One of the most common things that happens in Star Trek (at least TNG, with which I am the most familiar) is that two starships from two nations/empires will encounter each other, and neither seems to have a better claim to being there than the other. They'll squabble over the rights to a planet, or to searching the area, or simply to being "here." But with several notable exceptions (such as the Neutral Zone), they don't seem to claim that the other is trespassing very often. Obviously, it does happen, but it is also very common for neither ship to make a claim on the local territory in a national sense.
This would seem to imply that, like European ships in the Atlantic, there are wide expanses of space that are unclaimed and equally traversable by all. When a Federation starship, a Romulan warbird, and a Klingon bird of prey are in an argument, and none claims jurisdiction, it would imply that none has jurisdiction. It paints a picture, again like European naval powers, of national claims extending only X distance from the "shore" (in this case, a citizen planet), with wide expanses of "neutral" territory in between.
For example, this map of modern "territorial waters" shows that most of the ocean remains mutually unclaimed (by treaty, in this case):
And yet, every map of the Star Trek galaxy that I can find seems to be pretty filled up, more like the landmasses of Earth, where each nation butts right up against its neighbors and national territories are contiguous and unbroken:
Now, obviously even the thinnest of margins on a galactic scale allows for room to maneuver, and the galaxy is 3-dimensional so there may be nuances that don't make it onto the map. But still, it is hard to imagine how some of the events played out. For example, in The Chase, ships from the Romulan, Klingon, Cardassian, and Federation fleets are racing from world to world in what seems to be neutral territory. According to the map above, at least one of the first three ships would have had to travel straight through the Federation (or an incredible distance around it on the Z-axis) to be in competition with the others.
So my question is this: Is the territory of the Federation (or any other galactic empire) fully contiguous and bordered by neighboring territories? Or is the map more complex than the above example, featuring spaces within a nation's territory that allow other ships to pass through, so long as they didn't approach any claimed planets?
Put another way, is galactic space more like the Caribbean on the above map of Earth, completely claimed by one nation or another, or more like the south Atlantic, where individual star systems are claimed but there remains traversable space in between?