Travel is about changing not only your location, but your point of view. While we all hope to use a trip to escape a rut, we can cross the world and never really go anywhere if we don’t learn about ourselves in the process.
From Confucius to T.S. Eliot, countless artists and philosophers have tackled this idea, but maybe none so well as Harold Ramis and Bill Murray. In their classic comedy “Groundhog Day,” cynical and arrogant weatherman Phil Connors gets trapped in a time loop while on assignment in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. While Phil’s ordeal in the movie delivers plenty of laughs, it also contains plenty of lessons for the traveler on how to make the most out an experience in any location.
Part of the film’s brilliance is that its message isn’t lectured, it’s shown, and in hilarious fashion. As the initially miserable Phil spends more time in the town, he adapts and learns to live life to the fullest. Whether you’re traveling to a desired locale or trapped in “the middle of nowhere” like Phil, you can still have fun and learn from the experience. While it takes Phil hundreds, maybe even thousands of repeats to truly appreciate his predicament, our own time is limited. Still, you can use the film as a reminder to always make the most of a new place the first time around.
Learn Something New
Phil is comfortable being adept at weather broadcasting and wry jokes to get him through life, until his time loop leaves him with an open schedule to expand his knowledge. While we might never have the time to acquire Phil’s eventual mastery of ice sculpture carving, piano, and French poetry, you can still take a little time out of every day to work on a new skill. And no time is better for learning something you actually care about then a trip, where your time is yours and you can follow your passion, not your job.
Every Place is Worthwhile
After four visits, Phil still thinks Punxsutawney is a dump, to use the polite word, and there’s plenty of places in the world that travelers might give a similar label. To the audience, it’s already clear that Phil is missing the quaint charm of the town, its lively annual celebration, and the friendly locals. As Phil gives up trying to escape from the town, he too begins to notice its finer qualities, discovering a chocolate shop, a German restaurant, and beautiful ice and lights displays. He eventually learns to love the place, even the festival he once called “a thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat.” While there’s plenty of places a traveler would immediately dismiss as unworthy, by doing so, they may be missing out on the best it has to offer.
Phil is self-involved and perpetually sarcastic at the beginning of the film, which only serves to make him more despondent as he’s stuck in the town day after day. Burdened by his misery, he delivers a grim weather forecast. “It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be gray and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life,” he laments. But after overcoming his dark moment, he begins to seek out new experiences and eventually starts to enjoy himself, even delivering a touching broadcast praising the positive side of winter. He shows how no matter how disastrous a situation you may find yourself while traveling, there’s always a silver lining and a new opportunity to had with the right demeanor. It’s easy to be sarcastic or emotionally distant in today’s world, but even if you have Bill Murray’s razor-sharp wit, no one will want to be around you. But seeking out real and authentic experiences in the midst of tragedy can win you friends and allow you to discover more about a new place or yourself than you ever could with a poor attitude.
Don’t Plan the Perfect Day
In an ongoing bid to woo his coworker, Rita, Phil gradually tweaks a romantic date to say and do everything perfectly, but he repeatedly fails nonetheless. He tries to force a situation instead of letting things happen organically, and ends up repeatedly with a literal slap across the face. When traveling, planning is important, but you shouldn’t expect everything to always go as you’d hoped. You just have to roll with the punches, or face slaps, in Phil’s case. However, like Phil, if you’re open and spontaneous, you may find that the best moments on your trip are the ones you couldn’t have possibly planned for.
Meet the Locals
Phil decries the residents of Punxsutawney as simpletons and hicks, and shuns them or even outright insults them. But forced into interacting with them day after day, he gets to know and appreciate a bed and breakfast owner, some drinking buddies at the bowling alley and every person at the town’s diner. The relationships with the locals that he once dodged become a big contributor to turning his life around and escaping the time loop as well as his own toxic mindset.
Of course, that’s not to say you won’t need your fair share of locals like Ned Ryerson, an insurance salesman that pesters Phil relentlessly in the film. You should give everyone a reasonable chance, but some characters like Ned will have few redeeming qualities and are better being politely avoided. Don’t punch them in the face, though, even if they are trying to sell you life insurance.
Be More Than a Guest
In a new location, especially on vacation, it’s easy to lapse into the delusion that you are superior to hospitality workers and other locals and that they should cater to your every whim. Phil, for his part, repeatedly condescends a bed and breakfast owner and other locals who try to accommodate him. Most locals will be happy to help, but occasionally returning the favor open doors that you would’ve missed as a pampered tourist. Phil eventually learns that happiness is found by making others happy, and undergoes a series of goodwill tasks including saving a child falling from a tree, tending to a homeless man, and changing a flat tire on some elderly ladies’ car. In return, he gets invitations to a party and other opportunities that he might not have gotten if he’d been thinking only of himself. More importantly, he finds more happiness than when he only cared for himself.
Make It Mean Something
When Phil realizes a repeating day means no lasting consequences, he pursues reckless and thrilling experiences, from eating whatever he wants to getting into high-speed police pursuits on the railroad tracks. He lives like there’s no tomorrow, but not for a better tomorrow. But the lack of risk and significance quickly makes his hijinks turn boring. On your own trip, it’s important to have fun, but to also seek out things that will mean something. Constant self-indulgence gets old, but whether it’s volunteering, helping out a local, or simply learning something important, you should take time to do something that will transform your life long after your vacation is over.
At end of the film, Phil transforms his life and is mercilessly released from the endless time cycle. He’s emerged a better man, and learned to love Rita, the town of Punxsutawney, and himself, albeit in a more humble way. While we may never have the unique learning experience Phil did, we can use “Groundhog Day” as a reminder on what’s truly important in traveling and how to be happy no matter where we may find ourselves. Like Phil, you’ll not only enjoy where you’re at for the time being, you may even find a place where you’ll want to stay forever.