Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Dromomania: An Uncontrollable Urge to Travel

Personal Perspective: The urge can be a symptom of schizophrenia or bipolar.

Source: dendoktoor / Pixabay
Source: dendoktoor / Pixabay

I will share with you how I exhibited dromomania (see clinical definition below) during the time I experienced schizoaffective disorder and then dropped out of college and became homeless.

In 2007 at age 25, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. But it was not until many years after I had entered full recovery from schizophrenia that I learned about “dromomania,” a symptom I had experienced.

According to the American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology, dromomania is

“An abnormal drive or desire to travel that involves spending beyond one’s means and sacrificing job, partner, or security in the lust for new experiences. People with dromomania not only feel more alive when traveling but also start planning their next trip as soon as they arrive home. Fantasies about travel occupy many of their waking thoughts and some of their dreams. The condition was formerly referred to as vagabond neurosis.”1

Looking back in time, it is amazing how perfectly this symptom of schizophrenia defines much of my behavior over many years. Perhaps the first alarming sign of my emerging schizophrenia manifested as an uncontrollable desire to travel.

During my college winter break of 2001–2002, my junior year, I went to China with two young women from my church. We visited impoverished areas where there was great need. This was my first international trip.

Immediately following my return, I made plans to spend the next summer in a remote slum of Nairobi, Kenya. I would travel there alone, living in a community where there were no other visitors. While there, I also stopped taking care of myself by not eating enough. My parents requested my contact information, unaware that I had no physical address. My host did have a cell phone, and I never shared the number with my parents, afraid they would travel to Africa to bring me home.

I returned from Africa with severe reverse culture shock, feeling guilty about having a refrigerator, a nice dorm room, and a closet full of clothing. I felt undeserving.

After traveling to Africa, I could not rest. Instead, I immediately began planning a winter trip to visit American missionaries I knew in Thailand.

Looking back, my psychiatric physician believes that this time after Africa, and before Thailand, marked the onset of my first psychotic break. I was so obsessed with travel that I could no longer study, and I went from being an honor student to being unable to pass my classes. I also was entirely unaware anything was wrong with me, firmly believing my travel experience would actually be more valuable than having a college degree.

My parents tried to pull me back, stating they would withhold a significant amount of their financial support if I went to Thailand. Believing I was commanded by God to travel around the world, I saw my parents as adversaries. I halted communication with them for the next four years, even after I became homeless.

My host family in Thailand tried to counsel me about my failing grades and drive to travel (as I was planning to visit Saudi Arabia after Thailand). After they voiced their concern, I refused all communication with them as well, for many years. Following my full recovery, I contacted them and apologized.

Despite my determination to visit Saudi Arabia, I had maxed out my credit cards in Thailand, making another international trip impossible.

On March 3, 2003, I believed that if I flew to Boston, there would be a billionaire there who knew through a dream that I was coming and would help me travel the world. Instead, I spent 15 hours at the airport alone. After returning to Los Angeles from Boston, I would soon begin spending my nights in a library, and later outside.

I could not stop my urge to travel. Over the next year, I convinced friends from the library to pay for two trips to England and two weeks in Taiwan.

Believing my travel was ordained by God and absolutely necessary in my life, I still never shared that I thought I was hearing the voice of God. During this time, I continued neglecting my personal needs and lived in a library because I had dropped out of college and lost my dorm room.

In 2004, following my last international trip to date, I became homeless and no longer had resources for air travel. However, my dromomania manifested as an uncontrollable urge to walk.

I remember walking the perimeter of my former college campus again and again. As time went by, I started walking into downtown Los Angeles, through bad areas, and beside busy, wide roads where I rarely saw any other pedestrians.

My psychosis progressed and I began to hear voices (hallucinations) commanding me to walk. One day, I walked 14 miles. I wandered into wealthy neighborhoods on the sides of rolling hills. Looking back, it amazes me that I was never reported for erratic behavior.

Today, in recovery from schizophrenia, I often walk 15 minutes to a recreation center at the University of Cincinnati where I swim. I once again enjoy travel, frequently invited to fly to various cities around the country where I share my journey of full recovery from schizophrenia. I live a vibrant professional life as the president of a charitable foundation and motivational speaker. My frequent travels now are different from the pathological dromomania in my past, prior to successful treatment and full recovery from schizophrenia.

During my psychotic period, dromomania felt enjoyable, but I would never want it back. It scares me that this symptom compelled me to put myself in such great danger both in Los Angeles and overseas.

I wish I had known about dromomania many years ago. Perhaps I could have recognized it as a symptom of schizophrenia and sought professional help more quickly. Today, as I live in full recovery, I hope to educate others about the various symptoms of schizophrenia, including dromomania, of which most people are unaware, and may be mistaken as a bad habit or poor judgment.


1. APA Dictionary of Psychology, Retrieved June 1, 2024.

More from Bethany Yeiser BS
More from Psychology Today