Sometimes it is a bit too easy to forget how much smaller modern technology has made our world. Modern air travel makes it feasible to travel halfway around the world for a holiday and modern communications makes it easy to socialize with people all over the world.
But this wasn’t always so.
To a very large extent, how far you can easily travel is strongly defined by your world’s society. It is not just the technology, but also the economics that have made air travel affordable for many people. Go back eighty years and it was definitely a luxury exercise. Go back further and it becomes the purlieu of the enthusiast. The world was much bigger for most people.
Most Fantasy works define for themselves a kind of homage to the European middle ages. Sometimes it is a bit later: recent Discworld novels are tending towards Georgian in style, for instance. Sometimes it is a bit earlier: Red Sonja‘s setting is more dark ages than middle ages. And sometimes it is an anachronistic mix from several eras. Most Dungeons and Dragons settings are like that.
For most people in Europe in the middle ages, any sort of travel meant walking. And long distance travel meant lots of walking. Weeks or months of walking. It was normal for many people to be born, raised, married and to die pretty much within sight of their village’s church spire. The next village might only be six miles away, but that’s typically two hours’ walk. In our modern world, that might be only five minutes’ drive in a car. But even moderate distance travel was uncommon. It is known that village churches often developed unique takes on their church doctrine simply because people didn’t travel much between villages.
With this kind of scale, the size of an island nation like Britain becomes much bigger. Pride and Prejudice was set largely in the south of England. Jane Austen put the Bennet’s estate of Longbourn in Hertfordshire from which I would guess people nowadays commute daily to London. But in Austen’s day, that wasn’t possible. If you went to a neighbouring estate to visit, such as Netherfield, you didn’t go for half-an-hour: your visit tended to last for many hours, or even overnight, or several days. It is an interesting contrast that the Bollywood modern re-telling of Pride and Prejudice, Bride and Prejudice, has scenes in Britain, the US and in India. If they hadn’t done that, the story simply wouldn’t have worked.
It is important to remember that some ancient societies managed to buck this trend. Ancient Rome was built around the Mediterranean Sea. The nature of Roman society made long-distance travel by sea possible for many. The apostle Paul obviously took full advantage of this. A modern fantasy setting that mimics this is Raymond E. Feist‘s Midkemia. There are many major seaports on both the Bitter Sea and the Kingdom Sea and the obvious advantages of a sea-journey versus going overland is played up many times in his novels, even so far as acknowledging time zone differences between the eastern and western extremes of the Kingdom!
Creating a fantasy world many thousands of miles across can be fun and many writers do it. But if your story needs your characters to get from one side to the other and back again, you need to factor in either a lot of travelling, or come up with some suitably magical way to transport them. And then you have to remember the cultural differences.
Maybe it is better to stay in a smaller scale.
One final example: Jerusalem is less than forty miles from the Mediterranean coast. Yet you’d never know it was so close from reading the stories in the Bible.