‘Wanderlust’ is such a well-recognised word that it might as well have been adopted as a piece of honorary English vocabulary – it’s one of those delightful German words that means exactly what it sounds like. Recently, I’ve been introduced to a new word – also German, that most efficient of languages – that perhaps better encapsulates the way I feel about travelling.
‘Fernweh’ literally translates as ‘far-sickness’ – the opposite of ‘homesickness’. It describes the craving for travel; feeling homesick for somewhere you’ve never been. Waking up to another gloomy, grey London day, crammed body to body on the Tube and then, that grim march from the station to the office…is it any wonder, then, that this word seems so relevant to my life most of the time?
I love London. It’s important to put that across. London is a wonderful, baffling, frustrating, magical, hideous city. You can hear twenty languages spoken on any given train ride, see live music of any genre you desire, see lush green spaces and bright glass skyscrapers on the same walk. I can find food from almost anywhere in the world. I can read books in any language I like. London is an amazing city.
But sometimes, I wish I were somewhere else. I’ve felt this acutely, in recent months. Memories of Japan evoke such a fierce longing for even the most mundane Japanese experiences, like popping in to the Seven-Eleven to get melonpan and iced green tea for lunch, or walking through peaceful Kyoto backstreets on the way to somewhere else. I miss Berlin: the cleanness of everything, the triumphant post-war architecture, the smell of currywurst (despite being a vegetarian) and the vibrant colour of the graffiti. I miss Portland, Oregon, and the chilled-out, self consciously hipster vibe, the sense that everyone is in on the joke and enjoying themselves nonetheless. Everywhere I’ve been leaves a small mark, and when I’m fed up of London – when I forget all the good things and am left only with the rudeness, the tedium of the daily grind and the smell of petrol and dust – I find myself longing for these places.
The grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it? I wonder sometimes, when I’m concocting plans of escape, whether leaving England entirely would really be the glorious, life-changing experience I seem to think it will be. The practicalities are alarming: what would I do for work? (Lab techs without a science degree are hardly in high demand, I’d imagine.) What about the language barrier? (I’ve been learning Japanese for two years and still, I could probably barely conduct a full conversation with a five year old.) What would my husband do? Would I be able to bring my cats with me? And that’s before you even get near the anxiety-inducing bits: what if I don’t like it? What if I get sick and I don’t know how to communicate? What if I realise that the grass isn’t greener after all?
The thing is, the daily grind is the daily grind, wherever you’re doing it. If you’re lucky enough to find your dream job abroad – blogging at a sunbaked desk in Ibiza, as per the photograph my friend recently showed me (cue wistful sighs.) It doesn’t mean I’m any less determined to live abroad, even if only for a while; I’m not about to pretend that life outside of England is all sunshine and happiness, and it’s important to be practical, because building up a fantasy only to have it burst in your face is a cruel thing. We’re not the only country with rude people, dull jobs, air pollution and ugly buildings, awful newspapers and UKIP style politics.
But still, the fernweh persists. Perhaps if I experience the world outside England for more than just two weeks of idle sightseeing and relaxation, that little part of me might be quieted somewhat. And who knows…maybe it’ll lead to something amazing?