You're about 30 minutes into a family road trip, though it feels like an hour and you inevitably hear "Are we there yet?" Ah, the question dread by all parents. But have you ever noticed that this question is less frequently asked when you're on your way back home?
You may have attributed this to the fact that you've already seen the landmarks along the way before, giving you a point of reference, or maybe shear exhaustion from the end of a family trip. But in all seriousness, whether the trip is taken by plane, train or automobile and whether the length is long or short, a researcher says the "return trip effect" is a real phenomenon and thinks he can pinpoint its cause: pessimism.
NPR has the story:
Niels van de Ven, a psychologist at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, says the conventional wisdom is the trip back seems shorter because it's more familiar, so people recognize landmarks. "And that might help to increase the feeling of speed, of how fast you travel," he says.
But that didn't seem right to him. "When I take, for example, an airplane, I also have this feeling, and I don't recognize anything on my way, of course. When I look out of the window, I don't see something I recognize," van de Ven says. [...]
"Often we see that people are too optimistic when they start to travel," he says. So when they finish the outbound trip, they feel like it took longer than they expected. That feeling of pessimism carries over to when they're ready to return home. "So you start the return journey, and you think, 'Wow, this is going to take a long time.'"
But just as initial optimism made the trip out feel longer than expected, this pessimism starting back makes the trip home feel shorter.
Other psychologists think pressure to arrive at your destination on time influences how long you think it takes. When you're returning home, you don't have the stress of getting there on time and therefore feel like it's a shorter trip.