Travel – How the World is Getting Smaller

As a keen traveller, I am interested in finding amazing places around the world and planning how to get there. Maps are an essential way of visualising spatial relationships and geographic locations for travel.


The map above was created in 1914 by the famous cartographer John George Bartholomew. He was a was a British cartographer and geographer. Perhaps his longest lasting legacy was to give the name ‘Antarctica’ to the area of the world at the polar opposite to the Arctic. In those days, travel was primarily by ship and by train. His map reflects the time that it took to reach various places from London. You can see that it took many weeks to get to places like central Africa and South America. That’s because there were no railway lines in those parts of the world. Australia could only be reached by a long sea voyage. Conversely, there is an area across distant Russia where it took a comparatively short time to travel because the Trans Siberian Railway had begun operating. Prior to that railway line opening, it was faster for people wanting to travel from Moscow to Vladivostok to sail to America, then travel overland by train and finally take a ship to Vladivostok than it was to travel overland.

An updated version of this map has been created by the people at Rome2Rio’s website. They have a brilliant website in which it is possible to determine how to travel from anywhere in the world to anywhere else. They connect thousands of bus, plane, ferry and rail routes into an overall travel plan. They even include the Melbourne Airport Express Bus!

They used their travel planing algorithms to determine how long to would now take to get to the same places. The scale of their map has changed from weeks to hours! In 1914, the fastest journeys took up to 5 days, whereas in 2016 the slowest journeys (to almost anywhere) take just over 36 hours. 

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Journey times from London to both Asia and America have reduced significantly. In 1914 it might have taken a traveller up to 20 days to reach California, but you can now fly there from London in less than 3/4 of a day. And if a Londoner wanted to visit Tokyo it would have taken up to 30 days and now takes no more than a 3/4 of a day as well.

There are, however, a few of the more remote areas in 1914 still remaining in 2016, such as the Canadian Arctic, Siberia, the Sahara desert and the Australian Outback. Nevertheless, if the original 1914 within 5 days scale was used for the 2016 map, virtually the entire world would be red. You can find a larger version of these maps at this website.

I’m very appreciative for all this. It means that i can get to more places in the world before my ability to buy travel insurance goes away!

(By the way, a great free mapping app for your iPhone or iPad is Pocket Earth – see here)

One comment

  1. Eamon Tansey · ·

    I found this fascinating, I also love old maps. From New York before the canals were put in, it was cheaper to send your goods to England than to upstate New York to Buffalo