The OP has a good point. The distance wasn't all that great. Look it up on a scaled map.
Also - before they wandered around for 40 years, they had already made it to the 'promised land' in a relatively short time but because of some of the people's reluctance to invade, they were denied entrance by God, thus setting up the wandering.
Questions that come to mind...
If the Israelites wandered the desert between Egypt and Canaan for 40 years, don't you think Pharaoh would have had time to re-build his army and go kick some Jewish ass and either wipe em out or bring em back? Sure, God could've saved em again, but if I were Pharaoh and my scouts told me that they were just wandering out there year after year, I think after a couple of decades I'd just have to go out there and exact some revenge.
If the Israelites were wandering around the desert for 40 years, how come they never were set upon by any other national group that didn't much care for em squatting on their land? If they were afraid to invade Canaan, then you gotta think that they'd be an easy target for any marauding army that came across their path somewhere along the 40 year meandering.
Going back to their being denied entrance to the promised land. During the 40 years, everyone from the original refugees except for Joshua and someone else who I can't remember their name died off. Out of a couple of million people, no one was as faithful as these two to gain entrance to the promised land? Maybe they were better off in Egypt, after all. Thanks God... you gave me hope of freedom and a promise of a land of milk and honey but instead because some pussy soldiers were afraid you made me wander around for 40 years and then die. Thanks for nothing.
Which reminds me of JWs today. They're the modern day Israelites.... wandering around in a desert waiting for the promised land...except they never get there. They'll die never having received entry.