Have you ever tried to explain a travel experience or feeling and you have been at a loss for words? (Unusual travel words)
However, there are moments when I feel like I cannot fully express myself which is why I’ve turned to other languages and unusual travel words to help expand my vocabulary…and yeah, to satisfy that gnawing feeling.
The more I started researching and looking up these words, the more I fell in love with them as somehow, they could perfectly convey certain feelings and emotions where the English language just doesn’t cut it. Inspired by the success of our popular best travel quotes article, here is my top list of the most unusual words with beautiful meanings.
The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it
(Noun / Origin: Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows / exu·lan·sis)
“…whether through envy or pity or simple foreignness, which allows it to drift away from the rest of your life story, until the memory itself feels out of place, almost mythical, wandering restlessly in the fog, no longer even looking for a place to land.”
FYI: In case you don’t know, the ‘Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’ is written by John Koenig and it has become so famous that he even went on to do a TED show. Basically, the dictionary presents neologisms (up and coming words) for powerful feelings that you likely don’t have a proper term for, and indeed ‘exulansis’ is one of the beautiful unusual travel words that you must know!
The desire to capture a fleeting moment
(Noun / Origin: Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows / mo·rii)
“With every click of the shutter, you are trying to press pause on your life. With every click of the shutter, you’re trying to press pause on your life. If only so you can feel a little more comfortable moving on living in a world stuck on play.”
ETYMOLOGY: Based on ‘memento mori,’ it’s a small reminder of your mortality + ‘torii,’ the traditional Japanese gates that mark the threshold between the profane and the sacred.
I’m sure that we all have felt this, not only when we’re traveling but in all the meaningful moments of our lives! We all have this kind of desire given the fact that cameras together with social media will — and always — be on the rise. After all, we simply don’t want to miss a thing. We just want to capture moments before they slip through our fingers so that we can hopefully relive and relish on it later on. But then again.. it is a constant struggle of balance between ‘capturing’ and being there and savoring those moments.
The awareness of how little of the world you’ll experience
(Noun / Origin: Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows / o·ni·sm)
“The frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time, which is like standing in front of the departures screen at an airport, flickering over with strange city names like other people’s passwords, each representing one more thing you’ll never get to see before you die — and all because, as the arrow on the map helpfully points out, you are here.”
ETYMOLOGY: Portmanteau of monism (philosophical view that a variety of things can be explained in terms of a single reality) + onanism (alternative word for self-pleasure).
Raise your hand if you’ve ever encountered this thought — yep, I knew it, you’ve felt this too! This sentiment is often the reason why I like the idea of immortality… because yes, I am selfish: I would really like to see and experience everything. But as it is, I’ll make most of time — and you should too!
A person who loves photography
(Noun / Origin: Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows / pho·to·phile)
This is an obscure word but supposedly, this came about after deriving it off from the word “photophilic” which is an organism that loves or seeks light — which is related in a way to how cameras function.
The realization that each random passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own
(Noun / Origin: Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows / son·der)
“The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own — populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness — an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
ETYMOLOGY: Related to the German word ‘sonder’ (special) and French ‘sonder’ (to probe). If you ask me, this is one of my favorites on all of these unusual travel words!
The feeling of returning home after a trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness
(Noun / Origin: Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows / rück·keh·run·ru·he)
“The feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness — to the extent that you have to keep reminding yourself that it happened at all, even though it felt so vivid just days ago — which makes you wish you could smoothly cross-dissolve back into everyday life, or just hold the shutter open indefinitely and let one scene become superimposed on the next, so all your days would run together and you’d never have to call ~cut!~.”
The frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist
(Noun / Origin: Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows / ve·mö·da·len)
“The frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist — the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same closeup of an eye — which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself.”
ETYMOLOGY: From the Swedish word vemod which means “tender sadness, pensive melancholy” and then combined with Vemdalen, the name of a Swedish town. Swedish place names are the source of IKEA’s product names — the original metaphor for this idea was that these clichéd photos are a kind of prefabricated furniture that you happen to have built yourself.
So, I never actually felt this… because though there are tons of ‘duplicates’, I still like to make my own and say that “Ah, I shot this!”. BUT of course, I have a lot of friends — most especially the avid photographers — who go through vemodalen! Let me know if you also have the same sentiments.
To flee or leave abruptly without saying goodbye
(Verb / Origin: English / ab·squat·u·late)
I once reached a point where I just want to leave everything and go. I can still vividly recall that memory because it’s how my travel lifestyle started! If you want to learn more about my journey to checking off all the world’s 7 continents, read this.
An imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease
(Noun / Origin: English / cock·aigne)
This term is dervied from the Middle French phrase pais de cocaigne, which literally means “the land of plenty.”
To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination
(Verb / Origin: English / cod·di·wom·ple)
I gotta admit, the first time I saw this word (which was when I was around 15), I honestly thought that it meant cuddling or something of that sort. It’s just such a unique word! When I did see the correct definition, I was floored at how deep it was so I just had to put it up in this list of unusual travel words.
As such, where have you coddiwompled to so far?
A fear or dislike of one’s home
(Noun / Origin: English / e·co·pho·bia)
This word is based from Ancient Greek in whick ‘eco’ is derived from oîkos or “house”, and then of course ‘phobia’ from phóbos or “fear”.
A person who travels often or to many different places, especially for pleasure
(Noun / Origin: English / gad·about)
Tracing back to the Middle English verb ‘gadden’ which means ‘to wander without a specific aim or purpose’.
A person who is fond of forests or forest scenery
(Noun / Origin: English / ne·mo·phi·list)
As far as unusual travel words go, I have added yet another term on my arsenal to describe not only my friends but myself as well!
Feeling both fearful and awed by what is before you
(Adjective / Origin: English / nu·mi·nous)
This word can mean a lot of things and it especially leans more towards depicting something supernatural or mysterious that is almost as if it’s by some divine power. You can take this word the way you want it, but the way I see it, this perfectly describes several travel experiences that I have had.
I’m not exactly a spiritual person but I recognize some strong connection to nature and you bet that I felt a numinous presence in amazing places like Antarctica and Iceland. You just gotta be there to experience the emotion yourself!
Something unfamiliar, unusual or wondrous
(Adjective / Origin: Old English / sel·couth)
This is the perfect adjective to use when defining a place you have traveled to that just feels foreign or novel — which is in itself a good thing and an inevitability.
The natural ability of making desirable discoveries by accident
(Noun / Origin: English / ser·en·dip·i·ty)
A term in the 1750s to describe those who ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’.
A person who travels on foot
(Noun / Origin: English / way·far·er)
This is from the Middle English word weyfarere which is equivalent to way + farer (‘to journey).
Spontaneous journey, led only by the spirit of the landscape
(Noun / Origin: French / de·ʁiv)
This is a French word that originally refers to a strategy whereing participants “drop their everyday relations and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there”.
In this list of unusual travel words, don’t you think that this perfectly describes a lot of traveling and digital nomads today?
A person of leisure who strolls aimlessly, observing life and society
(Noun / Origin: French / flâ·neur)
The flâneur was, in some way, essential to any picture of the streets of Paris. The word carried a set of rich associations: the man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street.
The good or bad feeling that comes from being in a foreign country
(Noun / Origin: French / de·pɛ·iz·mɑ̃)
This word could literally mean something like: ‘to be uncountried’ and it could either be due to disorientation or gladness — depends on you, and you bet that I’ll be using this word from now on!
A lucky find
(Noun / Origin: French / trü·ˈvī’)
There’s something about the French language that is romantic and melodic, and this has got to be one of my favorite unusual travel words!
The impossibility to truly comprehend anything
(Noun / Origin: Latin / acat·a·lep·sy)
This is clearly an overwhelming feeling, but don’t you think that it humbles us in some way? The more I travel, the more I feel a sense of acatalepsy and though it might seem daunting at first, I think that’s just what makes our world and life itself an incredibly beautiful thing.
A desire for powerful change in one’s life or situation
(Adjective / Origin: Latin / nO·va·’tUr·E·ent)
ETYMOLOGY: The word “nova” originates from the Latin novus meaning ‘new’.
To travel or wander around from place to place
(Verb / Origin: Latin / per·e·gri·nate)
From the Latin word peregrinat meaning ‘‘traveled abroad’ and from the verb peregrinari and peregrinus meaning foreign or traveling.
A solitary wanderer
(Noun / Origin: Latin / so·liv·a·gant)
ETYMOLOGY: Latin word of solivagus meaning wandering alone + English –ant
An irresistible yearning for freedom
(Noun / Greek / el·u·ther·o·man·ea)
ETYMOLOGY: From Ancient Greek ἐλευθερία (eleuthería, ‘freedom’) + -mania.
One who loves to travel
(Noun / Origin: Greek / hodo·phile)
ETYMOLOGY: From Ancient Greek ὁδός (hodós) which means travel.
Putting a part of yourself into what you’re doing
(Noun / Origin: Greek / me·ra·ki)
This is a modern Greek word that’s often used to describe the instance wherein you leave a part of yourself (your soul, creativity, or love) in your work — so it’s like when you intensely love to do something or just about anything that you put something of yourself into it.
A person who travels from place to place
(Noun / Origin: Greek / peri·pa·tet·ic)
We can trace back the origin of this word to Aristotle and his followers. They often walked around peripatos (covered walk in the Lyceum) while Aristotle does his lectures, given that the former loves walking. As such, the Greek word peripatētikos (from peripatein, meaning “to walk up and down”) came about because of them.
a contented state of being happy, healthy and prosperous
(Adjective / Origin: Greek / U·de·‘mOn·E·a)
Leave a comment below if you’ve felt eudaimonia while traveling!
Wanderlust; an ache for distant places or a strong desire to travel
(Noun / Origin: German / feirn·veyh)
ETYMOLOGY: From the word fern (“far”) and weh (“pain”). It can be literally translated as farsickness or longing for far-off places.
A longing for home
(Noun / Origin: German / heim·veyh)
As contrasted with Fernweh, this is a German word for homesickness.
The act of playing out an entire scenario in your mind
(Noun / Origin: German / kopf·ki·no)
Hard translation is “head cinema” and as the definition goes, these are for those times where you start daydreaming or imagining scenarios about how a situation will unravel.
Fear of crossing a threshold to embark on something new
(Noun / Origin: German / shwel·en·ahngst)
ETYMOLOGY: From the German words Schwelle (threshold) + Angst (anxiety).
An intense yearning for something far-off and indefinable
(Noun / German / zEn·‘zUkt)
ETYMOLOGY: From German words sehnen (to long) and Sucht (anxiety; sickness; addiction).
The origin of the word doesn’t sound too good but as a whole it simply means that it’s an indescribable yearning for far off places and indescribable goals.
A person who has the feel for a language
(Noun / Origin: German / shpräḵ-gə-ˌfᵫl)
This literally translates as ‘language feeling’ from compound nouns combining Sprache (language) and Gefühl (feeling). Basically, this does not only refer to a person who has a good understanding of foreign languages but also to a person who has intuitiveness for what is linguistically appropriate.
The freedom of being alone
(Noun / Origin: German / shtUrm·frI)
A German word that translates literally to “storm free” — but the real meaning has nothing to do with the weather. As a slang, it means having the house or place to one’s self; but if we put a romantic twist to it then it’s about having the freedom or of having some alone time.
The joyful anticipation that comes from imagining future pleasures
(Noun / Origin: German / FOR·frI)
ETYMOLOGY: Combination of German words vor (pre) and Freude (happiness).
The feeling of solitude in the woods
(Adjective / Origin: German / shtUrm·frI)
ETYMOLOGY: Combination of Wald (forest) and Einsamkeit (loneliness)
A person who loves life deeply and lives it to the extreme
(Adjective / Origin: Swedish / lives·noo·tuhreh)
Yet another word discovery that I loved since it’s something that I want to refer to myself as!
The reflection of the moon on the water
(Noun / Origin: Swedish / shtUrm·frI)
ETYMOLOGY: Combination of Swedish words måne (moon) and gata (street, road).
The tangled feelings of fear and excitement before a journey begins
(Noun / Origin: Swedish / reece·FEE·ber)
A special place discovered for solace and relaxation
(Noun / Origin: Swedish / smUl·tron·’stel·e)
This Swedish word literally translates to “place of wild strawberries” and it’s a place where you feel most at home that’s away from any stress or sadness.
The sunlight that filters though the trees
(Noun / Origin: Japanese / reece·FEE·ber)
The Japanese truly have a way of coming up with the most interesting words and this is such a poetic addition to this list of unusual travel words!
A happy recollection of an event or memory in the past
(Adjective / Origin: Japan / 懐かしい nat·su·ka·shii)
The adjective originally described wanting to keep something close or wanting to express fondness for something. Over time, this term was used more to describe happy reminiscences, leading to the modern meaning. Take note that this is different from a nostalgic longing, but more of a joyous remembrance of a past memory.
Forest bath; a visit to the forest to take in it’s atmosphere
(Noun / Origin: Japan / shin·rin·yo·ku)
This is actually a form of nature therapy that is practiced in Japan ever since the 80s.
“The floating world” — living in the moment, detached from the bothers of life
(Noun / Origin: Japan)
A hard translation of this word dates back to Japan’s Edo-period as it describes the urban lifestyle, and a famous related word is ukiyo-e or Japanese art paintings of the ‘Floating World’ or of our fleeting life and transient world.
The stress caused by speaking a foreign language
(Noun / Origin: Japan / yo·ko·me·shi)
The Japanese has this unique word to describe the specific kind of stress we experience when trying to speak a foreign language. Its hard translation is ‘boiled rice’ (meshi) and ‘horizontal (yoko) which will sort of mean as ‘a meal that’s eaten sideways’ — this metaphor actually refers to the fact that the Japanese write vertically instead of horizontally. Hence, the word yoko-meshi has a nice spin to it, doesn’t it?
A profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe that triggers a deep emotional response
(Noun / Origin: Japan / yu·gen)
TRIVIA: Yugen is an important concept in the study of traditional Japanese aesthetics.
The discovery of beauty within the imperfections of life
(Noun / Origin: Japan / wabe·sabe)
This yet another Japanese aesthetic that has a very deep meaning in which life and art are viewed as beautiful not because they are perfect and eternal but because they are imperfect and fleeting. Isn’t this truly one of the best unusual travel words with a beautiful meaning?
The awareness that you are not at home in the wilderneess
(Noun / Origin: Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows / bal·la·ga·rye)
ETYMOLOGY: From Gaelic balla gàrraidh, “garden wall”
This is a word with a very deep meaning — so don’t let that simple definition fool you. To better understand it, I implore you to watch this video.
In fact, I gotta say that this is one of the unusual travel words that I often always feel most especially when I’m doing nature trips. Of course there have been times when I’ve felt the opposite, but it’s more common to feel and be aware of how highly domesticated we all are. It’s not an entirely bad thing because advancement is a blessing; however, sometimes, it just makes you think how the olden times was truly far simpler and pristine. *sigh* I can’t really put it into words well, but let me know your thoughts once you get to watch the video above!
The awareness that this will become a memory
(Noun / Origin: Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows / reece·FEE·ber)
ETYMOLOGY: From the French word dès vu, “seen as soon as” or “seen from this point forward”
“Once in a while you look up, and watch as the present turns into a memory, as if some future you is already looking back on it.”
A feeling of warmth and cosiness as you enjoy life’s simple pleasures
(Noun / Origin: Danish / hoo·gah)
This is a well-loved word in Denmark with Norwegian origins and you can even basically call it a way of life and it’s basically all about creating a warm atmosphere with other people.
To stir, to touch, to move to tears
(Verb / Origin: Italian / ko’mːwɔvere)
A homesickness for a place which you can’t return to or never was
(Noun / Origin: Welsh / HEER-eyeth)
This is a Welsh concept of longing for home — but more than just missing something, it implies the meaning of having a bittersweet memory of missing a time, era or person.
Someone who loves the sea
(Adjective / Origin: Greek)
From the Greek words θάλασσα / thalasso- (sea) and -phile.
I hope you enjoyed discovering these unusual travel words — as much as I had a lot of fun discovering them too!
I’m sure there are still a lot of other unique words out there that could perfectly capture an emotion that we can’t easily express with our own language; so if you have something in mind that’s not already listed here, do let me know in the comments section below!
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