Words for Wandering: A Traveler’s Vocabulary List

In my humble opinion, one of the most awe-inspiring things that human beings have developed is language. In fact, people have created 7,000 dialects of 2,700 different languages worldwide. Over 231 languages have now been declared to be “dead,” and every 1-2 weeks, another dialect or language meets the same grim fate. There are even over 200 artificial languages, which are tongues that were created for books, movies, and television floating around. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings accounts for either 12 or 13 of them (depending on which source you believe). In summary, whether it is of the written, spoken, or signed variety, language is an entity as complex as it is vital for human survival and happiness.

Although I only speak English, some Spanish, and a few phrases in Gaelic that I learned from Celtic Thunder (don’t judge me), I collect interesting words, both from languages that I am familiar with and from ones that I can’t even guess how to pronounce. Lately, as I’ve been starting to plan my trip to London, I’ve been paying special attention to the words I’ve compiled that revolve around journeys, travel, and locations. Going to a place that you’ve never been before is almost always a fascinating experience, and going to an entirely new country when I’ve never left the U.S. before comes with the kind of feelings that are difficult to express. Luckily, with the help of a few languages, that process becomes much easier. Here are some of my favorite words relating to places and travel, in no particular order, and how I relate to them:

  1. Resfeber (n.) Swedish for the nervous feeling before undertaking a journey, where anxiety and anticipation tangle together. For me, this always manifests as the nausea and sweaty palms that I feel sitting in the airport as I wait for a flight.
  2. Dépaysement (n.) French for the disorientation felt in a foreign country or culture, the sense of being a fish out of water. When I tell people that I am getting my master’s in another country, and they inform me about how certain practices are much different across the pond (like measuring things in grams rather than pounds and the concept of afternoon tea), I get a fish out of water feeling.
  3. Fernweh (n.) German for “farsickness,” an ache for distant places or for travelling. I am trying to assemble a bucket list of things to do while I am in London, and seeing how amazing all of the sites will be makes me long to be there so that I can start experiencing it.
  4. Occhiolism (n.) The awareness of the smallness of your perspective.  The same emotion swept over me when I stood on top of the canyon walls in Zion National Park, as I realized that I was just a small speck in comparison to the vastness of nature.
  5. Wasuremono (n.) Japanese for forgotten or lost things, as in an item left behind on a train or forgotten at home. Whenever I packed up to go to Concordia in California, I would always leave something behind that I really needed and I always took something with me that I never used. It’s like an irritating exchange process.
  6. Akihi (n.) Hawaiian for listening to directions and then walking off and promptly forgetting them. As someone who is notoriously bad at giving and taking directions (cue me getting lost in the neighborhoods of Sun River, OR), I hope that I get better at this as I learn to navigate East London.
  7. Videnda (n.) Latin adoption, “what is to be observed,” the things that should be seen or visited, especially because they mark the character of a person or place. Whenever you see a picture of Big Ben, the London Bridge, or a double decker bus, people think of London. Those are the kind of touristy things that I am looking forward to doing unabashedly. You’d better believe I’m getting a photo in a phone booth while I’m overseas.
  8. Coddiwomple (n.) To travel in a purposeful manner toward a vague destination. I did this a lot with my tour groups in NYC, as we would make great time in getting to an area like Greenwich or Brooklyn Heights, but once we got there, we would take our time strolling around, heading to no place in particular.
  9. Cynefin (n.) Welsh for a place where a person or animal feels it ought to live and belong, where the nature around you feels right and welcoming. Whenever I came home from break and my plane would land in Portland, I would see all the endless green of the trees and recognize my cynefin.
  10. Smultronställe (n.) German, literally “place of wild strawberries”; a special place discovered, treasured, and returned to for solace and relaxation; a personal idyll free from stress and sadness. When I was younger, this used to be the swingset in the back of my house where I would swing all of my stress away. Now that I’m older, I hope I can find a place of wild strawberries in the U.K. (actual strawberries not required).

So whether you have forgotten your toothbrush in a different state or are getting lost in a tangle of streets this summer, I hope that one of these words can find a home in your own vocabulary.


Credit to Wordstuck, Lingualinx.com, Migratingmiss.com, Buzzfeed, and Edudemic.com for the words and language facts.


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