Note to GMs: If your players are constantly chanting “Are we there yet?” in imitation of kids in the backseat of a car, then they are NOT enjoying the travelling.
I recall a GURPS Uplift game where the travel took a whole session and we were so bored we started inventing our own shipboard plot. The security officer announced that all the fur had fallen off one of the NPC chimpanzees and this was a cruel practical joke that he must investigate. So we prattled on about that in-character instead of listening to the GM’s interminable descriptions of the 6 different types of FTL travel (which are canon in the Uplift universe).
My mate James still tells the tale of the time he and his party were travelling through the desert in Rolemaster. On the 6th day they came across… a stonemason’s chisel. Yes, that was the day’s random encounter.
The next random encounter was an ocean-going ship lying in the middle of the desert. They mistook that one for plot and insisted on investigating it. IIRC this annoyed the GM.
Reminds me of some pandemic period online pickup games with a notable minority of GMs who were so enamoured of the system (or the choice of VTT) they were supposed to be running that they spent most of the sessions just talking about how great it was while we teased out small amounts of role playing from their reluctant talons.
Thinking of travel in games, I like how The One Ring has a skill for travel, and you need to get reasonably good at it or your character will trek across Mirkwood and be too knackered at the other end to fight the bad guys. Simulating the source material well.
As for setting things in the real world, how “realist” is your version of the real world? Would “Magic realism” (as beloved of late 20th century literary fiction, and realistically reflecting the world view of some people) be realist enough? My flatmate believes every single covid conspiracy going, and his view of reality contains more sinister plots than a spy novel.
Also thinking of the “real world”, I remember the Dogme 95 manifesto of film-making which emphasised “no alienation in space or time” so it mostly consisted of indie films set in moodily shot present day places. It is possible to make good drama under such constraints, but mostly by very strong character building (as in Festen) or batshit crazy protagonists (as in the oeuvre of Lars Von Trier).
I tend to run in “reality plus”, in which the world is (at least initially) recognisable as ours, but something weird is going on, and that weirdness is what the campaign is about. E.g. WWII with magic, or 1960s spy story with psionics.