11 Travel Words and Backpacking Terms You Need To Know

Throughout history, colonization, trade, immigration, and overall globalization have had long-lasting impacts on local culture and language. Consequently, today you may not even be aware that some of your native language words are actually “loanwords,” or words that have been borrowed and adapted from another language throughout this process. Not only is it interesting to discover where a word originated and how it evolved into another language, but it is also a great example of how closely interconnecting the world really is. So while the language of another hostel-traveler may sound foreign to you, you may have more in common then you think!

Hammock - Backpack - Travel words and Backpacking Terms

Check out these loanwords of our travel words you may recognize from your own travel lingo:

1. Wanderlust – German

While wanderlust is a well-understood term and feeling for English-Speakers, it was the Germans who first created this specific noun to describe the intrinsic longing or urge to travel. It is a combination of Wandern (to wander) and lust (desire.)

What is Wanderlust?

2. Rucksack and Backpack – German

Another German word that is a junction of “Rücken” (back) and “Sack” (sack). This is a typical practice of German wording: taking a few unique words and joining them to create a new meaning!

11 Travel Words and Backpacking Terms You Need To Know

3. Trek – Dutch

In English, a trek is synonymous with a journey. But this word was originally from Afrikaans trek “to travel or migrate by ox wagon,” and Dutch Trekken meaning “to draw or pull”. Hopefully you don’t have to pull too much backpack weight on your own trek!

Travel words around the world - the etymology - Photos by David Niblack

4. Volcano – Italian

From Italian “vulcano” literally translating to “burning mountain”. But the word is traced even further back to Latin “Vulcanus,” the roman god of fire and metal working.

5. Cuisine – French

Next time you try a new cuisine, know that this word is actually French and literally translates to “kitchen”. It’s an interesting new way to think about tasting another culture’s food – almost as if you were stepping into someone else’s kitchen!

Hostel Kitchen at City Circus Hostel Athens

Hostel Kitchen at City Circus Hostel Athens

6. Odyssey – Greek

A long journey of adventures, or odyssey, is a word adopted from Greek Odysseia, the name of the Homeric epic poem of ancient Greece, relating the 10-year wanderings of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, after the Trojan War…”  Makes your own odyssey sound that much more epic knowing the etymology, doesn’t it?

7. Tour – French

Borrowed from the French tour meaning “a turn,” or verb tourner meaning “to turn,” this word translates to English as the act of turning off the-beaten-path to visit and explore a new site, attraction, or place.

8. Boondocks – Philippines

Adopted by American soldiers in the Phillipines from the Tagalog word bundok meaning “mountain,”this English term now refers to a place that is far-off, rural, or in the countryside.

9. Yurt – Turkish

Turkish for “abode or dwelling,” a yurt is a form of accommodation that we often associate with hippies since it supports a more sustainable, simple, and nomadic lifestyle.

10. Hammock – Spanish

It’s not too surprising to discover that the English word hammock is derived from the Spanish word hamaca. After all, the Spaniards are experts in the field of siestas!

Backpacker Terms

11. Embark – French

Originally taken from the French word embarquer that was derived from barque meaning “small ship,” today the most popular way for backpackers to embark on their journey is the old-fashioned way: by foot!

Travel Terms - Wanderlust, Tour, Odyssey

12. Hostel – International?

Obviously knowing about Hostels and the term behind it is important as a backpacker and traveler. What’s a Hostel? Check out Gomio’s Blog post about “What’s a Hostel” here.

Is there any word/ term you would like to add? Leave us a comment!

This post was updated at 10/01/2014

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