Travel: we sort of know all about it, right? Wrong. Scratch beneath the surface and it turns out we know nothing of this world. Do you know how long the world’s shortest commercial flight lasts, for example? (clue: shorter than the time it takes to boil an egg.) How about which country has no rivers? Or what unconventional pizza topping is popular in Sweden?

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An image of the world from space showing one of the green continents.
Ready to see the world in a whole new light? © Dima Zel / Shutterstock

With international travel currently off the table, why not use this time to swat up on surprising travel trivia, offering a few precious minutes of sweet relief from the constant news cycle and providing some fun facts to fill awkward pauses during video calls with friends and family; trust us, nothing plugs a silence better than a stat about how many steps from the nearest trash bin you are in Disneyland at all times.

Without further ado, here’s 25 travel facts that are certain to shock and surprise.

A stationary blue train in India, with passengers sitting and leaning out of the doorway and looking through the train's windows.
India's railway network is rather massive © Travel and Still life photography / Getty Images

Trains, planes and automobiles...

1. The world’s longest commercial flight took around 30 hours.

The so-called ‘Double Sunrise’ service by Qantas, which ran from Australia to Sri Lanka from 1943-45, often lasted over 30 hours, with passengers seeing the sunrise twice. Today the longest commercial flight is the Singapore Airlines Singapore to New York route, with an average journey time of 17 hours and 50 minutes.

2. The shortest commercial flight takes less than two minutes.

Incredibly, the shortest commercial flight, operating between the neighbouring islands of Westray and Papa Westray in Scotland’s Orkney islands, takes around one and a half minutes. With the fastest recorded flight taking less than 50 seconds.

3. Japanese railways hand out ‘certificates’ for delays of more than five minutes.

Japanese trains, reputedly the most punctual in the world, issue passengers with a ‘delay certificate’ if a train is running more than five minutes behind schedule. The documents can be shown to bosses or teachers to explain a passenger’s lateness. Delay certificates are also issued on some trains in Germany and in Paris.

4. The most expensive airport to city taxi ride costs around £190.

Any budget traveller worth their salt attempts to avoid airport taxis at all costs, but anyone keeping an eye on their finances should certainly avoid jumping in a cab from Tokyo’s Narita Airport. According to a study by Moneycorp (a currency exchange company), the ride is the most expensive airport-to-city transfer in the world, costing an average of £191/$235 one way.

5. India’s trains transport roughly 23 million passengers each day.

That’s the entire population of Australia. Additionally, if laid out in a single line, the tracks from India’s railway network could circle the world one and a half times.

An aerial view of Niagara Falls, a group of three waterfalls at the southern end of Niagara Gorge.
It's strange to think some countries on earth have no rivers © TRphotos / Shutterstock

Things you didn’t know about countries…

6. Saudi Arabia has no rivers.

The country in the Arabian peninsula has no permanent rivers. It is one of the 17 countries in the world without a single river flowing through it.

7. In Ethiopia the current year is 2013.

Ethiopia maintains its own calendar, which, due to a difference in the perceived date of the Annunciation (the proclamation of the birth of Christ), is seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar (which is used as standard across most of the world). In Ethiopia the new year also begins on either August 29 or August 30.

8. It is the same time at both ends of China.

Despite spanning five geographical time zones, China only has one set time, which is observed throughout the country. China Standard Time is UTC+8.

9. The UK has the world’s longest country name.

The UK’s official title of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland makes it the longest recognised country name in the world.

10. Alaska is both the westernmost and easternmost state in the USA.

Alaska’s Aleutian Islands are actually located west of the 180th Meridian (the line that divides the eastern and western hemisphere), making it the only US state to be partly located in the eastern hemisphere.

A large seafood pizza displayed on a wooden board. The tomato and cheese pizza is topped with squid, muscles and other shellfish.
The Swedes enjoy one particularly unusual topping on their pizzas © Oran Tantapakul / Shutterstock

Foodie facts...

11. The most ordered meal on Deliveroo, a leading takeout app, in 2019 was a Hawaiian dish of raw fish. 

Of all the restaurants served by the app, which operates in over 200 cities around the world, the most ordered meal was the Poké Signature Super Protéiné – a Hawaiian dish with raw fish as the core ingredient – from restaurant Pokawa in the city of Paris. Less exotic, a humble cheeseburger from the London branch of chain restaurant Five Guys was the second most ordered dish on the app.

12. Russia only classified beer as an alcoholic drink in 2011

Remarkably before then any drink with less than 10% alcohol was considered a ‘foodstuff’.

13. Pilots and co-pilots do not eat the same meal before a flight.

As part of standard convention, pilots and co-pilots do not eat the same food before a flight in case of food poisoning (or worse). If one of the pilots is incapacitated (unable to leave the bathroom) then the other pilot can take over.

14. Banana is a popular pizza topping in Sweden.

Often paired with curry powder believe it or not.

15. Instant noodles topped a Japanese poll of the country’s greatest inventions of the 20th century.

In the poll, conducted in the year 2000 by Fuji Research Institute, respondents placed instant noodles at the top of the list, followed by karaoke in second place. Incidentally karaoke translates from Japanese into English as ‘empty orchestra’.

The Eiffel Tower as viewed from across the Seine and framed neatly by two leafy trees in autumn colours
The Eiffel Tower wasn't always such a popular landmark © ESB Professional / Shutterstock

Lesser-known aspects of famous landmarks...

16. Despite what people say, the Great Wall of China is not visible from space.

Even from low Earth orbit the structure requires magnification to be seen by the human eye.

17. The Eiffel Tower was initially greatly disliked by the Parisian art community upon opening.

The iconic tower was labelled as ‘monstrous’ and ‘ridiculous’ after it was unveiled to the world. It’s even claimed that contemporary writer Guy de Maupassant disliked the structure so much that he ate lunch in the tower every day because it was the only place in Paris where the landmark was not visible. 

18. The scenic Great Ocean Road, that sweeps along the coast of Victoria, Australia, is actually a war memorial.

Built by soldiers and dedicated to those who lost their lives in WWI, the road serves as the largest war memorial in the world.

19. Sudan has more ancient pyramids than Egypt.

Sources vary, but Sudan is claimed to be home to around 250 pyramid structures, that were built by the rulers of the ancient Kushite kingdoms between 2500BC to 300AD. Egypt is thought to have just over 100 pyramids. 

20. The minarets of the Taj Mahal lean outwards slightly.

This was done deliberately to ensure that if the structure collapsed the minarets would fall away from the central tomb, and not destroy it. It’s also true that a team of 20,000 artisans and craftsmen built the iconic structure, but the popular story about them all being amputated by Shah Jahan, the ruler who commissioned it, upon completion (so they’d never build anything as beautiful), is most likely a myth.

An actress dressed as Mary Poppins smiles at a young child as she leads a line of children in song and dance in front of Cinderella's castle during Disney's 60th Diamond Celebration at Disneyland California.
There's something unusual about the litter bins at Disneyland

Everything else...

21. There are currently 320,000 people learning ‘Klingon’ (the fictional language featured in television show Star Trek) on language app Duolingo.

English is the most popular language on the app, with 34 million people undertaking lessons since the beginning of 2020. 

22. On the island of Yap, a state of Micronesia, rocks are used as currency.

Each rock’s worth is based on its size and its history (where it came from). Though US dollars have now started to be used for everyday purchases on the island, rocks are still used for ceremonial transactions (during weddings, for example). Yap also uses turmeric, shells and cloth as official currency.

23. If it was as densely populated as New York City, the entire world's population could fit into the US state of Texas.

We wouldn’t have all that much room, but, with the rest of the planet uninhabited, there’d be plenty of places to go to escape the crowds.

24. You’re never more than 30 steps away from a trash can in Disneyland.

The story goes that Walt Disney used to observe visitors in the park and see how many steps they took before littering, as a result a litter bin is never more than 30 steps away in any Disney park. Another of Walt’s lesser-known Disneyland additions was the creation of a secret bar hidden inside the – then otherwise 'dry' – park, which he used to entertain personal guests and sponsors. The speakeasy-style venue, located behind a large door in the New Orleans Square section of the park, now runs as a private members club with an annual membership fee of $10,000. 

25. You don't need to wait an hour after eating before you can swim safely.

Despite what your mother always told you, there is no medical data that suggests you can’t swim on a full stomach. It can, however, feel uncomfortable, and potentially lead to a feeling of nausea, so it’s best to take a short pause after polishing off your sandwich before you go crashing into the surf.

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