Why Does The Trip Home Always Seem Shorter?

You know that feeling: it takes forever to get to a vacation spot, but seemingly so much less time to get back home. A new theory suggests it’s our familiarity that’s affecting our judgement. This phenomenon may also affect how we approach projects.

Photo remixed from an original by Rebecca Partington

The study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that people’s judgments of how long a trip will take depended on whether they were thinking they were going home or towards a different city (of equal distance away). Participants judged the journey home to be shorter.

The authors explain this is likely because places that we’re familiar with seem to be bigger to us in our minds—traveling away from this large home “radius,” so to speak, will therefore seem to take longer. On the flip side, when returning home we might feel like we’re almost there.

How we tackle projects may also be affected by this familiarity bias, Psychology Today suggests. If we’re more familiar with the early steps of a project, we might start it earlier, knowing (or perceiving) the amount of time to get the project started to be greater. If we’re more familiar with a project’s completion steps, we might feel as if the project is nearly done and therefore be more confident starting later.

How Long Will It Take to Get Home? [Psychology Today]

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