Travel in Fantasy – How Fast Can They Get There?

If you don’t take the time to approximate the time and distance your characters take from point A to point B, you risk inconsistencies which your detail-oriented readers will pick up on. You don’t want your troupe leaving too late to realistically catch the festival in the next town, or save their friend from his scheduled execution in the next kingdom. If you find they would be arriving too early, you can always throw obstacles in their way to slow them down.

Before you can calculate distance, you need a scaled map. A scale is a measurement showing how many inches/millimeters represent a number of miles. My own map scale: 1 inch = 100 miles. Now that you have your scale, you can begin measuring. Rarely do you want to measure the direct distance however – roads curve, adventurers have to backtrack, or a lake crosses their path. An easy trick is to use a piece of string or floss instead of a straight edged paper or ruler. You can curve the string along the exact path, cut it off, pull it straight and then measure it.

Now that you have the distance, you can begin to figure out time. Even if you don’t show the traveling itself, you need to have a sense of how much time has passed. What transportation method are they using? Walking, riding horses, wagon, ship, or some more fantastical method? Or in a modern fantasy: by car, plane, train? Here’s a handy reference chart for some of the most common means. All measurements are miles/hour (mph) unless noted otherwise.

Horses
Horse speed varies by breed, stride, and condition, but here’s an average.

Walk: 3-5 mph

Trot: roughly 8-10 mph

Canter/Lope: 10-17 mph

Gallop: about 30 mph

Human travel (all assuming character is in average condition)

on dirt trails: 10-14 miles/day

on paved trails: 8-12 miles/day (no natural cushioning for feet)

on fair trails (natural, rocky, root covered, etc): 8-12 miles/day

average speed over natural terrain: 3 mph

Wagon

Ox-drawn: 16 miles/day

average wagon travel: 2 mph

exhaustive wagon travel: 6 mph

Ship

This varies greatly on ship type, weather, etc. The general answer would be 4 – 5 mph, but I urge you to do more specific research if you have much sea travel.

Transporting Information, not people

Passenger pigeons are able to fly over 60 mph

Keep in mind that the harder, faster speeds are difficult to keep up at long distances and will require more rest periods (non-man-powered vehicles being the exception).

If you use more modern transportation, you’ll want to research for the specific region and era. Also be sure to note the speeds of any travel means you’ve specifically created for your world.

How do I use this information?

If you have a distance and want to know how long it takes to travel, divide the distance by mph. You can figure out how far someone will journey in one day by multiplying the mph by the number of hours they travel. If your characters are on the move a lot, make a string in the length of their average daily travel so you can mark on the map where they end each day.

This is information that isn’t easy to locate through general searches, though the information is out there. I hope you find it useful.