An average person can walk about 20 miles in a day and it is about 130 kilometers from Nazareth to Bethlehem or approximately 80 miles. About 4 days travel for Joseph and Mary. So lets think about Joseph and Mary and this world changing trek to Bethlehem.
Traveling in Biblical times was very dangerous. There were thieves and robbers, wild animals such as lions, leopards and bears and a lack of accommodations, such as sleeping arrangements, food and water. It would have been a very scary time for Joseph and Mary to make this trek to Bethlehem, but it was not unknown to the couple because they made the trip every year to Jerusalem for their yearly sacrifice at the Passover festival. (Remember when Jesus stayed behind and was in the temple with the teachers and 3 days out they realized he was gone?) Luke 2: 41-52
In addition, because of the uncertainty of returning, it was customary to settle all debts, leases or other monetary encumbrances the family were responsible for, before setting out for such a journey.
But this trip was different. It was a trip that was ordered by the Romans and forced upon the Jews. It would have been an added cost that the couple was not expecting or wanting. In 1 Chronicles 21:1-16, satan compelled King David to take a census which resulted in the death of 70,000 men. Who knows why King David wanted to number the people, the scriptures do not say, but speculations says that he wanted to see how big his army was for further conquests or a pride issue to see how great he was. Either way God was not pleased and sent a plague among the people of which David took full responsibility. Accordingly, Jewish people were not a fan of censuses. So an added fear for this trip was in the minds of everyone sent back to his family inheritance home. Joseph and Mary both were of the lineage of King David whose home was Bethlehem.
In pictures we see Mary riding on the donkey into the city, but in my experience of having children, there is no way that I would have been riding a donkey, even sidesaddle would have been too painful. I would have been walking. The couple may have had a donkey but I would imagine the donkey would have been carrying the staples for the trip, such as wood for fires, food, water and sleeping blankets.
In this treacherous trip, think of taking a hike on a beaten path that would sometimes widen enough for a cart to pass. This road was not taken care of by the Romans but it was a main thorough fare from Nazareth to Jerusalem. Nazareth was located on one of the main Roman built roads “Via Maris” which connected with the “Kings Highway” toward Rome. This road was a major trade route to Jerusalem and would have been well traveled. This alone would bring its hazards. Thieves and robbers would hide behind bushes or trees and fall upon those unsuspecting travelers. It was good to listen to fellow travelers for the dangers that might arise at different strategic places along the road.
This time there would be many travelers on this road that started at Nazareth and traveled south to Nain toward the city of Samaria then onward to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. All of the tribes of Judah were ordered back to their ancestry homes. Joseph and Mary were descendants of the tribe of Judah and subsequently all the living descendants would be traveling toward Bethlehem. It is hard to try to determine the amount of people that would be going to Bethlehem but consider this, 1/12 of the Jewish population would be on their way. It was a desolate trip south with only a couple of towns until you met Sebaste in Samaria. A townspeople to watch carefully, as the Samarians did not like the Jews and would deal treacherously if they could. It was easiest and safer to travel in groups so Joseph and Mary may have had friends or acquaintances for their trip. As they would approach a city the road didn’t run through the middle of town it would veer off toward the town and if it was available they might find lodging for the evening. Most towns and cities were walled with gates that would be guarded and regulated for those entering the city, but lodging could be found from inn keepers, who would also supply food and anything else that would usually be found near the inn.
This brings another question, Did Joseph anticipate the lack of lodging and brought supplies with them? We don’t know. We do know that when the couple came to Bethlehem there was no room at the inn. The word “inn” is interesting because the Writer, Doctor, Luke, used the word “kataluma” for “inn”. This word typically could mean a travelers inn or a private house. Luke also used this word meaning a private home in Luke 22:11. He was also aware of the other word for travelers inn, “pandoxeion”. So to change our stereotype of the scenario, look at the typical lower-middle class family home. They were simple homes sometimes with two levels. The upper level for living quarters and the lower level for the animals, usually built over a natural or man-made cave and certainly there would have been a trough of carved limestone or a notched outcropping of rock.(Page 238, The New Moody Atlas of the Bible.)
Joseph would have sought out a family member to stay with, the upper quarters may have been taken by others, perhaps other extended family members, which only left the lower level for Joseph and Mary. The stable where the animals were kept. Now if we think they were in family home, there were probably other women to help Mary with the delivery of baby Jesus. New babies are always a joy, and it is exciting to see and hold each new life. I’m sure it wasn’t any different with Mary and Joseph except they knew something that the others wouldn’t know. Jesus was the son of God! Can you imagine the thoughts that Joseph was thinking, he was witnessing a total miracle because he knew he wasn’t the father. What he did know was that the baby was the result of the Holy Spirit. He knew the Baby was the promised Messiah. How Amazing!