Our case for possessing the Wanderlust Gene

Grand Canyon 2013

Have you heard of the wanderlust gene? Scientists discovered the existence of the DRD4-7R genome not long ago. They say that roughly 20% of us have it! Those 20% apparently possess a stronger urge to explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships and embrace adventure, movement and change. Also those who have this gene are more creative, more rebellious, and ever hungry for a new ways of seeing the world. Other traits inherent to the wanderlust gene include being impulsive and pro-risk. Of course, speaking from our personal experience, you have to be at least a little pro-risk to be self-employed for most of your adult life or to abandon a perfectly comfortable life at 50 plus years old to live in an 80 square foot van.

We humans come from a long line of migrators and from cultures that moved almost constantly. Have you ever watched one of those videos that shows how people have moved around Europe the past couple hundred years? It’s fascinating to watch borders change, in some cases pretty dramatically. Norman Davies wrote a booktitled, Microcosm Portrait of a Central European City, where he uses the city of Breslau as a portrait of change and migration. It’s name has changed at least 12 times and been tossed back and forth between the Germans and Poles with many changes in ethnic majority over the course of 1,000 years. We both come from families with a history of migration and travelling great distances.

Our case for possessing the wanderlust gene:


When I was in grade one my maternal grandfather, Vladamir Nedin, told me that our family in Romania were gypsies. I was so excited to share this news with my friends and classmates that show and tell could not have come soon enough.

Julie’s Grade One Class Photo, middle row, 8th from the left

At 6 years old I began imagining the truly exciting life my eastern European family were sure to be living. I have no doubt that my grandfather’s stories fuelled my own wanderlust. He left everyone he knew and loved in Romania at 19 years old and walked the breadth of Europe over the course of a year. I imagine it was during this time that he learned to speak Hungarian, Yiddish, Italian, German, French and English, the definition of a polyglot. He wore through countless pairs of shoes and slept in barns in all the countries between Romania and Belgium, eventually boarding a ship in Antwerp bound for Quebec, Canada. From Quebec he travelled by train to Regina, Saskatchewan where he was welcomed by a community of Serbians. It is here that he met and married my grandmother, Julka Yakovlev, who with her parents and sister emigrated from Serbia.

First Serbian Orthodox Church in Canada, Regina Saskatchewan; my great grandparents were founding members

Of course that is just one story passed down of immigration in my family. As is typical of most Canadians, all of my family came from somewhere else. On my father’s side they emigrated from Ireland, Scotland and Austria.

As a kid I loved hearing travel stories from various members of my family. My paternal grandfather, Russell Gibb, had a penchant for riding the rails in the United States. My favourite story involved him losing his identification which turned up in the possession of a dead man. Unfortunately, for a period of time his family thought him to be dead but instead he was mistakenly doing time in Georgia on a chain-gang.

Julie’s mom, Christine (on right), and her friend, Donna (on left)

At eighteen, my mom, Christine, and her best friend travelled from Detroit to San Francisco by train. I am sure that I never saw my mom more happy than when she shared stories of this journey.

Julie with her brother, Rusty, and father, Bill, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; approx. 1974

My dad, Bill, possessed a desire to travel and explore and an eagerness to document these experiences for as long as I can remember.

Postcard to Julie’s grandparents, 1973

I went on my first airplane at ten years old. My parents let me fly from Windsor to see my best friends who were spending the summer in North Bay. By twelve years old I dreamt each night of the day I would leave my hometown and of the places I would travel. For me, dreams of my future included going to university, travelling extensively and being self-employed. Lucky for me, I am able to share all of these dreams and more with the best person I know.

Travel labels on Sig Munoz’s suitcase


Signono Carlos Munoz was my maternal great-grandfather. The story goes that he made his way from Chile to St. Louis, Missouri where he met my great-grandmother, Nannie Redman. Once married they settled and raised their family in Montclair, New Jersey. Sig, as he was known, seemed to be a wheeler and dealer from a very young age.

Turns out he even owned a railway – the Santa Fe Central Railroad. I found out recently that once while he was in Santa Fe, New Mexico playing poker, he won the rights to drill for oil on Navajo land when it was still the wild west. There is a treasured family photo of Sig, looking very much the cowboy, taken, we have been told, while bunk mates at the Bell Ranch, near Tucumcari, with the infamous, Billy the Kid. In his twenties he bought into a gold mine, started boiler companies, and later owned among other companies, the Cosmopolitan Shipping Company, the Federal Export Corporation and a steel mill in Pittsburgh. He travelled extensively throughout his life by ship, train, horseback and automobile.

Santa Fe Central Railroad

Henry Rollins – A great way to learn about your own country is to leave it. 


Christian’s grandfather, James Redman Munoz

Sig’s son, my grandfather, James Redman Munoz, followed in his entrepreneurial travelling father’s footsteps. Most of the stories I know of my grandfather’s exploits were related to me by my parents. I found a journal he kept when he was just nineteen years old, while serving as Purser aboard the S.S. Indradeo. The log details excursions through the West Indies, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka), etc. The journal entries aren’t all pleasant and also contain strong, often racist language in reference to the different cultures he encounters.

James Munoz diary entry while Purser on SS Indradeo, 1911
Journal entry dated Tuesday, June 27th, 1911 – Hong Kong

We went ashore this morning and stayed until evening. The European buildings here are very handsome. Also the various statues. The streets (in the English section) are wide and well paved. I took the trolley up to the peak and had a fine view of the harbour and the country but could not see very far because of the clouds. (includes an illustration of Hong Kong and Kowloon)

Journal entry dated Wednesday, August 16th, 1911 – Woosung, Shanghai

The plague is getting quite bad here. Both the Bubonic and Pneumonic. The American doctor has not allowed any of the sailors, firemen or cooks ashore, however he hasn’t stopped us yet. I don’t hardly think he will.

Journal entry dated Thursday, August 17th, 1911 – Woosung, Shanghai

They are killing a Chinaman (sic) in the native city this week. He is a priest and killed another in a row. They have him in a big wooden cage on wheels with wooden stocks around his neck which (the former) hang from the top of the cage. The toes of his feet just touch the top of a pile of bricks on the bottom of the cage. However, after about 24 hours his neck has stretched enough for him to stand on the bricks. They then knock another brick away and continue the process until he is dead. They have him in front of the gates of the native city for the day and then move him onto the next entrance. (includes an illustration of the rolling cage with a figure)

My father, Angus, fought and survived World War II. Having learned to fly in the army, he and a friend started Atlas Aviation upon returning to Ottawa after the war. He continued to work in aviation for the rest of his life. He is, in fact, an inductee in the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame. My brother, Jamie, followed in his footsteps and became a pilot and spent many years flying in Africa and in the arctic.

Wanderlust: An irresistibly strong desire to wander or travel.

The truth is it doesn’t actually boil down to a single gene, but for romantics like us these scientific findings make us feel connected to the nomads in our own ancestry and are an easy explanation for our sometimes impulsive, spontaneous, risky decision-making and deep-seated need to travel to new places.

Us with Annie and Elia at Versailles, France 2006