The Gypsytoes Gene

“To travel is to live.”
― Hans Christian Andersen, The Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography 


IMG_7542I am consumed by wanderlust, nourished by voyages and treks regarded as less than desirable in popular tourist guides, and gorged with peregrination. Traveling is my life. I am lucky in love to have found a partner who shares my enthusiasm and passion for the roads less traveled.

Yet, I often wonder, “Why us?” Neither sets of our parents or grandparents, had the urge to jump into an exotic new life, even temporarily. They were content to stay on their farms, or the small towns in which they lived. They reacted to our gypsytoes with nervous, worried, and dismayed comments. My mother insisted on telling her church companions that we were missionaries in Nicaragua. Ron’s father scratched his head with puzzlement, “Why would anyone ever want to leave home?”

Even with the guilt trips strapped to our packs, we left…laden with a teeny bit of guilt, but mostly relieved to begin yet another journey into the unknown. And we have never looked back with remorse, and were never guided by fear. For travel to us is and always will

Research into why humans are motivated to travel has recently focused on genetics. The gene DRD4 is involved in transmitting dopamine levels, which help control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Although it interests me to know that a deficiency in dopamine results in Parkinson’s Disease and people with low dopamine levels are more prone to addictions, I am most excited to read about the variation of this gene, DRD4-7R.

Carried by approximately 20% of the human population, DRD4-7R studies have shown that people with this variant gene are prone to taking bigger risks, which includes exploring new or different places. “A recent study reported: those who lived in cultures whose ancestors migrated out of Africa the furthest and the fastest/earliest were more likely to have the DRD4-7r gene (Dobbs, 2012).”

“These findings suggest that this gene could be the motivation behind the yearning to travel, to move and to see the world: as it possibly did with our ancient ancestors (Psychologyblogaimee, December 4, 2013).” Voila! A mind altering discovery.

I knew that we weren’t really weird or irresponsible. It’s in our genes! Now it makes perfect sense as to why Ron cried in geography class when his teacher told him, “Sorry kiddo. Every place has been discovered.” Or when I kept a journal starting at a young age of all the places I wanted to travel. It makes sense that Anthony Bourdain is our hero, we’re addicted to the Travel and Smithsonian channels, and why I have a collection of dolls from around the world. My nickname “Gypsytoes” fits me like a genetic glove.

Do you think you have the Gypsytoes gene?

The Wanderlust Gene

33 thoughts on “The Gypsytoes Gene

  1. Debbie, the idea of travel still fascinates me, but the reality of aging takes its toll. We find that travel, especially by air, to be very wearying and fatiguing. It’s not so much the flight itself, it’s all the security measures and Immigration procedures that are a drag.

    We are now taking a more deliberate, measured approach to traveling within Mexico. We don’t want our bus trips to be more than 6 hours in duration, and even that is pushing the limit. We often take a bus to Mexico City, about 5 hours from Pátzcuaro, and it’s tolerable. (The inter city bus companies offer us a 50% off Senior rate, and it would be foolish and in fact, insane, to drive our own vehicle to Mexico City.)

    Trips in our van need to be no more than 4 hours. There are a few places, such as Zihuatanejo and Tolantongo that take that long. Our friends drive to Zihua in 3 1/2 hours, but they are pushing the boundaries of safety, especially on the long descent on the “autopista”, a two lane highway, from Pátzcuaro towards Uruapan. Zihuatanejo is a short trip! We find ways to make overnight stopovers to break up longer journeys, as to Tolantongo. Last time, we stayed overnight in Tlalpujahua, which was really unnecessary, then in Ixquimilpan, the “jumping off place” for Tolantongo, another 30 or so slow miles onward.

    Sra. Cuevas is quite content to stay home most of the time, pursuing her gentle interests. I have more of a travel bug in my blood, but I’m not going to travel without her.

    Don Cuevas

    • I understand exactly! As we age, we forget that our gypsytoes are more fragile, less apt to move as quickly, and tire easily. When we reach a destination, the first thing we want to do is take a siesta. The last week of our month in Ecuador, we hunkered down in a little apartment on the shore and read books, took small walks, and cooked.
      It’s difficult to spend our travel time in constant motion. We’re planning a two week trip to Curacao and we’re renting an airbnb house so we have a home base. The flight is not a long one, and we find that if we avoid the USA, the immigration process is less painful. 🙂 I love to hear from you both. Have an enjoyable and relaxing Semana Santa.

      • Hi there !
        Just loveeeeee reading your more than fabulous blogs , which I stumbled upon and I’am blessed!!!
        I will be in Nica , on a ,,,lets see….” if I mingle with the vibe” trip.
        I’m looking to move ,,,and have been to” numerous ”countries ,,,looking ,,,,the past 5 years! I live in Florida now,,,,
        From Equador,,,Villcabamba,, etc,,,thru Panama, Peru, Argentina,Costa Rica,Colombia,Bali, well, I can go on,,,,and on,,,,,!!!!
        But ,still have not found my “place”,,,,soooo ,,,here I come Nicaragua!!!!
        Would love to chat with u,will be there early June, and in your area,,,Do u make appointments , or just give free advice?
        That probably sounds odd, but I know how it it when people just want everything , including info. for free,,,, and I don’t want to take advantage.
        I will be traveling with a friend ,she’s a married woman , I’m single. Want to stay in your area couple days, and we will be going ,,,,all around,,,
        Anyway , hope to meet up,,, that would be fab!
        I will fill in my email address,,,,,my website is
        Thanks Gypsytoes!!!!
        Light , Heidi

  2. I think I might have inherited a few of those chromosomes myself Debbie. Chuckling at your mom’s description of your wanderlust……mine wouldn’t have understood either 😀

    • Madhu, I know you have inherited the gypsytoes gene from reading your posts. Oh, my dear sweet mom…she would worry all the time about us. But, I think after she understood that this was going to be a lifetime pattern for us, she accepted it…unwillingly. lol

  3. That explains it! We (apart from anyone else in our families) have inherited the “Gypsytoes Gene!” So while everyone else scratches their heads and wonders why we don’t want to spend our (beginning) retirement years learning how to play golf, watching TV or take care of all the lovely things we accumulated over the years, we’re off wandering: visiting new countries, learning about the history and geography of various areas and meeting new people. I know you’ll agree – we’re feeling lucky to be in the 20% ! Anita

  4. The other factor to be considered with gypsies, Irish travelers, DRD4-7R genes or whatever you want to consider wanderlust is the influence of evolution. Maybe the only reason those first nomads leaving Africa are remembered is because they survived and left progeny to carry on the genetic tradition? At certain times we may all have to pull roots to survive both personally and for entire groups.
    Of course we also need some stability to be able to make the most of good, safe places we have found in our travels. It’s all a balancing act and my genes are always pulling me both ways.
    Or is that just schizophrenia?

    • Good points, Jon. Survival of the fittest. Another reason may be the human’s ability to use his/her imagination, creativity, and curiosity. Through imagination, we can create hypothetical scenarios and fantasy worlds which fuel our wanderlust. I always wonder what’s over the next mountain or around the hill or across the ocean. And yes, we need some stability, too. That’s one of the reasons we chose a home base in Nicaragua because the cost of living is compatible with our fixed income and we are centrally located to travel. It is a balancing act always with our need for a comfortable nest and our passion for travel. Maybe we are schizophrenic? If so, it’s a heck of a ride!!!

  5. I must have the DRD4-7R which studies have shown that people with this variant gene are prone to taking bigger risks. I have been entrepreneurial all my life, starting at age 9, joined the Navy at 17, lived in Silicon Valley for 30 years, never grabbed the brass ring, but have absolutely no regrets. Live in Pedasí, Panama with my beautiful wife, great home, 1 rescue dog and 5 rescue cats. Have a wonderful life.

    • Oh, this makes me laugh! I’m sure my mother thought the same thing. When I told her to stop telling people that we were missionaries, she said, “But, you help so many people in Nicaragua.” Then, she’d say to her church friends, ” This is my daughter, Debbie. She helps many people in Nicaragua.” lol

  6. Guess what? My gmail name is gypsieannemarie. I have been to Nicaragua 5 times, was in the Peace Corps (really wanted to join the Navy) and had several jobs that took me to various countries and US cities to implement training. For my 50th birthday I went to Paris and and for my 60th went to Rome. Ran out of money for my 70th, but still have the desire. My children never question and two of them have the same wanderlust. If only my husband had it! I always thought my grandparents must have passed it to me. Why else did they immigrate and their brothers and sisters stayed behind in Europe. My daughter is in Med School and would like to set up her practice in a different country. Hoping that works and then my husband cannot say no.
    Anne-Marie Armstrong,

    • Another gypsy! You are a woman after my own heart. I forgot to mention in my post that our son inherited the gypsytoe gene, too. Here’s hoping that your daughter sets up practice abroad and you can fulfill your passion with a happy husband. 🙂 Thanks for your comments.

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