The Atlas Workshops Guide to Time Travel: Time Difference and Student Travel
What are time zones, and how do they work?
The US invented time zones in the late nineteenth century to keep train schedules consistent from one city to the next. Today, time zones are the standardized way we keep the world’s clocks in sync.
Before time zones, every town would set noon at the peak of the sun. The United States had literally hundreds of time zones, some only minutes apart from each other. When the world standardized time zones, the globe was divided up into 24 hour-wide zones. As you move East, the clock moves forward.
The international date line: the place where today becomes tomorrow
The twenty-four time zones circle the globe and add up to one full day; the place where zone zero begins, and zone 24 ends, is known as the international dateline and marks the end of the “day.” As you cross the dateline moving east, you restart the day, and moving west you lose it. The international dateline is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean so that no single landmass straddles the border.
Who sets time zones?
- Each country or state can decide on its time zones, borders, and rules, which can create some interesting time zone confusion.
- Daylight Savings Time is not standard across the US: Arizona and Hawaii do not change their clocks in the spring.
- Russia has nine time zones, the most of any country in the world–though it used to have eleven only a few years ago.
- In the far west of China, the sun often won’t rise until 9 AM, as the country has only one time zone based on Beijing.
- India straddles two time-zones geographically: rather than divide the country in half, India chose to be a half-hour offset from most other zones. Nepal did something similar and is only 15 minutes ahead of India.
Time Change Like A Pro
Whether you are travelling with us to India or Sweden, here are some tips for staying on time and in the present while crossing time zones:
Adjust Your Clock Early
Set your watch to the time at your destination as soon as you take off. The sooner you begin thinking in the new time zone, the quicker your body will adjust. If you board a long, daytime flight from Europe to the US, you should try to take a nap, as your 9 AM departure from London is actually the middle of the night, Los Angeles time. Getting a few hours of rest on the flight means you won’t be ready for bed when you arrive in California at noon.
Act Your Time Zone
The minute you arrive in a new country, start acting like it. When you arrive in Paris from an overnight flight from New York, don’t think to yourself, “It’s only 3 AM at home I need to sleep.” Instead, remind yourself, “It’s 9 AM here in Paris, it’s time for a chocolate croissant!” Your body will take some time to adjust, and you may need a few naps. But if you hit the ground running, you will get on time quicker–and make the most of your trip.
Always Check Your Flight Times (and Dates)
Though at times flight delays make us think airlines don’t care about time, they actually follow the clock very closely, and if you are changing timezones you should too.
Airlines generally put all flight departure and arrival times in the local time zone. If you are departing from Boston at 7 PM to arrive in Chennai at 1 AM, your first instinct should be to check the dates on the flights. As you travel east, you will be losing time. (Here is where the math problem comes in). Eighteen hours flying time plus a 10 ½ hour time change means you definitely won’t arrive the same day–but if your itinerary has you arriving two or three days later, it should set off some warning bells. Look closely to see that the airline has factored in your comfort. Spending a day and night at the Frankfurt airport may not be what you had in mind for your trip to India.
Cross the Dateline — But Not On Your Birthday
It is exciting to cross the dateline. But you have to be careful, because you could miss an entire day. I traveled to Australia as a student. We were all looking forward to losing the day and then gaining it back on the way home–all of us, that is, except for one girl who had her birthday while we were in the air. We left Los Angeles around 10 PM on the 14th, and arrived in Australia on the morning of the 16th. The entire 15th, and my friend’s birthday, had totally vanished into the magic of the time zones. Our expert advice: if you must celebrate your birthday while flying, make sure you are flying from East to West!