Boring Return Journey
"The trip back downriver was uneventful, and over in only twelve words."In stories where the characters travel to some distant location to achieve their goal, their journey will often be difficult, yet when they go home, things will be a lot easier. Indeed, the story may just show the protagonists arriving home without describing their return trip at all. This could lead to Fridge Logic, or there might be a good reason (such as the defeat of the Big Bad, whose minions were pursuing you) for this. One of the main reasons this trope exists is to prevent Ending Fatigue after the main conflict has been resolved. Another, related, reason applies to video games. Leaving the player to backtrack through an entire empty level after completing the mission is about the worst thing a level designer can do, which is why many games provide a Door to Before right after the Boss Battle or even allow the characters to teleport home from wherever they please. Other games avert this trope by filling the area with a new batch of interesting enemies, changing the level layout, and/or adding a time limit. If "getting there" is hard, but "getting back" is easy (or undescribed), it's this trope. If the boring journey back took just as long as the exciting journey there, but gets a fraction of the screentime, it's because of the Law of Conservation of Detail. Contrast It's the Journey That Counts. Compare & contrast The Homeward Journey, in which the whole focus of the plot is the attempt to get home.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- In Yu-Gi-Oh!, on the way to rescue Mokuba, Tristan and Yami Bakura are pursued numerous times by guards. Tristan makes it back to his friends without any problems.
- Several in the Tintin series, but the first that comes to mind is Tintin Tintin In Tibet: They had to get back from the secluded mountain monastery somehow, didn't they?
- In B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth, the BPRD agents go on a dangerous journey to save Liz Sherman from the underground kingdom. Then, after a huge fight, the seismic aftereffects just eject the whole team somewhere in Scotland (they had entered the cave system in Tibet), so their "return journey" consists of waiting for the helicopter to give them a lift back to BPRD headquarters.
- In Toy Story 2, after the climax, the next scene shows the toys back in Andy's room. Earlier, just crossing the street caused mayhem. It's shown that, rather than walking, they simply drove the luggage cart back to Andy's house—which may not have been any easier, but would certainly have been quicker.
- In Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, after Sinbad has spent the majority of the film traveling to Tartarus to confront the goddess Eris (overcoming numerous obstacles set out by the aforementioned goddess), his return journey to Syracuse is apparently instantaneous. However, Eris has not actually been defeated yet, and she would have every reason to try to prevent his arrival there.
- In Stand by Me, the four kids take almost the entire movie to find the dead body they're looking for, and encounter all kinds of obstacles on the way. But a quick cut gets them home. Though it is said they walked through the night. Considering we don't know what time they left the town and what time they reached the body, it is possible they only needed to walk for eight hours.
- In The Wizard of Oz, the four friends promptly return to the Emerald City and the Wizard, after defeating the Wicked Witch of the West. This one is a little more justified than most, since the only obstacles they faced on the trip there came from the Witch and her minions. Now that she's dead (and her minions are happy about it) they have no reason to face obstacles.
- Jason and the Argonauts was intending to avert this, as the film ends just as the Argonauts are leaving Colchis - and sequels were planned to focus on the rest of Jason's adventures as he went home. But Ray Harryhaussen opted to word on the Sinbad sequels instead. The 2000 Hallmark miniseries continues the story on after Colchis - and the protagonists have plenty more to do when they get back to Iolcus. However the actual return journey is smoother than the journey there - the film cutting out the Sirens and Talos, whom the Argonauts encountered on the way back in the original myth.
- In Lost Continent a search party spends a large chunk of the movie climbing a mountain, even setting up camp on the slope overnight. After accomplishing their mission, they feel an earthquake, and scurry down in about one minute.
- As anyone who has gone down a mountain can tell you, its much faster and easier than going up so this example is at least partly justified.
- Vertical Limit shows a rescue party struggling up K2, enduring many mishaps, close calls, and literal cliffhangers. After making the rescue, the film cuts away, and everyone is safe in base camp.
- Everest2015 inverts this. The journey up has struggles of course, but people don't start dying until the journey back down. What's more is that this is a dramatisation of real events.
- In National Lampoons Vacation, the Griswalds suffered much bad luck and many adventures driving from Chicago to Wally World in California, but the return trip in what is now a barely operable Family Truckster must have been error free and uneventful. The film does show pictures of the family visiting various tourist traps on the way home, but everything seems to have worked out just fine.
- Or did it? The final shot was of the family on an airliner.
- The film version of Return of the King - considering the trip there takes three movies. The film cuts out the Scouring of the Shire sequence - but still has an infamous amount of Ending Fatigue anyway. It does help that the Eagles are implied to fly Frodo and Sam all the way to Rivendell.
- U-96's travel back home after Gibraltar in Das Boot is quick and uneventful compared to the novel.
- The Polar Express has an exciting journey to the North Pole, with tracks that are more like a roller coaster and a slip-n-slide across a frozen lake; the trip home, on the other hand, is very quiet.
- Inverted in Yellow Submarine. Young Fred's journey from Pepperland to England is summed up in the opening credits. The return journey is more hazardous and takes up the majority of the film's runtime. That said, the return-return journey, meaning The Beatles's travel back to Liverpool from Pepperland, is completely skipped over.
- While most Greek heroes in The Trojan Cycle get a full-blown Homeward Journey, one of them—namely, Nestor, the last surviving Argonaut—gets an uneventful and safe journey back, thanks to having managed to not piss off any gods in the ten years of the Trojan War.
- Some books in the Redwall series, occasionally justified by their new allies giving them a faster means to get home, such as flight or a ship.
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, although this is averted by the fact that Aslan, who is omnipotent, sends the Pevensies and Eustace back to our world when they reach the edge of Aslan's Country, and he aids Caspian and the rest of the ship in their journey home.
- The Silver Chair uses this as well. The protagonists spend weeks travelling from Narnia to Harfang. After the Lady of the Green Kirtle has been killed, they arrive back in Narnia pretty soon. It's explained that the place where they come back up to the surface is much closer to Narnia than the entrance.
- The Hobbit indicates that, while Bilbo did have trouble in his return journey, "he was never in great danger". Which makes the original proposed title "There and Back Again" a little misleading. The book explains this by saying that many of the most dangerous monsters along the way were destroyed during the Battle of Five Armies, and Bilbo was accompanied the whole way by Gandalf, and for a good portion by Beorn and the Elvenking.
- In The Lord of the Rings, getting home is much easier when you don't have to worry about Sauron's servants pursuing you. Amusingly, when the hobbits arrive in Bree, all the other travelers are complaining about how bandit-ridden and dangerous the roads have become. When the hobbits protest that they've had quite an easy time of it, the others point out the obvious: they're riding back from a great war and still armed and armored for battle — the bandits have been giving them a wide berth and looking for easier prey. Unfortunately, after they got home, things weren't so easy.
- Roverandom had many "perfectly safe" adventures as he and his wizard protector travel from the dark side of the moon back to the light side. Also, he has similar small adventures when he leaves the beach to make his final journey back to his owner.
- Journey to the West: The journey to the West takes 86 chapters. The return to the East (with supernatural assistance loaned by the Buddha) takes 1.
- In Star Of The Morning, Morgan is conveniently transported back home on dragon-back, a journey which takes about a day, in contrast with the several months it took to get there.
- Kushiel's Legacy averts this: it takes ages for her characters to get places, and almost as long (in some respects) for them to return. And while the return journey isn't as exciting, stuff still happens.
- In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, our heroes take some time fighting their way through the obstacles guarding the Philosopher's Stone. We're spared the return trip, as Harry is unconscious. In Chamber of Secrets, the trip out of the Chamber of Secrets is shortened by a phoenix ride. In Goblet of Fire, the Portkey transports Harry outside the maze (as it was originally supposed to) when he returns from the detour set up by Voldemort. Averted in Prisoner of Azkaban, (the Shrieking Shack), Order of the Phoenix (the Department of Mysteries) and Half-Blood Prince (the sea cave), where the return trip takes just as long as the trip there, and is complicated by the arrival of sudden enemies.
- Alan Dean Foster has this in his Journeys of the Catechist series. The main character accepts the dying wish of a man and goes to save that man's fiance from being held by the evil overlord of a distant kingdom. The trilogy is three books of the most creative weird obstacles you could ask for, with only about a quarter of the third book being spent in the overlord's kingdom. Then the main character takes the girl back to her kingdom from halfway through the second book, then back to the overlord because she'd fallen for him, then he goes all the way back to his own village. All without a description of the events.
- This is parodied in multiple versions of The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy with the great poetic saga of Golgafrincham, which involves the adventures of five sage princes on four white horses, journeying forth to adventure, saving beautiful monsters from ravening princesses, etc. etc. At least, that's the first part of the saga. The second, much longer, part is about the princes arguing over who is going to have to walk home.
- In Warrior Cats:
- In the book The Fourth Apprentice, the cats have a lot of difficulty in traveling to the spot where the beavers have blocked the stream - humans, dogs - but the journey back is hardly described.
- During the second series, the journey to the sun-drown-place takes an entire book for similar reasons, and the journey to the Tribe takes another few chapters because they have to navigate through mountains and deal with the weather. The return journey to the Clans from the Tribe takes one paragraph.
- Played with in Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth in that the rapid return journey is anything but boring. After reaching their greatest depth in forty-odd chapters, the explorers find themselves in the shaft of a volcano and get erupted out in just a few chapters.
- Played straight and then subverted in Discworld. Witches Abroad features the titular witches having all sorts of adventures (Greebo encountering a vampire, a spoof of the Running of the Bulls, a riverboat showdown with a card shark...) on their way to the main plot in Genua. At the end they simply head home and we're not told what happened, save that "they went the long way and saw the elephant" (i.e. enjoyed themselves and did some more sightseeing). Lords and Ladies, however has them just arriving back home after several months of further travel between books.
- In Doom: Knee-Deep in the Dead, Fly and Arlene kill the spidermind at the bottom of the huge Deimos facility. Then they hike back up the whole place finding mountains of corpses and enemies too crazed to put up any resistance.
- Averted in The Virtu. While much of the book follows the characters' return journey from Melusine, it's anything but uneventful— it has a witch hunt, a jailbreak, a mutilation, a death goddess, a awkward crush, straight sex, gay sex, and two mysterious sidekicks. And when they arrive home, the leads face the real possibility of being burned to death for their trouble.
- A humourous non-fiction travelogue called Boogie Up The River contains a rather good justification; the author is travelling to the source of the River Thames in a rowing boat. On the way there the current's working against him, but after the climax (or anticlimax, to be honest), the return journey takes about a quarter as long.
- Played completely straight in the Mormon fantasy/adventure novel Gadiantons and the Silver Sword, which has the protagonists driving from Utah to the heart of Mexico to destroy a cursed sword. (If that sounds suspiciously familiar, the characters even lampshade it a time or two as they go...) Their road trip south takes up a good half to two-thirds of the book, while the return trip is made in a matter of paragraphs. Justified in that they're being chased by the villains the whole way to their destination, who've been killed/jailed by the time they make the drive back to Utah.
- The Martian ends with Watney being recovered by the rest of his crew. There are still, theoretically, plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong, and there is still the matter of how, or if, the Ares 3 crew will be punished for disobeying orders, but the reader is simply left to assume things turn out all right.
Live Action TV
- Played with in the final episode of the first series of Brødrene Dal, where after finding the giant egg, the narrator states that the journey back up the river was just as tough as the journey down it and with the exact same events, but in the opposite order. He also comments when viewers question why they didn't get to see these events again in the opposite order he explains that this is simply because it would've made this last episode over three hours long.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Module EX 1 Dungeonland, Changed View of the Long Hall. When the PCs stand on the heap of rubbish and look upward, they will be whisked back to their home lodging place.
- Module EX 2 The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror. In the Mad Feast hall there are three doors. One leads back to the house where the PCs originally entered the module and another leads to EX 1's Changed View of the Long Hall.
- Module I5 Lost Tomb of Martek. After the PCs resurrect Martek and he destroys the efreeti pasha, they will be sent to the place they wished to go, presumably their home area.
- Module OA6 Ronin Challenge. If the PCs used the Nung Dragon to fight Goyat in Tempat Larang, Nung Chiang may offer to have it fly the PCs back to Saihoji to meet with the emperor, making it unnecessary for them to hike all the way back.
- Module Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits. If Lolth is killed, her spider ship starts to self destruct. The PCs are rescued by their gods and sent back to their home plane.
- In many roleplaying games, once you reach the objective of a dungeon or combat area, you are given an option to leave the area quickly without having to retrace your steps all the way back out again.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim almost always provide you with a shortcut back to the entrance of the dungeon or a quick secret exit out the back.
- There's also the fast travel feature that lets you travel to places you've already been just by clicking on them rather than having to go back in real time, so you can spend an hour traveling to a remote cavern on somebody's Fetch Quest, but return to the town you started from in less than a minute.
- Mass Effect gives you the option to hit a button to return to your ship when you've completed an objective.
- The Diablo series usually has some variant on this. All three feature the Town Portal spell which lets you return to base and then go right back to where you left off.
- Diablo was linear, and all took place underneath the same town. Every now and then you'd find a secret passage that took you right back to the surface.
- Diablo II had Waypoints which allowed travel between them, but only a few per Act. Optional dungeons usually required walking back out, and since you had probably killed everything on the way in it could be tedious.
- Diablo III makes the Waypoints much more numerous, so you are generally not far from one if you just press onward. Optional dungeons also now have a teleporter at the end that will take you back outside.
- Generally, as a rule, video games demonstrate WHY this trope is used. As above, once you've defeated all the bad guys, unlocked all the traps, etc...there's nothing to DO. It's just...walking, and lacks tension.
- In King's Quest V, Crispin just teleports you and your family home.
- In Star Fox 64, after Andross is defeated, Fox and co. evidently just set a straight course for Corneria and fly there slowly. Apparently the armada blockading Venom's orbit, the ridiculously dense asteroid field, and the sun just went away after Andross died.
- Unlike most JRPGs, the original Dragon Quest does not conclude with the defeat of the Big Bad. You complete the game by returning to visit the king. You can go anywhere you like before doing this, including visiting towns to receive thanks from all the people you've saved. While getting to the Big Bad involves thousands of random battles, after his defeat, there are none to be found, even in the dungeons, since apparently defeating the boss results in the elimination of all his mooks.
- Similarly, once you defeat the final boss of EarthBound, you return to Saturn Valley, Jeff and Poo leave the party, and you get to bring Ness home, as well as taking Paula either to her house or Ness's house. You can also go to all the different locations and find out what has happened to various characters after Giygas's defeat.
- The end of Doom II has your character taking the long trek back home after practically destroying Hell. "Rebuilding Earth ought to be a lot more fun than ruining it was."
- In Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and the later Elder Scrolls games based on the same engine, you have to "discover" each location manually, but once you have, all you have to do to get back is click it on your map. The main limitation to this is not being able to do so while there's enemies nearby.
- Also invoked in the ending for the Lonesome Road DLC for New Vegas. The add-on's storyline sees The Courier fighting their way past some of the toughest enemies in the game in a very hostile environment. The ending narration explains that the (unseen) return journey was much easier and uneventful, with said enemies standing aside and letting The Courier retrace their steps untouched and unharmed, either out of respect or fear.
- The ending of SaGa 2 (Final Fantasy Legend II in America) shows snippets of the heroes' (now joined by the protagonists' father) uneventful trip back to the first village. The one event of note is the discovery that two of the game's Guest Star Party Members are father and daughter.
- House of the Dead ends with the protagonists making their way back to their car while the credits play.
- The sequel ends the same way with the protagonists making their way back to the ground floor of Goldman's building with not a single monster in sight anymore (Unless you're playing Typing of the Dead.) When they get there, they're greeted either by a cheering crowd, a zombified Goldman or Rogan from the first game.
- Averted in the Left 4 Dead 2 episode "Hard Rain". After acquiring the fuel tanks for their boat, the survivors must not only fight zombies on the way back, but wade through the same path, now flooded with water. Notably, the campaign is the same length as any other, and the inclement weather actually makes the return half harder than the first half.
- Averted in Hotline Miami. When you complete the objective, you have to backtrack the entire level. It's set to a low drone, and is actually an atmospheric change of pace after the tense murder-spree you just pulled off. So much for "Leaving the player to backtrack through an entire empty level after completing the mission is about the worst thing a level designer can do".
- Inconsistently used in Cave Story. In the Egg Corridor (at least, your first trip there) and Grasstown (aka Bushlands, depending on which translation you're playing) after you've completed the objective that brought you to the level, you then have to backtrack to the beginning to return to Arthur's house. However, in most of the later areas, completing your objective will trigger an entrance for the next area that doesn't require backtracking. The Brutal Bonus Level is the most pronounced example: after you and Curly Brace defeat the True Final Boss, the walls begin closing in, trapping you in the boss fight chamber. Death might be preferable to backtracking through the level (it's nicknamed "Hell" and lives up to the name), but you're saved from both when a friend smashes through the ceiling to rescue you.
- The Mega Man (Classic) series usually has Mega Man (Or Mega Man X or Zero or whoever) teleport into a new stage, fight their way through a lengthy level, defeat the boss in a room at the end, and then simply teleport out from the boss's room. You would save yourself a lot of trouble if you could simply teleport into that room to begin with.
- Super Mario World ending shows Mario rescuing the Princess and the eggs making a long journey back to Yoshi's Island.
- Averted in some parts of Borderlands, especially the Secret Armory DLC. Fight through hordes of enemies, defeat the Big Bad and his minions, achieve your objectives, then fight your way back through the respawned hordes to turn in the mission. Other parts just use a Door to Before.
- The sequel lampshades this in the Dragon Keep DLC; after defeating a large boss (in an area with no ladder), the characters complain that they don't want to walk all the way back. Since the entire add-on is framed as a tabletop game, the GM just summons a magical portal that leads straight to the door out.
- The Legend of Zelda series almost always has some sort of portal appear after a boss battle for you to instantly warp out of the dungeon.
- Subverted and Inverted in Halo with the level "343 Guilty Spark". The level starts with you fighting your way through some Covenant troops to enter an underground Forerunner ruin. After failing to find the Captain, and being ambushed by Flood instead, you prepare to make your way back to the surface... but the lift you took when coming in is broken, and the other lift you find leads down. Cue Oh Crap!.
- Upon retrieving the scenario in Something, Mario calls a Taxi and heads back to the Mushroom Kingdom.
- In Red vs. Blue Season 4, it's never really explained how Tucker and Caboose got back to Blood Gulch after the failed quest with the alien. No new vehicle is ever seen in the canyon, though, so it could be assumed they walked back with no incident.
- An offscreen version occurs in Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Gaang, plus Suki and a young couple are going to Ba Sing Se through the Serpent's Pass, which is a very dangerous path. On the way, they're shot at by the Fire Nation, attacked by a giant sea serpent, and have to cross a long stretch that's underwater, only made possible by Aang and Katara's waterbending. Once they're safely on the other side, Suki says now that they're safely through, she's heading back to the side they started on. She apparently makes it fine, despite not having any of the bending abilities that let them cross the thing in the first place.
- Admittedly, the only reason she took the Serpent's Pass in the first place was to go along with the Gaang and the young refugees, who had lost their ferry tickets. As a member of a legitimate (and highly distinctive) Earth Kingdom military unit, she probably didn't have any trouble hitching a quick boat ride back.
- Kim Possible episodes often show Kim and Ron getting a ride to the mission site from someone Kim previously helped; the return trip is usually skipped over.
- The animated Peanuts special, What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (which takes place after the ending of Bon Voyage Charlie Brown) averts this. Despite making it through the adventure of the previous film, their return journey is only slightly less difficult, consisting of things like their car breaking down, them getting lost (repeatedly) and being forced to set up camp.
- The Winnie-the-Pooh movie The Search for Christopher Robin. The group went through scary forest, winding paths, and a skull-shaped cave that would probably traumatize younger viewers. On their way out they point at that now that they've found him and all the friends are together, the things they were worried about really didn't bother them anymore.
- The title character of Dora the Explorer always has to navigate all sorts of obstacles to get the destination in each episode. The return journey? Borrrring.
- Plucky and Hamton's story in Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation is about their car journey to Happy World Land. They endure things like holding their breaths through a tunnel and picking up a chainsaw-wielding maniac. Their journey back to Acme Acres? Not shown.
- It took Marco Polo three years to get to the Orient, but most of his return journey was by sea, or in lands he'd traversed before. Compared to exploring the unknown lands of Asia for the first time, he really had a Boring Return Journey.
- Lewis and Clark took 3 years to get to the Pacific Ocean, but only 6 months to get back, in part because they had stopped collecting specimens, and in part because they were going downstream on the Missouri and not up.
- After completing the historic first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, Charles Lindbergh returned to the U.S. not by plane, but by boat.
- Indonesia's national zoo Taman Safari (Safari Garden). On your enter journey, you get to see various animals in wildlife as you travel with your vehicle. You can even feed the animals (except lions or tigers). When you decided to return... none of those sight-seeing animals again, you get sent straight to the entrance.
- The voyage of Apollo 11 to the moon is remembered in the media roughly like this: Dramatic launch of Saturn V. Some film of the crew on the way to the moon. The descent to land. "The Eagle Has Landed". "One Small Step for Man...". Raising the flag. A bit of low-gravity walking around. The three astronauts speaking to President Nixon after their return.
- Probably justified, as the astronauts had kind of a boring outward journey as well in Real Life; the actual travelling-through-space part of manned spaceflight consists mainly of long periods of waiting and short bursts of complex mathematics.
- Subverted with Gemini 8 and Apollo 13, both of which had to be aborted due to unforeseen circumstances: Gemini 8 had a thruster stick on while Apollo 13 had an oxygen tank explode.
- It's notable that trips out to a new place are often interesting and seem to take longer because of the unfamiliarity of the terrain, seeing new sights on the way, excited about the place you are going etc. The way back is usually faster and more relaxed because you're usually played out from the event, or are talking or thinking about the things you saw and did. This effect can even happen on a leisurely stroll in an unfamiliar town, the return walk never seems to be as far or to take as long.
- People sometimes take one-way cruises and then fly back to their starting point for this reason.