Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quicker on the Return

It is common knowledge among most travelers that the return leg of a trip always seems shorter than the initial portion. But while we all accept this phenomena, it's not clear exaclty why it happens. In my personal opinion, getting to a place takes longer because of the anticipation. You are eager to get to your destination, excited to get the trip underway, at least that's how I always feel before a trip. In fact, the feeling is not restricted to the actual commute, but rather the entire week--or month, depending--leading up to the vacation. For example, this whole week has just been dragging along, one minute feeling like five. The reason? Because I have a flight home to Denver Friday afternoon, and I cannot wait. As a result, the days seem to be at a standstill. It's that damn anticipation, the desire to get away that forces every moment to feel like an eternity. That is, until you actually get there, and then time can not speed by faster. And then you are back on a plane--or a car or train--making your way to your place of origin, welcoming reality again.

What is truly unfortunate is that the initial trip and the return are exactly the same amount of time, but our minds tell us differently. It's all in our heads. Trust me, there is scientific proof. According to an article in USA Today, researchers found that the phenomena made trips home seem 17% to 22% shorter than the initial one. The scientists interviewed people about trips they took, and each time, even though the trips were exactly the same length, most people felt the return trip took less time. Students riding bikes said the initial trip took an average of 44 minutes, but the return took 37, when in reality, both legs took 35. Yeah, they actually have numbers, data to back this up. As far as explanations, well, they claim that the effect, which they dub "the return trip effect," was caused because people expected the initial trip to be faster than it was. It's that optimism that messes with our heads, it skews our sense of what's coming.

So can this phenomena effect other aspects of our lives? Can it really be limited to travel? I'm not really sure, because there are not a lot of incidences where we take one route to get anywhere and choose that same route to get back. Because in life, we're always moving forward, in some respect. People could argue that it seems to take a long time to get anywhere in life, but a second to lose it all. While that is certainly true, you are not then moving back down that path you came down to get back to a certain point. Nope, once you lose it, you are still stuck in that current place, just without what you had before. So while we would all love to have the return trip effect kick in when we need to get somewhere faster--or at least feel like we're getting their quicker--the best we can do is trust that we will get there when we get there, and our minds will help us along the way.

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