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How Travel Slows Our Perception of Time

Picture of Esme Benjamin
Wellness Editor
Updated: 30 May 2017
Ever returned from a trip and had a friend remark, “oh, that went by really fast”, when it felt like ages to you? One neuroscientist has a scientific explanation for why traveling, even for a brief period, can feel like forever.

When we’re exploring a new destination we’re exposed to a lot of new information. Our brain is juggling new flavors, tastes, smells, sights, cultural norms and foreign words — a pleasant bombardment of the senses that can magically stretch our perception of time, so that a 10 day vacation can seem like many months.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman, a professor at Stanford University, explains that the brain is designed to collect unfamiliar information, process it, and commit it to memory for future use — all of which creates the illusion that time has been extended.

By Christian Joudrey
By Christian Joudrey | Unsplash

That’s why time appeared to pass so slowly when you were a child compared to now.

“When you look back at the end of a childhood summer, it seems to have taken a long time because you remember […] this new thing, learning that, experiencing that,” Eagleman explained to Science of Us, “but when you’re older, you’ve sort of seen all the patterns before.”

So if you feel like life is passing you by at an alarming rate, seek the novelty of new experiences. The caveat is that this only happens in retrospect. So, unfortunately, your week of adventures will only feel like a week until you return home and marvel at how much action you packed into such a short space of time.