Share Your Thoughts

I’ve often thought of it but this summer I finally formulated it into one of Murphy’s Laws:

Traveling to your holiday destination always takes more time than coming back. It always seems to take so long to reach our vacation spot but our return journey seems to go by in a flash and before we know it, we’re back home.

But why should this be so? In the luxury of our last lazy days of summer, let us ponder this life-changing question.

I wonder if Einstein’s theory of relativity might provide some answers. When some layperson asked him to explain his theory in simple terms, Einstein supposedly said: “An hour spent with a pretty woman seems short. A minute with your hand on a hot stove seems long. That’s relativity.” But in our current investigation, it only seems to explain why our vacation weeks fly by so tantalizingly fast while our hours at the airport seem hellishly long.

Perhaps the answer lies in more simple things. One may be that when we’re going on holidays, we’re often going to a strange place and the unknown is always further away, at least in our minds. Another may be that the route is new and requires more effort on our part to get there, making the way there seem longer. Our excitement and eagerness to arrive at our holiday destination can also make the time seem longer. It’s captured well by children’s often-asked question, “Are we there yet?” Whereas on the way back, they’re usually sleeping in the back seat of the car.

Yet another reason is possibly the anticipation; both Carly Simon and Heinz Ketchup may have been on to something. All good things come to those who wait. We usually plan ahead and look forward to our holidays, and if we count those days and sometimes even months as part of our travel time to our holiday destination, it does indeed take much more time to reach there.

Maybe during the onward journey our minds, anticipating the holiday to come, are expansive and open to possibilities. During the return journey, our minds are falling back into line, busy with thoughts of tasks ahead and to-do lists.

Or it may have to do with beginnings and endings in general. Time always seems to go slowly in the beginning. We wait in anticipation for nine long months even to be born. In our childhood, summer months drag by with so much time on our hands that we’re actually bored. Now that we’re much older though, summer and every other season seem to zip along. My mother marvels at how fast we’ve all grown up and how quickly the years and, indeed, life has gone by. While beginnings are slow and gentle, we seem to race to the finish and end with a bang.

But Murphy’s Law is the perception of a pessimist. Its main tenant, “If something can go wrong, it will,” is followed by a string of other Eeyore-like pronouncements. We’ve also all heard the old idiom “All good things must come to an end”-no doubt first articulated by Murphy’s great-grandfather.

Fortunately, perception lies in the eyes of the beholder. We have the option to anticipate our real, non-holiday life-if not with joy-then at least as a challenge and with a sense of purpose. Einstein also said “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.” This could lead us to view our return journey, the end of our holidays, and perhaps even our twilight years not as a headlong flight into doom, but as a gentle trip to reality.
The strange thing is that, having sufficiently explained things to myself thusly and mollified myself to the fact that summer is ending, I suddenly proved that this extension of Murphy’s Law is not just perception; it’s reality.

As one of my last pleasurable summer activities, I hired a bicycle for three hours and went for a ride. I began in the lovely little town of Niagara-on-the-Lake on the southern shores of Lake Ontario. I rode through the Commons, past Fort George, and down the Waterfront Trail along the Niagara River. On one side were charming old homes with large lawns stretched out in the long evening sun. On the other side were stunning views of the river and sail boats, broken only by trees. After an onward journey of one and a half hours, I decided to turn back. I reached my starting point in one hour. In spite of even stopping a couple of times to take photos.

I know. Even Einstein would have been flummoxed. I now have new respect for this Murphy guy-this philosopher magician who can slow down time. I wonder if his IQ is higher than Einstein’s.

But I won’t impose this new law on you. I’ll leave it to you to prove for yourself if your return journey is indeed shorter. The experiment works out well either way. If it’s merely your perception, the comforting corollary is that home is not as close as you think and you really have succeeded in escaping far away for your holidays. If it’s reality, then you have the option of coming home via a different route or a longer one. You can indeed be two travelers and this time, take the road not traveled. And that could make all the difference.

Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is an academic editor, ending her summer.