram search for the hashtag #traveladdict. At last count, it returned nearly 5 million individual posts.
Collectively, this has all spawned a subculture of travel addicts, many of whom are proud to boast about their geographical “conquests.” Sites like The Best Travelled and Most Traveled People maintain running leaderboards of the world’s officially unofficial “most traveled people.” For years, the Guinness Book of World Records even kept tabs on “the world’s most traveled” humans. The record was eventually discontinued, however, when it was deemed to be too vague.
It’s all a fascinating and bizarre glimpse into the life of travel addicts.We can’t help but wonder, as Condé Nast Traveler posited in a recent article, “If you make it your life’s mission to go to obscure towns and territories like Aargau, Zug, and everywhere in between, does that bring you closer to knowing the world or take you further from reality?”