Vagabond Tales: How Travel Can Literally Make You Younger

The famous Spanish explorer Ponce de León spent parts of his travels on an unfruitful search for the fountain of youth.

Sailing from Puerto Rico to Florida in 1513 on a voyage, which would become the first documented European exploration of the American mainland, rumors of de León’s search for the mythical fountain wouldn’t arise until documents published after his death (which, as it turns out, wasn’t due to old age, but from being wounded in the thigh by a poisoned arrow during an exploration of Southwestern Florida).

Unfortunately for de León, not only was he was searching in the wrong ocean for the secret of anti-aging, he was also searching in the wrong century. Had de León been sailing around the western Pacific in, say, 1910, he would have discovered a completely arbitrary line, which has the ability to make a traveler an entire day younger.

Sure, you might only be younger on the calendar as opposed to in actuality, but thanks to the existence of the International Date Line, trans-Pacific travelers technically possess the ability to go back in time.For those who aren’t familiar (or who have never crossed over the non-existent line), the International Date Line was established as a way of making sense of the world’s time zones for explorers who were traveling across oceans.

Magellan found out on his first circumnavigation of the globe that despite the fact he had kept meticulous record of the days on his journey, he nevertheless returned to Europe and was off by an entire day. Similarly, those traveling eastbound would discover that upon returning home, days, which they had recorded as having happened, actually hadn’t happened yet.

Since no imaginary line had been crossed, which would denote you had “crossed into yesterday,” explorers would continue with their erroneous calculations until an International Meridian conference was finally held in Washington D.C. in 1884. Delegates from 25 nations decided that the “International Date Line” would be 180 degrees from the Prime Meridian in England, and conveniently, this line passed mostly through water.

Over the course of its 129-year history, however, the specific location of the “line” has been conveniently shifted on numerous occasions, most recently in 2011 when Samoa up and decided they were going to move across to the other side of the line.

The reason? The government figured that being closer in time zones to Australia and New Zealand would attract more tourists who simply couldn’t be bothered with flying all the way to a country, which is located in yesterday.

“That’s great. Enough history. Where does the time travel part come in and how can travel make you younger?

While the establishment of the line was a mere calendar convenience during the days of oceanic travel, with the advent of the airplane and trans-oceanic flights, travelers suddenly had the ability to reach a nation on the other side of the line in less time than it takes the world to spin and catch up. Thanks to the ability to propel ourselves through the air at speeds in excess of 600 mph, it’s now possible to actually live the same day twice.

This was a trendy realization of novelty-seekers who actually celebrated the year 2000 in Sydney, Australia, and then promptly hopped on an eastbound plane to Honolulu so that they could experience the whole party for a second time.

They departed on January 1, 2000, landed on December 31, 1999, and after a quick nap on the plane were geared up and ready to party all over again.

While this isn’t exactly news for those who cross the dateline regularly, what if that day where you skipped back in time … just so happened to be your birthday? Technically, then, according to a calendar and whole numbers, would you not actually become younger?

As it just so happens, I experienced this phenomenon this very past year. My wife and I met a friend for my birthday dinner in Auckland, New Zealand. We went to an Indian restaurant. We drank wine (Gewurtztraminer goes great with curry), and the date was February 13. On the stroke of midnight we clinked glasses to the day of my birth, February 14, and I had officially turned 29.

Hopping on an eastbound flight to Honolulu the next morning at 9 a.m., I drooled on the window in a semi-hungover fog as we passed up and over the imaginary line. Landing nine hours later in Honolulu, I awoke to the reality of it once again being February 13.

I was now 28. Again.

Have you ever experienced your birthday twice in the same year? Share your tales of dateline madness in the comments section below.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

[Photo Credit: Heather Ellison]