Fernweh – Does it really hurt to feel the missing of the distance?

Phil O' Soph

(Approximate reading time: 5 minutes)

Kindergarten. Achtung. Blitzkrieg. Autobahn. Bratwurst. Zeppelin. Doppelgänger. Oktoberfest. Gesundheit. Kaputt. Fernweh. Poltergeist. Panzer. Rucksack. Wunderkind. Zeitgeist.

After ‘Why Wanderlust is misinterpreted from fancy hipster-travelers and why you should use the word wisely from now on’ I would like o try to explain another internationally frequently used German word, which is related to traveling. In contrast to Wanderlust, this word is used since a couple of years as a synonym for Wanderlust. But from its origin, it is actually not.

Another blogger has tried to explain Fernweh in her own article with her her own words. I’m not sure if she is German or not, because she doesn’t tell in fact where she is from. But I doubt, that it is her native language, because she wrote the following:

“Although there’s no direct translation for ‘Fernweh’ in the English language, the literal translation is ‘far-sickness’- it’s one of those compound words I was talking about!”

It’s unfortunately wrong, what she tried to explain here. The literal translation is not far-sickness. Yes, it is a compound word made out of two components:

Fern means nothing more than ‘far’ or ‘distant’.
Weh means ‘ache’ – also ‘pain’ would work here. But ache describes more a psychologic suffering than a physical one. Therefore ‘ache’ is more suitable in this case.

Further she writes the following…

“If you were to translate Fernweh into English, then its equivalent would be ‘wanderlust’. Ironically, Wanderlust is a loan word from German which came to have a different meaning in English.”

But the second explanation comes here a little bit closer and gets my preliminary approval, until I will explain it in detail. Although I don’t see the irony here, we are not talking about a sickness, but a psychologic pain.

Until now, there isn’t a appropriate translation for the German word ‘Fernweh’ to the English language. Hence it’s not an equivalent. But they made it in the English language as a synonym for Wanderlust. The tragicomic thing with this concept is, that already Wanderlust is fairly misused and misinterpreted from the most people. Now using Fernweh as its synonym doesn’t make it better or more correct. Two wrongs don’t make it right. It can’t be a synonym, because both words have a different meaning in its origin connotation in the German language. Although they are not close to each other, some parallels exist:

Fernweh is the longing for faraway places, namely countries abroad.
Wanderlust is the constant inner impulse to discover the nature and the world away afoot.

To make it more clear:


Especially the instagram hashtags for Wanderlust are increasing like a medical thermometer, that was put on a radiator. But this is another story to tell.

Now we all know, that Fernweh is a psychologic suffering and that one is desiring to experience the unknown abroad. But it doesn’t tell, if this is be a permanent or temporary desire. Respectively, for how much time it will last in your mind until we ignore it or satisfy it.

Sometimes I think, that I am suffering from Fernweh as well. Not knowing, if it is a problem or not. I AM NOT A DOCTOR. But I know, that I can’t stay for a long time at the same place. Since my first big excursion of South America in 2014, it came to my mind, that the own environment of my sphere at home was far too small to be accepted as complete. For a lot of people who return from their semester abroad it might be enough to have had a unique experience to live somewhere else in the world for a longer time. For me it was not like that. It was the start of a journey, that didn’t end so far.
There was this subliminal desire to explore and discover something new in my life and I found out about it not when I was distant from my home, it was actually the other way around. After returning to Europe in 2014 I had the awful culture shock reverse, that kicked in harder as a boot the face. It was August in Germany and actually the warmest month of the whole year. But it rained for 30 days in a row and outdoor activities were impossible. So I was captured at home and was really really suffering alone, whilst everyone else had already his/her daily rhythm. I was waiting, that the new semester would start, almost all friends were on holidays or working all day.
This was the first time I really felt Fernweh. And it was absurd, because I arrived a few days earlier after half a year being away from home. But already in these days I told myself ‘That wasn’t enough, I want to see more’. So I tasted blood. And it tasted really good.


You can of course also see more during a weekend city trip to one metropole in another country. Or during your yearly holiday when being a package tourist. But is that really what I wanted? This might be maybe seeing more, but I was interested to have more than just the superficial things, that a tourist witnesses during a couple of days or weeks. What I wanted was feeling more, experiencing more and finally being more. Growing inside of a culture, making local friends and collect experiences, that every member of my family or friends never made so far.

After my semester abroad in Lima and traveling through South America, I was living for 20 months in Amsterdam, for 8 months in Murcia, for 4 months in Asunción, for 3 months in Quito and 6 months in Lima. And very soon I will leave Lima and change the location again. One could say, that I am restless. And I think, that this is true. I was infected by Fernweh and I am still suffering from it. Not sure if I will ever be healed from it, or if it is just a chronic ache beneath my skin.

Why Wanderlust is misinterpreted from fancy hipster-travelers and why you should use the word wisely from now on

Phil O' Soph

(Approximate reading time: 9 minutes)

Kindergarten. Achtung. Blitzkrieg. Autobahn. Bratwurst. Zeppelin. Doppelgänger. Oktoberfest. Gesundheit. Kaputt. Fernweh. Poltergeist. Panzer. Rucksack. Wunderkind. Zeitgeist.

As a native speaker, I am very often surprised that a lot of international people are aware of these words. How many of these 16 German words do you know? If you know 10 out of 16 words, you’re actually pretty good! But let me maybe rephrase the question to make it more interesting and challenging for you: From how many of these 16 words do you know the meaning? Eight? Five? Two? None? Minus two?

Ill-reputed as a brutal sounding and an impossible-to-learn language which consists of too many complicated longwords, the German language got quite hip in the past years and more and more words of the German language were incorporated into the English language.

Probably 90% of ‘the younger internet users’ know the following video, which tried to compare the German language with other languages:

One of my all-time favorites. I showed it to a lot of international friends and acquaintances. Most of them knew it already, some of them didn’t. The ones who didn’t know it, were very thankful about it, laughed their faces off and have had a good time watching and discussing it.

Yes, German is a very difficult language and life is definitely too short to learn German.

Grammar and its vocabulary are often perceived as too complicated and with a rude sound. Too technical, too martial. Panzer. Maschine. Krieg. Kaputt. But there is one word which has a better reputation and luckily also a smoother sound. And it became a representative term for the whole Generation Y who prefers to travel worriless first and works dutiful eventually later.



Yes, you probably already knew that I was indicating it. Good job, Captain Obvious. Maybe you even use it yourself when you want to express your willingness to book a flight and discover the world. Wanderlust is already since 1902 part of the English language, before traveling became rather an individual fulfilment than a real adventure. Other languages like Danish, Italian or Irish adopted Wanderlust in their vocabulary as well, but as a synonym for having itchy feet. But before I explain now what Fernweh means, we should rather focus on Wanderlust.

But watch out and Achtung! Wanderlust is a false friend! It does in fact not mean ‘to wander’, but ‘to hike’. Wandering is roaming around the environment without a clear destination. Whereas hiking describes a clear activity to discover and see the nature in a mountainous or at least hilly area. And ‘lust’ is a craving and a psychological force producing an intense wanting for an object, or circumstance fulfilling the emotion.

Did you know that? And did you also know the following psychologic contemplation about it?

“Wanderlust may reflect an intense urge for self-development by experiencing the unknown, confronting unforeseen challenges, getting to know unfamiliar cultures, ways of life and behaviors or may be driven by the desire to escape and leave behind depressive feelings of guilt, and has been linked to bipolar disorder in the periodicity of the attacks.”
(Otto Fenichel)

“In adolescence, dissatisfaction with the restrictions of home and locality may also fuel the desire to travel.”

(Sigmund Freud)

Damned, so you are dissatisfied with your own home and you’re likely to become a psychopath because you like Wanderlust! I’m pretty sure to have told you something completely new, because it was also completely new to me and I was quite surprised when I read that.

But how many people are misusing it nowadays in our social media platform to express their extraordinary time they spend in a new environment? How many people want to show that they are spending a better time with Wanderlust than people without it?
I don’t know it, but I’m disappointed. Not from Wanderlust itself. But from the people who used the word over-excessive and watered down the originally fanciful meaning of Wanderlust.

Now I got curious about the usage of Wanderlust nowadays. That’s why I checked a few online statistics with http://www.hashtagify.me about the usage of Wanderlust.

Instagram has 89,625,613 publications with the hashtag ‘Wanderlust’. But of course I didn’t check them all.


It seems to be especially in the United States a favorite word to use. I’m disappointed here about Germany, where the origin of the word ‘Wanderlust’ came from. According to this statistic, even people from India, France and Indonesia are using the word more frequently.


Yes, Wanderlust causes travel and tourism. Also I can relate adventure, nature, landscape and explore. Okay. But photography? Quote? Blogger?


According to these two statistics, 87% use the word, but can’t spell it correctly. That’s fine. As well as 98% of all usage comes from other languages than German. Seems like, the beer-drinking and sausage-eating people from Middle Europe have forgotten a little bit what Wanderlust means. 

It became worldwide and especially in the english speaking countries a synonym for the smiling random guy/girl X who wants us to participate in his/her adventurous and luxury travel life to London, Paris, New York, Bangkok or Doha. But this is exactly not what Wanderlust was meant to be and designed for. What comes next? Feeling Wanderlust when going to the supermarket? Eating a sandwich in the central square? Playing with the dog in the garden? Using it only because you’re outdoor and do something to show the world?

Wanderlust isn’t urban, it isn’t luxury and definitely not a selfie in front of the hotel pool for a social media channel.

So what is Wanderlust exactly? There is no defined and official explanation for a feeling. All interpretations are free. But for me, Wanderlust is something related to this:


Someone with a backpack discovering and enjoying the nature to the fullest to get distance from the ordinarily civilization that he knows to find oneself.

I love Wanderlust. As a word. Its significance. Because I am a German native speaker and do really understand its meaning. But due to respect for it and all what it stands for, I will never use it in all of my blog articles or Social media posts. Because I don’t need to say and express it. I feel it.