The expression “itchy feet” is centuries old, but still captures the essence of wandering quite well. The expression came from the metaphorical representation of what a wanderer does to relieve their wanderlust. Where as someone with itchy feet would not be able to hold still for long, likewise, a compulsive wanderer is not able to stay in one place for very long. This can be for healthy reasons or unhealthy reasons, but their outward behavior is the same regardless.
When someone wanders for healthy reasons, it is an endeavor worth celebrating. One can wander in order to grow as a person. This type of itchy feet is good for a person who is in need of self discovery. By breaking from the things they are familiar with in order to meet the world where they are at and explore what it has to offer, they are expanding their identity and their scope. This is commendable. Often, people who do this are labeled unfairly as not having direction or lacking focus. This is a small minded estimation of a person who wanders in order to grow and reflects poorly on the person passing the judgment.
The unhealthy version of wanderlust is the case where a person is running from something, and cannot hold still for fear that it will catch up to them. This type of itchy feet ends up being destructive to a person’s behavior. Running from life circumstances is often the result of trauma or of dysfunction that entered a person’s life early on. Travel can be therapeutic for a time for this type of person, but ultimately, they will need to face the past they are running from, either with the help of their support system of the help of a professional counselor.
The expression “Not all who wander are lost” aptly acknowledges both types of people, and illustrates that not everyone who wanders does it for the same reasons. This is important to appreciate. The next time your friend or family member who is prone to wandering and traveling sets out for the horizon, give them a fair estimation of why they are traveling.