Photo by Robbert van der Steeg

Do you ever look back at your life and wonder where all the time went? Have you noticed that the older you get, the more the years seem to zoom by? When you were a kid, months felt like they went on for an eternity, right? Now the months feel like days.

What if I told you there was a way to slow time down – to make the days and weeks feel longer again?

There is. It’s travel.

To explain how travel can make your life feel longer, I want to introduce you to the work of a neuroscientist called David Eagleman. Eagleman has been obsessed with the concept of time ever since he fell off a roof when he was a child – an accident that felt as if it were happening in slow motion like a scene out of a movie. The whole experience made him wonder how “real” time was. How much of what we perceive is actually happening all around us, and how much is a figment of our minds?

It turns out that our brain does a lot of strange things. For one thing, “time” means different things to different senses. To give you an example, our brains process noise a lot faster than they register light. Our brains also record information differently depending on how exciting the situation is. The more exciting the situation, the more vivid the memory.

“When something threatens your life, this area [of the brain] seems to kick into overdrive, recording every last detail of the experience. The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” Eagleman said—why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.

The New Yorker via Lifehacker

So there’s the answer to our puzzle: familiarity makes time fly by for us, while new experiences make time slow down.

Which brings us back to travel. Travel is, ideally, all about having new experiences – of leaving behind the daily grind and wandering out into, what is for us, uncharted territory. I know from my own experience that vacations take up more of my mental diary than my usual day-to-day. I can, for example recall in great detail a long, lazy dinner by the sea in Italy five years ago, but I’d be hard-pressed to remember what I ate five days ago. Likewise, my year spent traveling seemed to last for an eternity, but this past year has kind of passed me by without my even realizing it.

So what can we learn from all of this? That if we want to eke out the most from our lives, we should make the time to step away from our routines and go on a holiday. And rather than letting age be an excuse that prevents us from traveling, we should consider age a reason in favor of packing our bags. You don’t have to go for a year or a month – even a long weekend here and there could make all the difference to your mental clock. In the end, it’ll make life feel longer and more fulfilling. It’s another reason we should just do it.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing or retweeting it. Thanks!