Time traveling

One of the concepts that’s had my brain wrapped around a pole lately is the international date line. When working out times and flights to Sydney recently, I found it really difficult to calculate arrival times based on a 14-hour flight, a 17-hour time difference, and the fact that I was going to cross the date line and lose a day.

I usually find it dead simple to calculate time differences and arrivals when flying cross-country here in the US, or even trans-Atlantic flights to Europe. But thinking about the flight to Australia is equally throwing me for a loop and wildly fascinating to me at the same time.

I mentioned in my last post that I picked up a copy of Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country. I love Bryson’s writing style and his sense of humor. If you haven’t read anything by him, he gives wonderful, often hysterical, accounts of traveling abroad, and does it all in an easy to read narrative. He always manages to learn loads of interesting facts about each place before he gets there, and shares some of those facts throughout each book.

Sunburned Country covers his travels in Australia, a land he absolutely loves. Reading through the first chapters is getting me more and more excited about the trip.

On the topic of crossing the date line, I came across a couple of paragraphs of Bryson’s which encapsulate almost exactly what I’ve been thinking:

Each time you fly from North America to Australia, and without anyone asking how you feel about it, a day is taken away from you when you cross the international date line. I left Los Angeles on January 3 and arrived in Sydney fourteen hours later on January 5. For me there was no January 4. None at all. Where it went exactly I couldn’t tell you. All I know is that for one twenty-four-hour period in the history of earth, it appears I had no being.

I find it a little uncanny, to say the least. I mean to say, if you were browsing through your ticket folder and you saw a notice that said, “Passengers are advised that on some crossings twenty-four-hour loss of existence may occur” (which is, of course, how they would phrase it, as if it happened from time to time), you would probably get up and make inquiries, grab a sleeve, and say, “Excuse me.” There is, it must be said, a certain metaphysical comfort in knowing that you can cease to have material form and it doesn’t hurt at all, and, to be fair, they do give you back the day on the return journey when you cross the date line in the opposite direction and thereby manage somehow to arrive in Los Angeles before you left Sydney, which in its way, of course, is an even neater trick.

From In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson

I leave on September 26 from Los Angeles, exactly as Bryson did. I fly for fourteen hours. I arrive in Sydney on September 28. For me, there will be no September 27, 2004. It will never exist. Or in Bryson’s words… I won’t exist on that date. Thank goodness that’s not my birthday.

You know what’s really screwy? That return trip thing. When I look at my return date on my Palm, my arrival at LAX (11:15am) happens before my departure in Sydney (2:50pm) on the same day. It’s actually making the little Palm app I use to manage travel schedules freak out, not to mention my brain. Whacked, I tell you!

About the author

Designer, advisor, father. Previously led design teams at Twitter, Google, and Wired. Giants fan. Deutsche lernen. Wanna-be runner.

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