The English Language is a wonderful mongrel of borrowed words from Latin, German, Anglo-Norman, Greek, French and Slavic languages. A nation of word-pirates, we pilfer words from all around the world, representing in many ways, the cosmopolitan and adventurous way in which we live our lives.
Here are some of our favorite unique words with deep meanings that will inspire your next adventure. So, grab yourself a cup of whatever you fancy, sit back and join us on our whirlwind tour of unusual travel words with beautiful meanings that originate from around the world.
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Table of Contents
- 1 Unusual Travel Words with Beautiful Meanings
- 2 Unique Words with Deep Meanings that Inspire Travel
- 3 Rare Travel Words with Beautiful Meanings
- 4 Exotic Words That Can Whisk You Away
- 5 Quirky Travel Words the Encourage Wanderlust
Unusual Travel Words with Beautiful Meanings
Wanderlust (noun): the feeling of longing for far-off places you’ve never even been to.
This one simply had to make the number one spot. One we know and love and perhaps less unusual for any avid traveler, but did you know the word ‘wanderlust’ derives from the German verb ‘wandern’ meaning ‘to wander’ and ‘lust’ meaning a strong desire?
Effervescent (adjective): vivacious and enthusiastic (with regards to character)
Did you know that the original meaning of the word ‘effervescent’ comes from the Latin word ‘fervere’- to be hot, boil? But the more figurative, common use of the word describes someone or something with ‘exuberant’ or ‘sparkling’ character.
Peripatetic (adj): A person who spends his time wandering
A word with Greek origins, Peripatetic describes traveling from place to place, in particular, working or based in various places for relatively short periods.
Ineffable (adj): indescribable, something which cannot be contained within language
The French word ‘effable’ literally means ‘that may be expressed in words’. ‘Ineffable’ means indescribable, something which cannot be contained within language. Definitely one for the mental dictionary of any avid traveler.
Serendipity (noun): the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way
Allegedly deriving from a Persian fairy tale: ‘The three princes of Serendip’, in which characters made accidental discoveries, the word ‘serendipity’ means a beneficial turn of events which happen purely by chance or coincidentally.
Aura (noun): the distinctive atmosphere or quality that seems to surround and be generated by a person, thing, or place.
The ‘subtle emanation around the body’, or ‘gentle breeze’ in middle English: the word aura is more commonly used to describe someone’s surrounding energy or the quality or atmosphere of a place. I’m sure you can recall standing in a place you’ve never been before and feeling something magical or special surrounding you. (I’ve had that feeling quite a few times, but the ones that stand out are Horsehoe Bend in the USA, and the Massai Mara in Kenya).
Odyssey (noun) a long trip or period involving a lot of different and exciting activities
Originating from the epic ancient Greek poems by Homer about the king of Ithaca seeking home after the fall of Troy, the word ‘odyssey’ is one of our literary favourites, used to describe a grand voyage or adventure.
Euphoria (noun): a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness
In everyday use, the word ‘euphoria’ describes a state of extreme happiness, pleasure or excitement – and it literally how I feel at the mere thought of a new travel experience! But did you know that this Greek word literally means to ‘bear well’ and is originally connected with health, having derived from the Greek word ‘euphoros’?
Unique Words with Deep Meanings that Inspire Travel
Coddiwomple (verb): to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination
If you can travel without a plan or an itinerary, this English slang word is the perfect way to describe your adventure.
Eudaimonia (n): The contented happy state you feel when you travel
To be honest, there isn’t much more I can say about this one as it is pretty self-explanatory, and I’m sure something that each and every one us has felt.
Crepuscular (adj): of, relating to, or resembling twilight
While it sounds far less beautiful, the word ‘crepuscular’ literally means resembling or relating to twilight. For example, crepuscular birds are those which fly at or after dusk. Personally, that’s our favourite time to fly too. Clever birds.
Petrichor (adj): a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.
The word ‘petrichor’ means the earthy fragrance which is produced after rainfall on dry soil. It reminds me of the tropical rains in South East Asia, and after my latest trip to Africa, the equatorial rains of southern Uganda.
Petrichor is derived from the word ‘petra’ meaning stone, this word has such a lovely sensory meaning we thought it should also make the shortlist.
Hiraeth (n): yearning for something, a place, an era in time or a state of being which may no longer be in existence
Flying the flag for Wales, this Welsh word means ‘homesickness’, but not in its traditional sense. Hiraeth is the concept of yearning for something, a place, an era in time or a state of being which may no longer be in existence. There is no equivalent translation in English but is one of the most perfect word to describe this version of homesickness.
It’s one of the most rare words on this list but is undoubtedly (and easily) one of the most beautiful words in the English language with a deep emotional meaning.
Epiphany (n): a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization
Most commonly used to mean a sudden manifestation of perception or simply a deep discovery or realisation (in travel – it’s that moment of clarity when something you’ve been struggling with suddenly becomes clear).
The word Epiphany actually originates from the word ‘epipháneia’ meaning manifestation or appearance and was also the name for the Christian feast day of Christ’s reincarnation.
Rare Travel Words with Beautiful Meanings
Querencia (n) a place from which one’s strength is drawn, where one feels at home; the place where you are your most authentic self
One of my favorite foreign words on the list, Querencia is a Spanish metaphycial concept, traditionally used to describe the area of a bullfighting ring which the animal refuses to leave as it is where he feels safe. Although I do not endorse bullfighting in any way, shape or form, this concept can be applied to travelers as the feeling of being at home and safe, wherever they are in the world.
Sonder (n): the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own
Taken from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, Sonder is the profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.
And you’ve all definitely felt this before now and just not realised! Like when you’ve sat people-watching in a random cafe in a far off land, or trying to guess what is between said in a conversation just beyond your hearing. You have absolutely sonder-ed.
Ethereal (adj): extremely delicate and light in a way that seems not to be of this world
From the ancient beliefs that the earth was made up of earth, air, fire and water and anything beyond the earth belonged to the ‘ether’, the word ‘ethereal’ is now used to describe something otherworldly but often specifically refers to a type of light.
Amphibious (adj): combining two characteristics.
While the word ‘amphibious’ is most commonly used to describe animals that live on land and in the sea, its original meaning is actually something that combines two different qualities or having two modes of life. This one will in particular speak to those of us who work full time and travel part-time, as we technically have two modes of life, two characteristics. The worker & the traveler. Although we can absolutely relate if you find that the two get mixed up sometimes! (especially if you’re currently at work reading this!)
Eleutheromania (n): a mania or frantic zeal for freedom
A Greek word that resonates with so many of us, Eleutheromania is the intense desire for freedom. To be in the outdoors and explore magical destinations around the world.
Papilionaceous (adj): a transformation
Another French word ‘papillion’ means butterfly. ‘Papilionaceous’ often describes plants and flowers which resemble the shape of a butterfly, but the word can also be used to describe an incredible transformation, resembling the change from cocoon to butterfly. Now, how many people have you heard say that travel changes you? I’m sure there have been plenty – and whether you believe them or not(!) – Papilionaceous is a much better way to describe their inner changes!
Exotic Words That Can Whisk You Away
Peregrinate (verb): To travel or wander around from place to place.
For the nomads amongst us, those who call the world their home and almost constantly move from place to place. For the rest of us, it’s just another way to describe what we love so much: travel.
Ephemeral (noun): to have a brief and precious existence
Often used to describe the fleeting life of a butterfly or the cherry blossoms in Japan, the word ‘ephemeral’ is the concept of something being transitory or having a brief and precious existence. And this is easy to apply to those who love to travel – and even those who don’t – because life is short (and the world is wide) – and we should all make every effort to make the most of every single second.
Halcyon (n): A tranquil period of happiness, especially in the past, attributed to the power of the fabled halcyon bird that was said to calm the wind and sea.
Commonly used in the phrase ‘halcyon days’, the word halcyon means nostalgic, or relating to a specific period in the past which seemed preferable to modern-day times. However, the word Halcyon also has a beautiful fable behind the meaning. The word originates from the Greek ‘alkuon’ which means Kingfisher. According to an ancient fable, the halcyon bird bred during the winter solstice in a nest which floated on the sea, its special powers could calm the wind and the waves to make it calm during that period.
Schwellenangst (n): Fear of crossing a threshold to embark on something new
A word of German origins, I’m sure this is a feeling that all travelers have felt at some point. Be it on your first trip or (in my case) every trip, it is this fear I think that drives us towards new and exciting travel experiences and adventures.
Intrepid (adj): those who are extremely brave and show no fear of dangerous situations
While this one is a commonly used term for us budding travellers, the word ‘intrepid’ also has an intriguing origin. From the Latin word ‘intrepidus’ meaning ‘not alarmed’, this one is one for the devout adventurers among you.
Mostly used in relation to eye colour and a popular type of plant- the Latin word ‘iris’, or ‘iridos’ in Greek actually means ‘rainbow’. And while we’re on the subject.. have you ever wondered where the word ‘iridescent’ comes from? You can have that one for free.
Quirky Travel Words the Encourage Wanderlust
Numinous (adj): Feeling both fearful and awed by what is before you.
It is a concept derived from the Latin numen meaning “to arouse spiritual or religious emotion; mysterious or awe-inspiring” – and so in travel, the best way to describe it would be standing before a waterfall and being both fearful of its power and awed by its beauty. (The quick route to this would be the waterfalls in Iceland or Bali!)
Solivagant (adj) Wandering alone; marked by solitary wandering
For all those who travel alone, or if you are planning a solo trip, you are about to become a Solivagant.
Fernweh (n): the feeling of longing for far-off places you’ve never even been to
For all those destinations you long to visit. With German origins, there are several interpretations and proposed literal translations including “far-woe, ‘farsickness’ (the opposite of homesickness) or by splitting the word into ‘fern’ (distance) and ‘weh’ (an ache) to create a distance-ache. Ultimately & figuratively, the meaning is the same: Fernweh is the feeling of wanderlust or longing for far-off places you’ve never even been to.
Vagary (n): A whimsical, wild, or unusual idea
This is surely how all good adventures and travel experiences start?!
Novaturient (adj): desiring or seeking powerful change in your life, behavior or a certain situation
From the Latin, Novus, meaning ‘new’ a “Novaturient” means someone who wants a new life or change. It could be this very feeling that pushes people to travel. To strive for that change in lands far away.
Gadabout (n) A person who travels often or to many different places for pleasure; or a habitual pleasure seeker
Well, I am definitely one of these. As are many other people I know. And I will be quite happy to be called a gadabout for as long as I am able to travel!
As Michael Palin once said (and in doing so created one of my all-time favorite travel quotes): ‘Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life’
So there you go, from adjectives with hidden fables behind them to nouns with literary connotations of great adventures and words that generally describe some of our most memorable, beautiful adventures around the globe. These handy, unique travel words with deep meanings will act as a portable dictionary for you to add to your journal, inject a little linguistic color to your next blog post or simply for the classic Instagram humble brag.
Leave us your thoughts in the comments below. Which of our 30+ unusual words with beautiful meanings do you love the most and are there any you think should make it onto our list?
And if you know someone who needs a little bit of escapism – or just some new words for their vocabulary(!) – be sure to share this article with them either on Facebook, Twitter or Flipboard. And remember, all of the inspirational travel quote style images in the post are pinnable. Go ahead, grab some for your travel inspiration board – you won’t regret it!
And if you liked this unusual and rare words with beautiful meanings, take a look at the other recent posts, packing tips, travel accessories, travel resources, travel guides, travel tips, ultimate guides and packing lists in this series:
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Vicki is the Lawyer turned Content Creator, Editor-in-Chief and all round Boss Lady at MakeTimeToSeeTheWorld.
She has lived and worked in 7 different countries and started the site to show everyone that it is possible to travel whilst holding down a full time job (because not everyone can – or wants to – quit and walk away from it all).
Her style of travel has always been to get the best out of a destination as a time poor traveler making the most of limited vacation days and all without breaking the bank; BUT she does know where to save and where to splurge to have the most incredible travel experiences – such as luxury hotels and over-water bungalows, safaris, spas and more(!) – where the situation calls for it.
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