For this article, we’ll use a name to stand in for our main character. Let’s call them Sam. There are many ways for Sam to travel, but that will depend on the technological advancements and worldbuilding of your fantasy world. If your transportation is very advanced in proportion to the rest of your technology, you’ll want reasoning behind it. Good worldbuilding makes the impossible believable. Not every project needs to think deeply about transportation, and in many books, transportation is mundane. If the scope of your fantasy project takes place in a small area, say a city or a palace, then expanded transportation may not be necessary. But if Sam has lands, seas, and the skies to cross, read on.
1. Classic Walking
It is likely in your fantasy world that there are tamed beasts such as horses, steers, or some other created animal. However, if Sam doesn’t own one or can’t afford one (remember, it costs money to feed an animal!), then Sam is going to be walking to travel unless you have them borrow or steal one. And walking is slow. Remember The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Game of Thrones? Lots of walking. At a reasonable pace, your character can be traveling approximately 25 miles a day, or 40 kilometers. If the places in your fantasy world are far apart, try to calculate how many days it would take Sam to walk between them. Also, walking long distances puts Sam in a physically and mentally challenging situation, and they may experience character growth.
But say you don’t want Sam to be walking forever? Our next category is rideable steed.
2. Rideable Creatures
Horses could be the first creature that comes to mind, but I encourage you to think outside of the box. Would goats or oxen be more appropriate to your world? What is the climate like, and what kinds of steeds live there? A helpful tip is to look at our own geography. While work animals are widely spread, horses were probably native to Russia and llamas to South America. A horse can travel twice as fast as Sam.
Or, take the fantastical route and have fun with the animals Sam could ride! Are there new animals that you’ve created, mythical beasts? Ask yourself, what is the temperament of a unicorn, dragon, or a six-legged chickenbear? We’ll discuss flying beasts further below.
3. Faster Land Travel — Trains
I admire the simplicity and speed of trains. Sam could travel vast distances very quickly. Trains require and imply lots of little technological advancements. Steam power, builders for rails, coal mining, distribution of goods, money, etc. Does your world have these things? If the answer is no, and trains you want, then there is another way! If your transportation is very advanced in proportion to the rest of your technology, then all you need is a believable explanation. Simple, right? Your reasoning could be rooted in history or have a magical explanation, but no matter how you explain it, good worldbuilding makes the impossible believable. You might argue that trains don’t belong in fantasy, but I counter-argue with Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard and Brandon Sanderson’s second Mistborn trilogy — The Wax & Wayne series. Trains in these fantasy settings feel natural because they are integrated well, and you can do it too.
If trains aren’t your style, another example of faster land travel is a mine-cart system.
Note: Portals are a popular way to get from place to place and a useful plot device, but they can be too easy. If you have portals, a.k.a. doors between far-apart places, then make sure they fit into the lore of your world or have limitations.
4. Across the Sea
Did you know the boat was created before the wheel? If Sam needs to travel through water, chances are a ship will be available for them. Depending on the size of the water to cross, it could take a few weeks to several months. And watch out for seasickness. Like walking, sea travel is often punctuated with hardships. Characters trapped on a ship are forced to interact with others and may have to contend with storms.
Submarines have been imagined for hundreds of years (a Dutch inventor built one in 1620!). Personally, I’ve never read a fantasy book with submarines, but I would love to!
5. Through the Air
Remember those dragons I mentioned? Living creatures as air-travel is one of the most magical elements of fantasy. Dragons in But there are more than dragons to have fun with, take the giant eagles in The Lord of the Rings or the Thestrals in the Harry Potter book series.
Non-living air travel will most likely not have engines, but rely instead on lifting gases, heat, or even magic to power them. Don’t expect to have jet planes and helicopters (but can you imagine Harry Potter in a helicopter??). Those technologies would be more welcome in a sci-fi adventure, or a modern fantasy. Keep in mind that the more advanced your technology is, the closer your story will read to sci-fi.
Harry Potter is a great example of how both modern and fantastical transportation can exist simultaneously in fantasy. The book’s worldbuilding gives explanation for both. The Hogwarts Express takes characters to Hogwarts, utilizing the transportation of the modern day. However, when witches and wizards are inside Hogwarts, their transportation is pre-modern and fantastical. From the train students ride in carriages, or boats for first years. Harry Potter also features forms of magical flying transportation. Thestrals and Hippogriffs are magical beasts, while broomsticks rely on magic to fly. This shows us that your explanation for how a transportation technology works can be as simple as: it’s magic.
It is good practice to consider the finer details of your fantasy world, but I will point out that focusing on small details is less important than writing your project. Ultimately, have the technology that feels right for your fantasy world, the details can come later.
is a writer based in North Carolina. She attends writing classes of all kinds at UNC Chapel Hill and has a particular fondness for sharp imagery. In her free time, she drafts her own novels.