Here's a brilliant essay about the role of outer space
, or the lack thereof, in space opera. The same applies to other branches of science fiction. The use of Middle Earth as a counter-example from fantasy is also exceptionally apt.
What makes this challenging is that it's very difficult to convey travel itself as interesting. The tendency is to cut to the chase, showing only the most exciting action scenes. But you really do lose a lot that way. So you have to find ways of revealing why and how the journey is as important as the destination, the ways in which the setting drives the plot.
Take a look at my poetic series An Army of One: The Autistic Secession in Space
. Because the setting falls between two galactic arms, you know they have relatively fast space travel. However, it's not like teleporting; it's more akin to international relations during the Age of Sail
. It takes time to cross from the Carina-Sagittarius Arm to the Orion-Cygnus Arm; that's why
the Lacuna is important and turns into a no-man's-land. It's out of easy reach, outside the core population centers. After the secession, the setting continues to play a major role. The secessionists don't have a planet to live on; they're scattered across little bases and ships. They don't have the kind of resources that most people take for granted, like having a place to grow food or dip water out of a lake. They only have what they can bring in or recycle. They can travel to each other but that, too, takes some time. Space is not just a backdrop; it influences the political dynamics and other challenges the characters have to solve in order to survive.
For a fantasy comparison, look at Path of the Paladins
. Most of the action takes place in villages or towns, but there are several battlefields in the middle of nowhere, and a handful of encounters along roads or trails. Threaded throughout are indications of how empty and damaged the world has become due to all the fighting. This series has a slow, one step at a time approach because it focuses on the practical effects of all the heroic action that fantasy often ignores.