How to Achieve a Greater Sense of Escape on Your Next Holiday —

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then fondness makes the distance grow shorter.

If your heart beats a little faster when you buy a plane ticket for a time zone or two away, you’re not alone. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science found that “the far–off destination has an allure about it simply because it is far off.” The farther away people perceive a destination to be, the more appealing it becomes. So, for someone who lives in Vancouver, Whistler’s slopes may not offer the same sense of escape as, say, the alpine vistas of Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn.

We go to great lengths to get away from it all, but how far we’re willing to travel often depends on what we’re after. How long it takes to reach a destination can sometimes be measured by how badly you want to get there.

Desire can not only trump distance, it can also alter our perception of it. Researchers at New York University conducted a series of experiments to test this theory. In one, pedestrians were asked to rate how positive they felt about both their origin and how they expected to feel at their destination and to estimate how much of the journey they had completed. Those with positive feelings about where they were headed thought they were closer to reaching their destination.

January 24, 2020
An animated illustration of shooting stars above a man and a woman on opposite sides of the globe

In another experiment, visitors to New York were given either positive or negative reviews of Coney Island. When asked how far they thought the seaside neighbourhood was from them, those who read about burnt popcorn and pickpocketing thought it was far away, while those who read about sunshine and cotton candy could practically feel the ocean breeze.

Because impressions of distance are often measured by an internal compass, cultural distance also makes a difference. Two Canadians can fly roughly the same number of miles to Bangkok and Sydney, but the traveller in Thailand is more likely to feel farther from home, explains Lile Jia, assistant professor of psychology at the National University of Singapore. “Absolute physical distance may play a smaller part than perceived psychological distance,” he says.

To achieve a greater sense of escape on your next holiday, you may have to travel somewhere that feels far away. Fortunately, if it’s a place your heart is set on, you might find that time flies like an arrow.

Neither Here Nor There — How we perceive time and distance is often wide of the mark.

  • The Return–Trip Effect Ever notice that the flight home often feels shorter than the outbound journey? Researchers at Tilburg University in the Netherlands think the reason could be that we’re too optimistic about initial journey times. However, our expectations become more pessimistic ahead of the return trip and on reflection it doesn’t feel so long, even when covering the same distance.

  • The Study Abroad Effect Distance can make the brain think more broadly. In an Indiana University study, two groups of participants were asked to solve the same puzzles – one group was told the exercises came from Indiana while the other group thought theirs came from a study abroad program in Greece. The result? People who thought the task came from the Mediterranean came up with more fluent and original responses.

  • The One Direction Effect The direction you’re travelling in may lead to tunnel vision when it comes to judging distance. On the platform of Bay subway station in Toronto, riders were asked to rate how far they thought they were from different stations. Responses were split depending on the direction they were going: Westbound passengers rated stations west of Bay closer than those travelling eastbound, and vice versa.