Fernweh is my favourite German word. No, I digress. It is my favourite word of all words and the only one that can aptly describe how I feel on an almost daily basis.
I long for new adventures, to travel, to explore new worlds and cultures. I feel homesick for places I’ve never been. The stars tug at my heartstrings, the horizon begs me to travel beyond its glistening border. My curiosity demands I walk around just one more corner, around one more bend, over one more hill. There is no stopping.
My sisters and I often blame our parents for our restlessness and constant need to be on the move. We grew up in the tropical city of Darwin in the Northern Territory, visiting remote peninsulas, majestic waterfalls, jungles and other outback curiosities almost every weekend. We also travelled back down to New South Wales every Christmas to reacquaint ourselves with our extended family, a journey that no doubt further mucked up our internal compasses.
A feeling of fernweh further ingrained itself upon my psyche when, at the age of nine, I dreamed of visiting Canada. Our teacher had placed a huge poster of the Canadian mountains to the left of the blackboard, and I would stare at it in hope during many a maths class. Never before had I been gripped with such an intense feeling to be somewhere foreign. My young mind pictured a train, gliding between snow-capped mountains and a sea of pine trees.
I finally fulfilled my Canadian dream when I travelled to Canada in the summer of 2016 for a friend’s wedding. Sitting on the plane as we flew into Vancouver, I cried the moment I glimpsed Canadian soil for the first time. Even though I’d never been to Canada before, I felt like I was coming home.
After the wedding celebrations were over, we road tripped along the Trans-Canada Highway between Alberta and B.C, bound for Shuswap Lake. At one point we stopped at the small township of Golden in Yoho National Park where I glimpsed a train winding through the mountains!
A few years before I flew over to Canada, and while studying for my degree at University, a bad case of Fernweh took hold. In my third year, I succumbed to the feeling and applied to study abroad in England. I didn’t immediately get homesick during my exchange like all the other international students. Fernweh propelled me forward, my curiosity only partially sated when it was time to move back home.
In my early twenties, I was continuously thrown further opportunities to live overseas, as if the universe knew exactly what my soul craved. I was once offered a Print Design job at a school in Tanzania, but I inexplicably ran away from that opportunity and instead submitted an application to teach English at a school in China. When I received my offer of employment, I backed out last minute due to concerns over the low wage. To satisfy my cravings for the unknown, I took a job governessing in the Australian outback instead.
After my teaching experience, I floated around Australia for another year or so before I moved back to my hometown in rural NSW. It didn’t take me long to find a permanent, full-time job. Not long after, I bought a house with ‘spectacular views’ that I really couldn’t afford. Because you know, appearances. It’s been five years and nothing has changed.
This is not how I pictured my life turning out.
My soul yearns for more, my eyes lingering on the horizon and the stars. I dream of moving to Canada or setting up shop on a remote Tasmanian beach so I can write full-time and become a successful author.
I often imagine what the alternate reality version of me is doing – are they living overseas? Are they writing a travel blog about the time they visited the Mount Everest base camp? Did they walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, work in Antarctica, travel along Route 66 and view the sunrise over the Grand Canyon? What languages did they learn? What mountain peaks did they marvel at? What oceans did they sail upon? What magnificent slopes did they ski?
So why have I not done these things? Why am I sitting in a stagnant pool of my own making?
Fernweh pushes me to explore, but my desire to conform to societies expectations holds me back. Even though my parents have only ever encouraged me to chase my dreams, I feel pressured to carve for myself a successful, albeit bourgeois, existence. I’m worried that if I throw in the towel now and leave my life behind, I risk putting to waste the years I spent participating in the doldrums of ‘normal life’ when I could have been travelling the world through the bright eyes of enthusiastic youth.
Of course, nothing is stopping me from travelling per se, but it simply won’t be the same as that time I backpacked around Europe with my high school friends for three glorious weeks. To save money we slummed it at hostels, navigated the metro in Paris and camped on the floor of a friend’s apartment in East Berlin. It was rough, but we didn’t mind, we were young, we were having fun.
But all is not lost. Even though fernweh constantly lingers in the backwaters of my mind, I have my creativity to rescue me from drowning in rough seas. I give thanks every day for my love of writing and the unbridled joy it gives me. And this is not an exaggeration. I write every day, and therefore, I feel happy every day. If I don’t write, my soul itches to move and my heart yearns to explore.
I write to curb this curiosity and more often than not, it satisfies my insatiable hunger for travel. When I write, I am at peace with the world. There are even moments of clarity when I can see that travel is not the only way to satisfy fernweh. Writing is a gateway to exploration, even if only in your mind’s eye.
And so I write.
Perhaps one day I will leave the gilded cage I built around my wild, fernweh desires. For the moment, I am still here, still writing and exploring. Dreaming of something more.