Listening to the radio on the way home from work, I heard a short segment about the German word fernweh. The host described it as “far-sickness” or the opposite of what in English we’d call homesick. An “aha” feeling washed over me. Finally I had a word to accurately describe my travel pangs.
In my brief research of the word, I learned that fernweh is two words: far and pain. Combined they mean far-sickness, or a longing for a far off place. There’s not a true translation in English. Some sites listed wanderlust as the closest translation. I understand wanderlust, and it does not match my feelings of fernweh. The word itself has such a perfect sense of sadness and longing in it. It simply feels like it sounds.
I do experience pangs for places I’ve traveled to. They aren’t painful in the traditional sense of the word, but more like little waves of sadness that accompany a travel memory. Once the location is recalled, there’s just a deep desire to be there at that moment.
Sometimes it’s the bed and breakfast my husband and I stayed at in Raglan, New Zealand. There aren’t specific details that stand out from other places we’ve stayed. But we rented movies on the nights we stayed there on our honeymoon. The sense of home in a far away place, of curling up and doing something normal on vacation struck a chord.
Other times I want to be back in the Outer Banks of North Carolina so much that I want to cry. I’ve never lived there (only visited for up to a week at a time), but Rodanthe and the surrounding areas just feel part of me. Maybe it’s that I’ve left a small part of myself in these places I’m missing the pieces.
Ouray, Colorado. Callander, Scotland. Seneca Lake, New York. The list grows longer the more I think about it. Some of these places were no more than pass throughs on a longer trip. It almost feels as if I have no right to miss them. But something about these places left an imprint on my memory and in my heart. And when the wind blows the right way, these memories are stirred and conjure up a sense of longing, sad and deep. Now I know what it is. Fernweh.