I've read someplace that before the invention of trains people rarely traveled, and it was common for them to never even leave their home towns or go as far as 20 miles from them (there is the famous story that Immanuel Kant never left his hometown, and he died the same year that the first full-scale working railway steam locomotive was built, although that might be unrelated). But the source didn't specify if that applied to everyone or only to farmers and serfs. Did city dwellers travel? Also, after the invention of trains and widespread construction of rails, how long did it take for traveling to be considered 'common'?

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    BBC history magazine has dealt with this several times. Pilgrimages were common. Merchant travel was common
    – MCW
    Oct 15, 2016 at 17:31
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    All of sailors, fishermen, students, pilgrims, merchants, master craftsmen, journeyman craftsmen (travel required to obtain experience for Master's papers), clergy, courtiers, soldiers, groomsmen (of horses not bridegrooms), all frequently travelled more than a days journey from their homes. Basically, nearly everyone except farmers and children. Oct 15, 2016 at 18:26
  • The roads in England were not that bad, and to some extent explain why Britain was the first country to industrialise. But a stagecoach journey from London to Norwich (108 miles) took two days in summer and three in winter. In Norfolk, there was a sail-boat service from Kings Lynn to London that operated twice a week in summer. The canals were mostly used for goods, I don't think there was much passenger traffic. The railways certainly transformed all this from the 1840s.
    – WS2
    Oct 26, 2016 at 23:12

4 Answers 4


People, even common people, traveled when they needed to. Usually as the result of war, famine, or persecution. The "Great Migration" is only one fairly well documented such event.

The 'Great Migration' 1629–40 saw 80,000 people leave England, roughly 20,000 migrating to each of four destinations, Ireland, New England,[4] the West Indies and the Netherlands.

Colonization as a goal encourage people as far back as the Romans to pick up roots and settling new locations. Within U.S. history the Oregon trail and the general expansion westward into new territories seeking that better life and the lands of 'milk and honey'.

  • Think this is spot on. Most travel was by Sea in North America (the Yankee Clipper) and "those damn Yankees" really got around back in the day (all the way to China.) So initially yes...we travelled by Sail. Oct 16, 2016 at 14:37

Traders, soldiers, officials. If we confine things to Europe, those are the only people who traveled a long distance.

Taking them in turn, travelling by sea took you the furthest, and it was traders who did this the most. Wars generally happened between neighbouring countries or within a country, so soldiers usually did not travel much, although they did occasionally have to go long distances. Officials might have to travel within a country to assess taxes and the like, or occasionally (rarely) on diplomatic missions to foreign countries.

So, everyone who was not one of these didn't travel much. You would need to find out the proportion of people who were not traders, soldiers, or officials. It will be most people.

Wandering day labourers, friars and thieves would have to move about a fair bit. They would generally stay within one area, but their life would involve a lot of walking.

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    A couple of un-ordinary groups are missing from your list: colonists and re-settlers (although they tended to stay put once they got there), university students (amazing how far some went for their education), clergy, pilgrims (not just to the famous pilgrimage destinations), nobles (especially if their estates were far from the court or capital).
    – bgwiehle
    Oct 15, 2016 at 14:50
  • You forgot pilgrims and scholars. Oct 19, 2016 at 21:50

Even after the invention of the steam engine most common people never traveled. It depends on the country, of course. But in countries like Russia or Turkey or China, even in the early 20th century, most people were peasants, and they did not travel long distance. Mass travel developed in 20th century. Until the early 20th century, the most common way for a peasant "to see the world" was to serve in the army or navy.


If you mean common people it is probably right. The only transport, apart from walking, was horse or mule and boat, and these were not cheap.

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    It would be better if you could include some references for this answer.
    – Rathony
    Oct 15, 2016 at 9:54
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    This is a bad answer because it is pure opinion. No supporting references, postulates, explanations or authority is given. Oct 15, 2016 at 16:26

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