Before you start picturing our nomadic ancestors crossing windswept deserts, let’s start with where we currently are. It’s year 2018. Travel is increasingly prevalent with the democratisation of flight prices and countries continuously investing in tourism as an undeniable large source of national revenue.
Given these opportunities not previously available but effectively taken advantage of now, no less, millennials are the primary group accused of prioritising travel. With up to 47% of ages 18 to 34 rather spending their money on travel than buying a house (CNBC), most would readily acknowledge the generational factor as the motivation behind these urges.
But is it really?
It’s year 1973. Tony and Maureen Wheeler published their first book Across Asia on the Cheap. Based on their overlands odyssey from London to Australia, the then under-30 couple went on to build their travel guidebook empire, Lonely Planet.
It’s just one of the many backpacking stories of that era. This time, the driving force seems to pan towards bright-eyed, undaunted youth. While that is not entirely wrong, go a little deeper, and you’ll find that there are traits found in youth that can be found in novelty-seeking behaviour; regardless of age.
What is novelty-seeking behaviour?
So back to our traversing nomads braving the sandstorm. What made them want to leave the safety and comfort of residence? You’ve heard the answer before—survival of the fittest. The environment is constantly changing, and if you don’t adapt, you will be wiped out.
Travelling was a good idea because there might be literal greener pastures on the other side of the hill; better food supply and subsequently, survival of the species. What prompted this is a complex trait called novelty-seeking behaviour, which is tied to extraversion, exploration, and impulsivity.
Let’s get technical
On the other hand, you might reach the other side of the hill and get eaten. Under some conditions, being adventurous pays off. Other times, you might be better off staying where you are. That’s why carrying this allele makes up approximately 20% of the population; like mankind’s in-built insurance policy. For our preservation, we can’t have everyone heading over that hill.
From our genotype, we can see which variant of dopamine receptor we have. DRD4-2/7R, a variant of the dopamine receptor gene DRD4, has a lower sensitivity to dopamine. Meaning, if you carry this allele, you would have a higher tendency to well, seek novelty, actions of which include travel.
However, this variant doesn’t make you a traveller. As a complex human trait, it is only responsible to increase the probability of that happening. 36% of why people do it is because of their genes. The rest is nurture. The environment can’t change the coding of your DNA, but it would modify how much the genes are expressed in your brain.
You may not biologically carry this gene variant yet be an avid traveller. In fact, wanting to see the world only means you may be overcoming your own natural tendencies to stay at home. What with affordable travel, we say go on, get out there and see the world.