World-building: Some Travel Questions

One of the nice things about the modern world is that we can take travel for granted, and never realize how much it helps us. There’s a lot more impact to what’s available than you might think—even owning a car vs. taking mass transit can be the difference between a half-hour trip to get groceries and an hour and a half trip to get groceries. But once we know that travel matters, we can look at it in terms of world-building—how do your cultures view travel? What’s available to them? And that gives us worlds that are most definitely not ours.

So, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself.

  • What’s the best option for short-range travel? Medium range? Does anything exist for long range? If there are multiple options, how does one compare between them: travel time, monetary cost, consumption of other resources, risk to life and limb, something else?
  • For that matter, what qualifies as short, medium or long to the people you’re dealing with? For real-world examples, take the United States (particularly big states like Texas, Alaska or even California) vs. Europe; you see distances a lot differently when it takes you one day just to cross a state than you do when a day’s drive, carefully planned, can get you through several countries.
  • Who travels? If means of getting from Point A to Point B quickly and easily aren’t ubiquitous, you might need to think about who has the time, the necessity, the inclination, the ability, or combinations of the above—and what that says about them to those who are just staying home. Or, if they are ubiquitous, what it says about the people who don’t or can’t take those options.
  • How does the availability of travel affect who is viewed as an outsider? Or, for that matter, things like language mixing—if even going to the next village over will take days to weeks and involve risk to life and limb, people aren’t going to be mixing much, so their cultures and their languages aren’t either.
  • Has travel gotten itself tangled up in religion—as an obligation, a prohibition, or something else entirely?

So think about it—how do travel and culture shape each other in your worlds?

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