A mild tragedy for a time traveler, particularly applicable to the longer-lived variety.
A sort of breakdown of Meanwhile, in the Future, The Slow Path is what a character travels down when they use time travel to experience much more time than the other characters in the story.
This typically takes one of two forms: a character can use time travel to take a "time out" from the story at large, returning when they are good and ready (or simply manages to blunder their way back home). Alternatively, a character might be left behind by time travel, and therefore be forced to return to the present by "going the long way." If a Human Popsicle or a longer-lived being is not involved, this can be particularly tragic, with the character forced to burn up a sizable chunk of their vital years.
If a time traveler gets stuck experiencing this trope for a very long time from the relative view of another time traveler, and yet does not act or behave any differently can be considered a case of Out of Time, Out of Mind.
The question of why the slow-pathed hero doesn't show up in their own previous adventures to lend a hand is generally addressed by the dangers of the Temporal Paradox, depending on which flavor of Timey Wimey Balls are in play that week (after all, they know all their previous adventures are going to turn out all right as they are).
Of course, if a spaceship is available, traveling forward in time is easy. Just accelerate to as close to the speed of light as its engines can manage, and the slow path gets a good bit faster. Oddly enough, despite Time Dilation being commonly seen in sci-fi stories, it's almost never used to escape from time travel mishaps.
See also Write Back to the Future.
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In Dinosaur King, Rex uses the time machine to go home to the future. Suddenly, the ship comes back. Zoe and Max wonder if he stopped his journey or was gone for a long time just to return to the day he left.
Martian Successor Nadesico: Akito disappears during a battle with the Jovians, but then the Nadesico gets a call from him - turns out he'd reappeared on the Moon a few weeks earlier.
And later we learn that a jump back several years is how Ai grows up to be Inez Fressange.
In the manga of Sailor Moon, Sailor Pluto dies in the "future" to save Chibiusa. She reveals herself to Chibiusa in the next arc in the present day, having explained she was reincarnated backwards in time to a point before Sailor Moon's adventures began. She laid low until after the Senshi went forward in time, saw her death, and returned. This also explains how the Time Gate still has a Guardian while Setsuna is with the rest of the Senshi. Presumably she'll wait until her previous self dies and then take over her old duties at the Time Gate. The anime of Sailor Moon does something different.
During the second season of GaoGaiGar, ChoRyuJin pushes a massive asteroid back through a portal, and is believed lost. A few days episodes later, Mamoru's class takes a field trip to look for ancient fossils, and to their great surprise, digs him up. It turned out that he ended up millions of years in the past; the asteroid caused the dinosaurs to go extinct.
After Mikuru lost her time-machine while a trip to the past with Kyon, Yuki time-freezes them sleeping in her guest-bedroom, so they wouldn't age while the time was passing by.
During the repeating summer vacation, Nagato reveals that she remembers every loop, accounting for something like 595 years.
In some ways, the viewers themselves. If you didn't realize from, for example, reading spoilers, that only the first and last of the 8 episodes were truly different (the differences between the intermediate episodes are pretty much in the details, like the kinds of swimsuits they wear, or the pattern on the girls' yukatas, or how Haruhi writes and marks through items on her list), you'd have been stuck watching through the same things 7 times in a row.
The ending of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has Chiaki return to his time in the future, promising to wait for Matoko, who can no longer time-travel. "I'll be right there. I'll run there."
A coffee grinder bought in a disappearing antiques store (or the Lucifer Hawk that runs it) sends Yuki Saiko of Silent Möbius thirty years into the past, where she meets a young man named Tohru and they fall in love. When she gets back to her own time, they meet again and it turns out he's her landlord.
In Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, it turns out that Garterbelt used to be a career criminal. When he died, God revived him as an Immortal and sent him back to the age of the dinosaurs to witness the entire evolution of mankind first-hand.
Like many time travel tropes, this pops up in Steins;Gate at one point. After it's revealed that John Titor is actually a pseudonym used by Suzuha, who actually is a time traveler from the year 2036, she goes back in time again, to 1975, to try to retrieve an IBN 5100. However, that particular time machine can only travel back in time, not forward, so said computer would simply have to be guarded for some 35 years until it is to be used.
In one particular JLA story, Plastic Man is blown to bits in the past and the rest of the heroes manage to return to the present. Plastic Man was forced to spend the three thousand years in between attempting to reconstruct himself. He remains conscious the whole time, and the experience somehow actually makes him LESS crazy. The arc also features the Green Lantern Kyle Rayner getting killed in the past, but "living" through the centuries as a ring-generated "ghost"... until the day he's discovered by the replacement League.
In ElfQuest, the immortal elf Rayek kidnaps the family of Cutter, chief of the mortal Wolfriders, and takes them roughly ten thousand years into the future. His plan is to save the ancestors of the elves during their initial time travel mishap (which sent them back into the past). However, this would prevent the Wolfriders from ever existing. Cutter has no idea when his (immortal) lifemate Leetah and their (mortal) children will ever appear again, and he knows that he will die after roughly six thousand years. The first five centuries are torment for him and his tribe, and they eventually decide to have themselves wrapped in a time-freezing cocoon. The immortal characters (including the troll king, whose daughter was also kidnapped) live the years out, as do a select few Wolfriders who dislike tampering with nature and who simply choose to life a normal life. The plot resumes ten thousand years later, when Cutter's lifemate and children finally see him again — after what, for them, has only been a few hours. Later chapters show that Cutter's time without his family severely traumatized him — he could simply not stop counting.
In the Deadpool/GLI Summer Fun Special, Squirrel Girl gets lost in time travel and ends up in 2099, with a version of her boyfriend who avoided becoming Darker and Edgier (literally). She decides it's not so bad, until fellow Great Lakes Initiative member Mr Immortal shows up to tell her how the present's going. She wonders how he traveled there, then remembers how. For those who don't know, Mr Immortal's power is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
Bishop of the X-Men was stuck in the past during the team's mission to stop Legion. He therefore lived through the years as the Age of Apocalypse storyline unfolded until its "present day." While the entire AoA timeline was wiped out at the end of the event, Bishop's memories of his life there were inherited by his mainstream continuity self. Somehow.
In the Messiah Complex storyline, Hope and Cable jump across numeruos time periods to keep ahead of their pursuer, Bishop. In one future timeline, Cable accidentally jumps two years into the future but leaves Hope and Bishop behind.
The graphic novel "I Killed Hitler" is based on this.
In the first story arc of Midnighter, the hero uses this by saving a man's life during World War 2 and asking for, in return, him to deliver a message to the Big Bad in the future.
One issue of Flight Comics had a story abut a girl who found a box, invented by a Chinese man, which basically stopped aging and the need for bodily functions as long as one was inside. Then her brothers die. She crawls inside the box, falls asleep, and wakes up in the future, where she has a good life and falls in love. Turns out she never woke up, and the world ended above her.
In the Thorgal story Master of the Mountains, a time warping ring is used to deposit two characters in the past. One uses the ring to get back, the other has to take The Slow Path. This is done twice, once by a would-be Chess Master in a ploy to end up with power and the girl, and once by the girl to counter the Chess Master's ploy and kill him.
Alan Moore wrote a few comics for the Star Wars Expanded Universe. One of them is "Tilotny Throws a Shape", in which Leia, forced to land on a barren world and pursued by stormtroopers, comes across some ungodly ancient powerful beings. One kills Leia and the stormtroopers, and another resurrects them - Leia just fine where and when she was, letting her escape... the stormtroopers eight thousand years in the past◊. Leia comes across their dessicated bones, near where the ship landed long after their deaths.
In PS238 Zodon's attempt at time travel left him stranded in the ice ages, so he froze himself in a glacier and set his chair's beacon to activate roughly around the time he left.
Happens to Superman in the story Time and Time Again where he keeps getting sent throughout different points in time. Through the arc, there are moments where it shows what everyone in Metropolis is doing, showing how little time is passing for them. By the time he finally returns home in the then-present day 1991, Lois remarks that just a couple hours have passed, while an exhausted Superman has been gone for nearly five months. This trope is also directly referenced at one point in the arc, when Superman is currently trapped in the 1940's and wonders if the only thing for him to do is take the slow path all the way back to the present.
Up to Eleven in a Kid Gravity comic, published in Disney Adventures. Kid Gravity is stranded in the time of the dinosaurs by his evil rival, only for Gravity to suddenly return only another time machine. He explains to his rival that he wrote himself a note to the future telling his future self to send another time machine to the past for him to return home. How he wrote that note, had it undiscovered for millions of years, identified the exact day he was trapped on, etc, isn't... exactly explained.
Famous Ranma ½fanfic "Hearts of Ice" has Akane trapped in a dimension where time passes much faster than in Ranma's universe. By the time she gets home, she is seven years older than Ranma.
The Lucky Ones has the Bone-Eaters' Well shut down and Kagome become immortal in the process of destroying the Shikon Jewel, leaving her and InuYasha to live out the five hundred years between then and her home.
Queen Of All Oni: This seems to be how Karasu is destined to return to his own time, due to having used his only return potion to banish Drago.
Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey ends with the duo leaving and returning in their time machine, before explaining to the audience that they just slipped away for a year and a half to get married, have a honeymoon and actually learn to play the guitar! This breaks the San Dimas Time previously established, however.
In the first film, Marty pops in from the future and he helps him get back, knowing he won't see Marty again for decades, and it'll be even longer before they can discuss what happened. Just before Marty goes back to 1985, Doc tells him how hard it'll be to wait 30 years to talk about the excitement of building a working time machine.
In Part II and III'', Doc, stranded in 1885, sends the broken time machine to himself and Marty in 1955 by sealing it in a cave and letting time pass so they can repair it. He also gave a letter to Western Union with instructions to hold it and not to deliver it to Marty until a few seconds after Doc was sent back.
In (T)raumschiff Surprise: Periode 1, the character Spucky ends up taking the slow path after the time traveling couch the heroes travel on needs to lose weight. Spucky's Galapagos Turtle DNA (as well as some "not cheap" treatments) keep him looking exactly the same when the heroes arrive back in the future. Spucky does make the most of the time to glam up the earth, however.
The movie Primer is about a box that lets you take the slow path backwards: if you want to travel back in time six hours, you have to spend six hours inside the box. On top of that, leaving the box early has some deadly side effects. The box also works forwards, but that's not quite as useful. Also, if you don't send a person to get out the first time, the object will likely take the slow path back and forth several thousand times. The gunk that built up from bacteria taking that path was the first clue of time travel.
In Hot Tub Time Machine, Lou takes The Slow Path back because his life in the original time line sucked. He uses the opportunity to make better decisions, and uses his knowledge of the future to become very rich. It's played with, though, because his physical age remains the same—his mind from the present had traveled back to inhabit his younger self.
In the ending sequence of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Logan may be the only one with a Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory, but having interacted with Future Logan in the 1970s, Charles immediately understands what has happened when Logan wakes up disoriented in the altered future.
In Tim Powers' book The Anubis Gates, Brendan Doyle severely injures the ka Dr. Romany while both are back in time, to the point where the villain can't follow him through a time portal. In the "present" of the story, Brendan realizes the "beggar's luck" he's seen before is Dr. Romany, after a century of desiccation, and after wondering how the ka returned to this time, whispers in horror, "Jesus, you must have simply lived your way back here!"
In Brian Caswell's novel Dreamslip, the two main characters can stay indefinitely in whatever time they visit, returning to the present at the exact moment they left and not being a minute older. If they die in another time, however...
In Terry Pratchett's Johnny and the Bomb, the hero and his friends travel back to World War II, then one of them ends up returning to the present via The Slow Path because of a Grandfather Paradox, after which he seeks out the hero in the present, having spent the intervening half-century using his knowledge of fast food (!) and future events to become the world's richest man.
In Terry Pratchett's Eric, the protagonist wishes that he could live for ever. This is then interpreted as living the slow path from the Creation until the end of the world.
Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony reverses this. At the end of the book, Artemis and Holly return from the title's lost continent, having jumped forward in time three years. Butler, Artemis's family, and the entire rest of the world took the usual path through those years. Conveniently, it seems likely that Artemis picked up a talent on the trip that will obviate the need to explain this to his parents. Even more conveniently, the skipped years make Artemis the same biological age as the love interest the book had set up for him... Except that the sixth book completely ignores this possibility, in order to Ship Teasesomething completely different.
In Vernor Vinge's Marooned In Realtime, The Slow Path is the murder weapon; just as everyone is about to make the big leap, Marta's time-stasis device is disabled, forcing her to live out her lifespan on an abandoned planet. When everyone else wakes up thousands of years later, she is long dead. Possibly the only murder mystery ever written in which the cause of death is "old age".
Marvin in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe ends up being "thirty-seven times older than the universe itself," due to various incidents involving messing about with time travel. One can only assume he took a lot of Slow Paths at some point. In one instance, he waits 576 billion years on the planet Frogstar B after the rest of the crew get teleported away. He doesn't enjoy it much:
Marvin: The first ten million years were the worst, and the second ten million years, they were the worst too. The third ten million I didn't enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline.
Interestingly, 576 billion years is only 37 times the age of the universe under old estimates of the age of the universe (around 15 billion years). Under more recent estimates of the age of the universe (around 13.7 billion), Marvin turns out to be around 42 times the age of the universe.
The conclusion to Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency ends on a similar note, in that an alien ghost who's already waited for untold billions of years for life to evolve, attain intelligence, and invent time travel, winds up stranded in the ancient past it'd been trying to change, and has to take the Slow Path all over again.
In the short story "I Borrow Dave's Time Machine" by S. N. Dyer, the protagonist goes back in time and commissions several new works of art from various old masters—then leaves them hidden in the past and retrieves them when he returns to the present. Had he just brought them back with him, they would have been dismissed as fakes because the paint would have been fresh.
He is, effectively. He missed out on ten years of human development and social upheaval languishing in a jail cell. He may have taken the slow path, of one year per year time dilation, but he still effectively jumped, culturally speaking, from 1963 to 1973.
The protagonists of Rainbow Mars by Larry Niven travel back in time hundreds of years using instantaneous time travel but lose access to it for the return trip. Instead, they use a stasis device on their rocket ship to return to their own time, popping into reality here and there to inadvertently spawn ancient legends, including that of Baba Yaga.
In Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead, Ender leaves his sister to take the Slow Path while he flies off to another star system to make up for his prior mistakes. He knows she will probably die before he can get back. At the end of the book, she does the same, so they've both aged roughly the same amount when they meet again in Xenocide.
Thursday Next: The ChronoGuard from Jasper Fforde's novels can end up with chronological ages of several centuries and actual ages in the mid-twenties because of all the time-travel whackery they get up to. This makes life very hard for their families, who are busy taking The Slow Path and having grandchildren who end up being older than their grandfather.
In a variant, the golem Anghammarad from Going Postal plans to wait for the cycle of history to repeat itself, at which point it'll deliver a message it'd failed to deliver many thousands of years ago. As a golem, as long as he gets repaired occasionally he could last until the end of time, and the subsequent re-beginning.
In The Time Traveler's Wife the time traveler initially meets his future wife when she is just a little girl, and she has to take the slow path to get to his normal time line.
Apparently, this is what happened to Aunt Grace of In the Keep of Time after she fell asleep in the Tower as a child and was so difficult to rouse "because the people wanted her to stay." She lost the memories of her life before then, because that part of her stayed behind to grow up and become Vianah. One can hope the same thing happened to the part of Ollie that was Mae, so that Muckle-mooth Meg didn't have her only child taken from her by the Elliots.
The mentioned use of Time Dilation to mitigate the time travel problems was actually used in one Perry Rhodan arc. Stranded time travellers decided to put the 50000 years they were off their original timeline to a good use and built the largest Terran ship ever. After finishing (which took some centuries, forcing the crew to become brains in jars), they used Time Dilation to get back to their old time. In the end, they missed by some decades, and due to misunderstandings (and madness from being reduced to jars) actually turned against humanity.
In the third The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel book, Scatty and Joan think they have been sent back in time by Dee, and that, being immortal, they will have to take a very long slow path back to the others. However (more spoilers), it turns out that they are in fact in another world that only resembles prehistoric Earth.
Another example would be Marethyu who is none other than Josh himself. Turns out that when Sophie and Josh go back in time so that they can be there on Danu Talis and have the duel of the twins that everyone remembers them being there for so that the timeline of the series makes any sort of sense at all, Sophie leaves and heads back to the future, but Josh stays behind to sink the island and effectively destroy the world, getting the infamous hook that he becomes known for as "The Hook-Handed Man", and then must live through all the long years in order to do the various things that will/have happen/ed such as giving Nicholas the Codex to begin with. He also says in a throwaway line that he has lived through the equivalent of MILLIONS of normal years by the time the present day rolls around. Making him a certifiable Time Abyss as well.
In Robert Charles Wilson's Spin, the Earth has been trapped in fast time. Our near-future heroes decide to use slow time to find a solution, by sending a colony ship to Mars, outside the time-effect. A week after launch, the distant descendants of the colonists return to Earth...
The Time Turners in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban are only ever used in the story to take people back in time - first Hermione so she can take multiple classes simultaneously all year, then Hermione and Harry to rescue Buckbeak and Sirius. In all cases, they took the slow path back to the present (although it was only a matter of hours in each case).
In Harry Harrison's The Technicolor Time Machine, the plot follows a film crew who use a Mad Scientist's time machine to film a movie about Vikings for cheap. They use The Slow Path approach several times, such as leaving a script writer on an uninhabited island in the past for several months (his time), which for them took several seconds. They also end up sending a Viking named Ottar to Vinland by ship in order to film him getting there, while all they have to do is use the time machine. They also end up accidentally leaving their star actress behind when jumping forward by a year. They find her again as Ottar's wife and the mother of his child.
Shows up in the final Time Scout book. It's a very risky maneuver; time gates aren't permanent. No matter how stable, any gate risks going unstable and disappearing.
Not quite as risky as all that, actually. They move the slow way between two different gates, that open into different times and places, with a gap of a couple of years between them. So while 3 or so years passes for them the slow way, if they get to the second gate in less time than the time gap, they are guaranteed it will still be there, because it was there when they left Lala-land, and they could theoretically go back soon after the time they left (the tactic is still fairly risky for other reasons though - in-universe it is impossible to be in two places at the same time. If any of the party had been through the second gate at any time in the past, they would have vanished and died as soon as they overlapped themselves.)
In Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, Marygay Potter knows Bill Mandella won't be back from his last mission for centuries (if ever). She uses a relativistic spaceship to speed down the Slow Path.
While other characters in Manifold: Space travel into the far future through relativistic effects, Nemoto persists in real time through combination of advanced medical treatments and sheer force of will, building up influence and manipulating humanity from the shadows.
Ian Watson's 1979 short story The Very Slow Time Machine is, as the title suggests, very much an example of this trope, featuring a time-traveller who appears to be travelling backwards into the past at the rate of one hour per hour.
Robert A. Heinlein's The Door into Summer starts with the hero (broke, drunk and angry) deciding to use cold sleep to see his ex worn by several decades of The Slow Path. The plot revolves around the implications of combining reliable cold sleep, slow path and Time Travel with unpredictable direction. Among other things the hero does meet his ex-love: destitute, "overfed, and under exercised" and too senile to realize that to boot; but he has more interesting things to do rather than savor his victory.
In the end of One Hundred Years Ahead by Kir Bulychev (as well as its TV adaptation Guest from the Future) before returning to the future the heroine tells her 20th century friends what will happen with them. The final words are:
Alice: And if you don't believe me, see for yourself when you get there.
Fima: How can we get there, if we are not allowed [to use the Time Machine]?
Sadovskiy: On our own, year after year — and we'll be there!
Hyperion: The Consul's tale recalls him as a young man going on frequent spaceship voyages and returning to a planet many years in the future, having only aged slightly due to relativistic time dilation. Early on, he falls in love with a girl, but each time he returns to the world, he's the same age and she has aged years. Their romance spreads across her whole life, while it's only a short duration for him.
Live Action TV
Alcatraz was built around this trope. Every prisoner in Alcatraz and some of its staff disappeared in 1963 and reappeared in 2011 without having aged a day, while one of the guards, Emerson Hauser, took The Slow Path, rising through the ranks of law enforcement to become a senior FBI agent.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation: episode "Time's Arrow", Data's head spends several hundred years in a cave in California. In a classic Stable Time Loop, it's the discovery of his head that bootstraps the adventure. There's also Guinan (whose species lives a long time) first meeting the crew 500 years in the past. Just before the crew returns to their present time, they note that Guinan won't see the crew again for 500 years, but the crew will see her in a few minutes on the Enterprise.
In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Visitor", Benjamin Sisko is sent blinking in and out of time, staying for only a few moments, and leaving for years at a time. He keeps reappearing near Jake at farther and farther times apart, as Jake spends his entire life trying to stabilize his father, lest he be lost in subspace forever. Despite being the one afflicted with temporal instability, Sisko takes the ordeal much better, and is far more saddened by his son's suffering. The episode is one of the most loved episodes in all of Star Trek.
In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "E^2", the Enterprise is sent one hundred years back in time while attempting to travel through a Xindi subspace tunnel. As a result, it lays low for the next century, becoming a generational ship, all so that it can stop the accident from happening in the first place.
"Unending" — SG-1 is trapped within a time-stop field on the Odyssey for fifty years. When they finally work out a solution, Teal'c volunteers to be excluded from the time-reversal effect, so that he can deliver a plan to save the ship. Fortunately, as a Jaffa, his lifespan is exceptionally long, though he is still visibly older by the end of it.
Earlier in the show, season eight's finale "Moebius," a Zero Point Module takes the slow path from Ancient Egypt, due to some monkeying with the Timey-Wimey Ball by the team. That ZPM ends up in Atlantis's season 2 premiere.
In the episode "Window of Opportunity" Jack and Teal'c spend a sizable amount of time living through the same day over and over, instantly traveling back in time to the beginning of the day each time, and use the months of time they live through to take the opportunity to learn juggling, pottery, and also how the time machine works.
In Stargate Continuum, Mitchell goes back in time in order to stop Ba'al from sabotaging the Stargate Program. However, he accidentally arrives several years too early, and is forced to wait until Ba'al's attack takes place.
"Before I Sleep" — An alternate Dr. Weir has spent ten thousand years in stasis after saving Atlantis from flooding. She's still an aged old woman by the timme she's discovered.
In the season four finale "The Last Man", a solar flare sends Sheppard 48,000 years in the future. To return to his present, Sheppard spends somewhere around 700 years in stasis to catch a solar flare that sends him back to 12 days after he disappeared.
"Six Months Ago": Hiro jumps back six months, then spends most of them trying to get Charlie out of harm's way. One bonus of this extra time is that he improves his English dramatically in what is, to the rest of the heroes, a very short period. Another is that he and Charlie fell in love, but then, maybe that's not such a big bonus considering what happened to her.
And then Charlie herself takes The Slow Path, when Samuel and Arnold hide her in the 1940's to keep her away from Hiro. He runs into her again in the present, where she's an elderly grandmother. Hiro decides not to intervene when he meets her granddaughter.
Kensei/Adam also experiences this as it seems his healing ability allowed him the immortality to wait hundreds of years for his revenge on Hiro.
"Bloodlines" (from the webcomic tie-in) reveals that Arnold, elderly the time-traveler from the Sullivan Bros Carnival, was actually 15 years younger than Samuel. Then on a mission back to 1961, he got Easy Amnesia and ended up taking The Slow Path back to the present.
The Australian TV Series Mirror, Mirror: Nicholas in the original time line.
In an episode, a terminator is sent back in time to stockpile raw materials for terminator manufacturing. It does so by stealing a large amount of coltan and storing it in the fallout shelter of an abandoned military base that will be turned into a factory by Skynet. It then goes into standby mode, presumably to wait until Skynet builds the factory and discovers it.
Cromartie, the most persistent of the enemy Terminators in the series, ended up undergoing an unusual variant of this in the pilot episode. While his head gets transplanted from 1999 to 2007 along with the heroes, his body remains behind. They later recombine, so like Data, just one part of the body takes the slow path.
The Slow Path is used by another Terminator as well. In the episode Self Made Man, a terminator with orders to kill the governor of California in a certain time and place is sent back several decades too far, apparently just by accident, all the way to the 1920s or something. Not only that, but his electric time travel bubble kills the person who was going to build the building where the assassination was supposed to happen, so to fulfill his mission and avoid a paradox, he creates a construction company from the ground up, builds the building himself, and when it's finished, entombs himself into the wall of the correct room to wait 80 years for the governor to come to him. They really are implacable.
As of season 5, most of the characters of are back in 1977. Some of them got stuck in 1974 and simply had to build lives for themselves in that time period while waiting for Locke and the O6 to return. Though the neat thing is, the people who got off the island take three years to make it back, so that by the time everyone meets up again, they've all experienced the same amount of time.
Locke meets a young Charles Widmore on the island in 1954, then again in Tunisia in 2005. Widmore introduces himself, tells Locke that they met 50 years ago and asks how long it's been for him. "Four days".
In The Outer Limits (1995) episode ''Vanishing Act", a man would go to sleep and wake up ten years in the future every time. Once she figures out what is going on, his lover spends the rest of her life trying to figure out how to save him.
Holly, the ship's computer, waits for three million years while Lister is in stasis (and the Cat's ancestors are evolving into humanoids).
In "Rimmerworld," Rimmer flees the ship when it is invaded, and lands on uninhabited planet. He accidentally creates an army of clones of himself, who lock him in a dungeon for nearly 600 years. For the rest of the crew, this is only a day or two due to a time dilation effect.
In the pilot for a proposed U.S. version of the series (which was not greenlighted), Kryten's detached head is fully conscious, sitting on a shelf in the repair shop, for the entire time that Lister is in stasis.
Lister: You've been stuck here for three million years? What have you been doing?
Kryten: I've been reading that fire exit sign over there. It's given me a lot of solace over the years.
Sanctuary: Helen Magnus goes back in time 113 years to kill Adam Worth. Since she has no way to get back home again, she hides out for the next hundred and thirteen years, and uses the time to plan what she wants to do to deal with the crisis that was happening when she left. Will is distinctly unamused when she goes missing for what seems to him to be hours, only for her to show up in her bedroom at the Sanctuary and inform him that it had been more like a hundred and thirteen years.
When the others are blasted into the future in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, Marvin has to take the slow path and wait billions of years to meet up with them. He spends the last several thousand years parking cars at the site where the Restaurant At the End of the Universe was eventually built.
Doctor Who, the Trope Namer, does this so often, it practically justifies a category of its own. Aw screw it:
Classic Doctor Who did this occasionally on-screen, and it's become very common in the revived (2005-) series:
In The Invasion, the Brigadier has lived through four years of normal Earth-time while the Doctor and Jamie only spent a few weeks.
This happens to Jackie and Mickey a mere four episodes into the new series. The 9th Doctor intends to bring Rose home 12 hours after she left and accidentally returns her 12 months later. Everyone who had to live through that year the long way thought she had been kidnapped or killed. Needless to say, no one involved was happy about the results.
In "The Girl in The Fireplace," the Doctor keeps zipping through the Madame de Pompadour's life while she grows up normally. He can't control when he appears, which is very much Played for Drama. She gets to name the trope. At the end, it appears that the Doctor will have to live through several thousand years of Earth history to get back to the TARDIS and his companions, though he finds a way out.
Occurs several times in the new third season: In "Blink," several characters are attacked by "Weeping Angels," who send them back in time to take The Slow Path back, and eat the days they would have had. One of them, a 2007 cop, is sent back in time to 1969, only to be reunited with the episode's heroine on his deathbed, roughly an hour after they first met.
And let's not even get started on Captain Jack Harkness, who has already had to live through more than a century after arriving in 1869 to get to the 2000s, the setting of Torchwood and the third series of Doctor Who, in the hopes of seeing the Doctor again. In the Torchwood episode "Exit Wounds", Jack spends eighteen and a half centuries buried alive/dead/alive again below what becomes Cardiff.
In "The Eleventh Hour," the Doctor promises a young Amelia Pond that he'll be back in five minutes. However, as the TARDIS engines are malfunctioning he is a bit off. Twelve years off to be exact. And at the end of the episode, he accidentally leaves for another two years. Amelia's storyline can also be applicable to the first interpretation of the trope, as it seems she is taking an extended vacation the night before her wedding.
A much shorter version also occurs in that episode, as the Doctor jumps back in time twelve minutes, apparently dying in front of himself, Amy and Rory. In actuality, he uses those 12 minutes to rewire the Pandorica to fly into the exploding TARDIS to reboot the universe, while the Dalek is busy chasing around Amy, Rory, and his past self.
Lampshaded in "Vincent and the Doctor," when the Doctor asks if time always moves "really slowly" and "in the right order" as he waits for Vincent van Gogh to complete a painting.
In the 2010 Christmas special "A Christmas Carol," the Doctor attempts to change the ways of a cold-hearted tyrant Kazran (in order to convince him to help save a crashing starliner where Amy and Rory were honeymooning) by visiting Kazran as a child. During their first visit, they encountered Abigail, a beautiful woman who was forced to live in suspended animation to avoid dying of a mysterious disease. Over the next few years, the Doctor would visit Kazran every Christmas Eve, and they would bring Abigail out of her cold sleep to celebrate the holiday with them. So while the Doctor time-traveled from one Christmas Eve to the next and Abigail slept from one Christmas Eve to the next, Kazran ended up taking the slower path.
And used to set up the romantic relationship between Kazran and Abigail. The first two Christmas Eves, Kazran is played by Laurence Belcher (fourteen at the time of filming, but looked rather younger). Then, on the third Christmas Eve he's played by Danny Horn (twenty-one years old at the time). One of the first things Abigail says to him is "You've grown."
In "The Doctor's Wife", one of the things House does to Mind Rape Amy on the TARDIS is to make her believe this happened to Rory. At random intervals, Amy is separated from Rory by a sliding steel wall. She finds him a minute or two later, while much more time has passed for him. The first time, it's a few hours, and he's mildly annoyed. The second time, it's two thousand years, and he's a seething mad, wizened old man. The final time, he's a withered skeleton surrounded by messages saying "HATE AMY" written in what looks like blood. Of course, it's all an illusion and present Rory comes round the corner just a moment later.
In "The Girl Who Waited", Amy is separated from The Doctor and Rory and is stuck in a faster time stream. A few seconds for them is a week for her. When Rory manages to find her, 36 years have passed and Amy is not happy.
Weaponised by the Doctor in "The Bells Of St John". He jumps forward to the morning so that the people searching for him have been at it all night and are less effective.
Invoked and exploited multiple times in "The Day of the Doctor". Elizabeth I leaves standing orders to summon the Doctor if certain conditions are met, which takes several centuries. The Zygons use stasis cubes to hide in suspended animation inside paintings until Earth is advanced enough to be worth conquering. The War Doctor programs his sonic screwdriver to solve a complex problem and the Eleventh Doctor's centuries older screwdriver has the solution. The Doctors have the First Doctor start calculating the solution to save Gallifrey so it will be solved by the time of the Eleventh Doctor.
After the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures book The Ancestor Cell, the Doctor is dropped off around 1900, and then picked up by his companion around 2000, almost instantly for the companion. Several books are actually set in the intervening period for the Doctor.
Later retellings of "Planet of The Spiders" in the Doctor Who New Adventures claim that the third Doctor actually spent ten years in agony on the floor of the TARDIS before returning to UNIT to regenerate.
In "The Crystal Bucephalus," the fifth Doctor spends three years as a restaurateur after being abandoned on a random planet in a different era (he's looking to get picked up by time-traveling restaurant critics from the title time-traveling restaurant).
In "The Stone Rose," the Doctor reveals at the end that he'd taken three years off in the middle of the story to study sculpture under Michaelangelo in order to produce the title statue.
In the animated story "The Infinite Quest," the Doctor spends three years on a prison planet raising a robot bird before he arrives just in time to rescue Martha, who took the TARDIS.
The parody episode "Curse of Fatal Death" has a slight variation where the Master falls into a sewer which takes him three hundred and twelve years to crawl out of, before using his Tardis to return to just a few moments after he fell in. Three times. He keeps tally after each incident, and is very tired and put out after nine hundred and thirty six years of sewer climbing.
In the audio "The Kingmaker", Peri and Erimem, having been ditched thanks to a navigational error, have to spend two years with Richard III while waiting for the Doctor to arrive.
In the episode "Project: Lazarus", the Doctor tells a newly turned vampire that he'll be back really soon with a cure. Months later, he tries to find her just minutes after he left her behind, but the TARDIS suggests that he seeks her out half a year later in her relative time instead. The Doctor decides to trust the TARDIS and meets the girl again... only to find that she's had six months of utter misery and has been mentally broken by the vampire who turned her. She calls him out on it, really hard.
In Orbis, the Eighth Doctor spends five hundred years on the titular planet before Lucie and the Headhunter come for him.
And in "Doing Time", a story in the Demons of Red Lodge collection, averting an explosion inside a slow time field takes the Doctor several years, but it looks like only minutes to everybody else.
Implied for the people the Volunteers leave behind in Queen's song '39: the travellers are "older but a year" due to the effects of Time Dilation, but when they return, the people left behind are old or dead and have left their descendents behind.
Chrono Trigger: One of the sidequests involves restoring a forest from what was once a barren desert. Since the process would take hundreds of years, the group's Robot Buddy stays behind to work while they time travel into the future, to pick him up. From this point on, on the overworld map, you will see an image of him working on the fields every time you go back to the medieval era, even if Robo is back in your party, because you're using the future Robo instead. But that's a Temporal Paradox for another day.
An even more dramatic example in another side quest involves a solar-powered artifact that needs millions of years of sunlight to recharge. Needless to say, with a time machine, you can actually make use of it - the party drops it off in a cave in the year 65,000,000 B.C. and returns for it in 2300 A.D. (taking a few detours along the way to stop a selfish jerk from stealing it). And no, it really doesn't make much sense that after soaking up energy for 65 million years, those last couple thousand years are decisive in regard to it having enough power to be useful.
Dark Chronicle depends heavily on people taking The Slow Path from the Present to 100 years into the future. As you create villages and populate them with people from the starting city, these villages have become high-tech laboratories, temples, great forests, or industrial sites by the time you return to Monica's time.
However, a much more explicit case is with the Elder Tree Jurak and the Sage Crest. The former starts out as some tree saplings, and becomes a monumental tree. Crest is actually a very young girl that Max and Monica meet during the present, but which becomes the greatest Sage in the world (and, although 100 years passed for Crest, the Sage still remembers Max and Monica, for whom there was a difference of only a few minutes).
A late-coming plot twist in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Zelda has to be encapsulated in a crystal for some thousand years to prevent Demise from reviving) would have had a lot more emotional impact if a) she hadn't been "sleeping" the whole time or b) Link couldn't just step through the Gate of Time to the present.
Played straight with Impa though.
In Sam & Max Beyond Time And Space: Chariots of the Dogs, the eponymous duo are left stranded back in Episode 102: Situation: Comedy by their own past selves and are forced to re-live the past year-and-a-half off-camera.
Interestingly, he goes back talking in Hulk Speak but comes back as eloquent and intelligent.
This is because Asgard is programmed with a learning AI. The more he experiences (fighting experience in particular), the more intelligent he becomes.
Something similar to this happens where Arche is concerned in Tales of Phantasia. One the game ends and it's time for everyone to return to their proper place in time, she doesn't say her permanent goodbye to either Chester, Cless and Mint, each born a hundred years after her birth (hundred and one in Mint's case), or to Suzu, born about a one hundred and forty years after her, since she's a long lived Half-Elf and will live long enough to see them again. Klarth isn't so lucky, and bids a more permanent farewell. The problem here is that she and Chester had a short-lived romantic relation, and there's no telling if Arche will still be young after a hundred years.
It's confirmed in spin off Tales of Phantasia: Narikiri Dungeon, where you meet her in the original game's present and fight her as your first boss. She's matured a bit, but only looks to be in about her 20s or 30s.
What's the longevity of most relationships? What's the likelihood that a rather libidinous young half-elf won't find someone(s) else in the intervening century? Carrying a torch for someone who doesn't even exist yet for a hundred years would require either exceptional stubborn dedication or True Love.
In Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, Ray actually turns out to be another version of Missile, who was killed in a different timeline, as Sissel refused to help him prevent his and Kamila's deaths. As a result, Missile goes back in time using his ghost tricks on Yomiel's corpse and takes the slow path, waiting for ten years for the night he died to convince Sissel to help him, sparking the game's events.
Ray/Missile-Prime: "Ten years is a long time for a dog."
Day Of The Tentacle. Objects can frequently be flushed through time directly and immediately by the Chron-O-John, but living organic matter needs an alternate transport; thus, a hamster travels the slow path as a Hamster Popsicle. Some objects can change form with slow pathing, too - a bottle of wine left in a time capsule for four hundred years isn't going to be much like wine by the time it reaches the other end, and a sweater left in a tumble dryer fed with a mountain of quarters will have somewhat dramatically shrunk.
Dr. Diggins takes this route in Fossil Fighters after being sent back to the Jurassic era. Fortunately he finds a crashed dinaurian starship and uses the stone-sleep process to wait out the 150 million years until he gets revived.
In Portal 2, Wheatley is active for the 99999 (or some other undefined, large number) days that Chell is in stasis and GLaDOS is dead.
Final Fantasy IV has Rydia grow from a little girl to a young woman when she is swallowed by Leviathan and taken to the Land of Summoned Monsters. According to her, time flows differently there.
Happens near the end of Bioshock Infinite, after Elizabeth is captured by Songbird, Booker jumps through a dimensional tear after her, and ends up in an alternate future where he meets an elderly Elizabeth who futilely waited for him to rescue her, and as such, suffered decades of torture and brainwashing until she gave up hope. The elderly Elizabeth then gives Booker instructions on how to stop Songbird and sends him back to the present.
Given the heavy time travel element of Final Fantasy XIII-2, it's inevitable that this happens. Specifically though, Serah and Noel meet up with Hope several times, with Hope having taken the slow path while Serah and Noel hop forwards in time.
In Red vs. Blue, Church gets sent back over a thousand years by an explosion that destroys the present. He asks the nearby AI to build him a teleporter or time machine (or both). It'll take about 1,000 years. Church stands there, and basically does three things: grow a beard (somehow), formulate a plan to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, and listen to awful knock-knock jokes. Keep in mind that, by this point in the story, Church is a ghost (really an AI) inhabiting a robot body, so he's effectively immortal.
8-Bit Theater's White Mage accidentally takes away Sarda the Sage's chance to become the creator of the universe, and then traps him there at the beginning of time where he is forced to wait for the universe to evolve intelligent life. (The only thing Sarda could do in all that time was grow his iconic mustache, and that only took him two weeks).
In Bob and George, George is sent back several months in a time machine suit to fix some plot holes in the previous storylines. He does so, but the suit breaks, so he spends the time until time catches up with him on the beach in Acapulco.
In the aptly named Stickman and Cube arc "The Slow Path," everyone but Stickman and Cube are forced to take The Slow Path when Stickman and Cube travel into the future. The wait severely flusters the Author, who has to somehow keep the readers occupied until they return.
In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, the time-traveling would-be saboteur of Dr. McNinja's clone army is forced to take the slow path back to the present after his temporal stabilizer is damaged in an explosion. Thus becoming Chuck Goodrich, and explaining why the hell he wanted all those space suits put in houses. Beyond general insanity, anyway.
Quite a bunch of people in Homestuck, as most of them were born on April 13th, 2009. The two most triumphant examples are Becquerel (413 Million years) and the bunny from Con Air (who took the slow path 'twice'. This results in the bunny being more than 38 years old, even though the movie Con Air was released only 12 years prior to the start of the comic).
Parodied with Biscuits, the dumbest member of The Felt. This idiot thinks that his oven has the power to transport him into the future equal to the time he sets the oven timer. It works at one second per second. Which means he just hides in a broken oven until the timer buzzes. Later comics show it does have a special power: it's Bigger on the Inside. Still does nothing related to time travel though.
In Wapsi Square, Shelly spends roughly 80,000 years trapped in an alternate dimension where time flows differently.
minus does this so that two characters can be Put on a Bus. One of the red-haired twins asks minus to send her back in time so that she can undo something she just did... unfortunately for her, minus misinterprets her requests and sends her back to what appears to be Victorian England. Her twin sister freaks out and frantically asks minus what happened to her... only for the first twin to show up as an old woman. minus sends the other sister back so the two can live their lives together.
Referenced in thisxkcd, proving that The Slow Path can be made into the most annoying form of time travel.
Invoked in AH.com: The Series, "The Gates of Dawn": the crew are trapped at the beginning of time, before the Big Bang, and now things are too unstable to time travel back to the present. So instead they seal themselves in stasis in the belly of The Machine, which they know will survive to the present, and experience no time as we see a time-lapse sequence of fifteen billion years of history around them.
The Trinton Chronicles has Dan, who froze himself in time after a big battle, waiting until someone rescued him from the temporal hibernation. It took roughly 80+ years before it happened too.
"Roswell That Ends Well". In a direct parody of the TNG episode, Bender's head is dropped in the New Mexico desert in the 1940s, and has to be recovered a thousand years later. Not only does Bender not mind being buried in the dirt for a millennium, he actually complains upon being rescued that his peace and quiet are being disturbed.
In Bender's Big Score, Bender repeatedly and happily volunteers to go back in time, steal precious historical treasures, and then wait in a cavern under Planet Express headquarters until a few seconds after leaving. (This is because the method of time travel he's using only works one way, so The Slow Path is pretty much the only way to get back. When Fry uses it, he has to re-freeze himself for the return trip.) And then at the end of the film, Bender "wakes up" all of the Bender duplicates and has them exit the basement before they were logically supposed to, thus creating a hole in the universe, and setting the stage for the next film.
At the end of "Simpsorama", a crossover episode of The Simpsons, the Planet Express crew's mission to the past is over and the rest of them are sucked back into the future through a singularity in Bender's chest. Bender himself gets back to the future by shutting himself off for 1000 years.
Omi from Xiaolin Showdown had to freeze himself for 1500 years with the Orb of Tornami, because Jack Spicer forgot to mention that his time machine didn't have a means to return him from the past.
He does this again to recover the Sands of Time from his future self. Spot the flaw in this plan. If Omi spends all of his time frozen, he can't give himself the Sands of Time because his old self wouldn't exist. The show does point this out.
Another episode uses it on a smaller scale, almost as a throwaway gag. EvilTeenGenius Ditz Jack Spicer uses the Sands of Time to disappear into the future—then returns a few seconds later in a Hawaiian shirt (but otherwise unchanged), explaining that he took a year off to come up with an Evil Plan.
In "The Savage Time," the League travels back to World War II in order to stop Vandal Savage from conquering the world, and Wonder Woman fights alongside special agent Steve Trevor while there. Once the League returns to their own time, Wonder Woman encounters Trevor again — this time as an old man in a retirement home.
In the same episode, Hawkgirl meets and fights alongside the Blackhawk Squadron. Later, in the JLU episode "I am Legion," the last surviving member of the group calls the Justice League for help. He remembers her, of course.
"We met a while back, Ma'am. Longer for me than for you."
In another episode, "Hereafter," Superman is teleported several thousand years into the future, where he finds Vandal Savage, who has spent the entire time on Earth alone, living with the guilt of having wiped out the human race. For an additional sting, Vandal himself is personally well-versed in time travel science (cf. "The Savage Time"), but the local rules of time travel prevent one from travelling to an era where one already exists — which for the immortal Savage is basically all of history, which is why in "The Savage Time" he merely sent information to his past self.
Superman: How did you get here?
Savage: Oh, the old-fashioned way. I'm immortal.
In an episode of Jackie Chan Adventures, Jade is taken back in time, then Jackie and the bad guys follow. Jade and Jackie make it back to their own time, but the baddies end up going even further back, and have to return by The Slow Path... only to be back to their young selves by the next episode through Shendu's magic.
In the first season finale of Metalocalypse, Dethklok is excited by their idea for a new piece of merchandise, "Time Travel Face Bags" that let the wearer travel forward in time "at the speed of regular time."
An And I Must Scream version is used in Generator Rex. Van Kliess was sent back in time by breach and an episode focuses on how he got back to the present. While it looks like he's getting in a time machine during his travels between the various eras it's later revealed that it's not a time machine but a stasis chamber and the And I Must Scream part comes when it's revealed that he was AWARE of each passing second during the the thousands of years of waiting. And all while being chased by Breach who had been turned into a mysterious energy force.
And I Must Scream and this trope are played for laughs in Darkwing Duck: DW goes back in time with Quackerjack's Timetop. Back to the time of the Dinosaurs. Only Dino-society is carrying an Idiot Ball of Invader Zim levels. After much humor and hijinks, one of the dinosaur scientists activates the Timetop and sends Quackerjack back to the present. Darkwing is stuck in the past, until a Dino-scientist drops him in amber (he was making pancakes). Cue the passage of time, with DW frozen with his eyes open.... Launchpad and present day scientists find DW and crack open his amber tomb. Darkwing just shivers and says "Does anyone know what eon it is?"
In the Mexican animated film The Guardians of the Lost Code, the kid heroes after completing the first part of their mission, receive instructions to go to Ancient Egypt at 1345 BC, however Freddy mistakenly dials 1345 AD on their time portal, and end up in the middle of the desert with their objective buried under meters of sand; When they finally make it, they are greeted by the god Anubis who is particularly annoyed at having to wait for them for nearly 3000 years.