Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why does the drive back always seem shorter?

If you've taken multiple road trips, you've surely noticed a few quirks from your travels. For example, the more people in your car, the harder it is to drive without stopping for constant bathroom breaks. I personally consider it an achievement if my entire party can make it without having to stop, though my success rate is pretty lackluster. As the character Brian Fantana from Anchorman famously put it, "60% of the time, it works every time!" (I've probably gotten this particular achievement one out of every five trips I've made).

Time flies, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

However, the biggest phenomena we experience during our road trips is on the drive back. For some reason, it always feels much shorter than the drive there. I make several trips from St. Louis to Chicago every year, and each time, the drive there always seems like this long, adventurous process, whereas the drive back feels like smooth sailing, with less reliance on pod casts, counting farm animals, or playing word games with friends to keep ourselves entertained!
So why is that? Are we speeding? Maybe time traveling? There's got to be an explanation.

Turns out, there is a scientific reason for why road trips seem shorter on the drive back! Unfortunately, the reason the drive back seems shorter is that it's all in our head. At the most basic level, because home to us is a very familiar place, it is represented in our brain as this rich, visual place that we look forward to getting to. In comparison, the drive to your destination is less mentally familiar, so you only get the sense of having arrived when you are physically at the location you want to be. When driving home, we get the feeling as if we're almost already there, which is why time seems to move slightly faster on the drive back from a road trip, as opposed to the drive there. Are you sufficiently confused yet?

Confused man, Science, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What's interesting to note though, is that the more times you make a road trip to a certain city, the more familiar it will eventually become to you, and you may be able to bridge some of that time gap that your brain tries to trick you with!

Do you get the same sensation when you take a road trip or long drive? Do you think any other factors may be at play, such as the vehicle you drive? Comment or tweet us @LouFuszToyota !


  1. Rather like Data and his watched pots always boiling at same time. Fun post!

  2. That is the perfect saying. I'm way too guilty of watching the clock when it comes to waiting for things.

  3. Good day! In this blog article did you use the data from any extra studies or here are totally your private thought? Can't wait to hear from you.

  4. Thanks for your comment! The data is actually from Myscp.org in a study they did awhile back.