The distant memory of summer
I don't know what the weather's like where you are, but here it's raining steadily and heavily, and our summer holiday seems like a distant memory - especially because we went early on in the school summer break.
In terms of going on holiday, over the past few years, as we've come to fully understand the severity of the climate emergency, my husband and I have chosen to fly less and less*.
(*side note: I am very much aware that to have the choice and the means to travel for pleasure is an utterly privileged position to be in and means our carbon footprints are very much ones of well-resourced people, living in the global north.)
That's not to say we don't have a rather oversized carbon footprint from all the flights we've taken in our lives. We really do.
(Round-the-world trip in 2007, flying back to the UK from California every summer and work travel for both of us, I'm very much looking at you lot...!!)
But in the absence of a time-machine to take us back and correct past decisions, we can only try to do better from here and now, right?
Flying less and less
So in 2019 although we flew TO Italy, we took a slow trip by train back home, stopping overnight in Milan, three nights in Switzerland and three nights in Paris.
In 2020 and 2021 we stayed in the UK, driving (our EV) to my parents' place on the south coast.
In the summer of 2022 flew to the US for a very close friends' wedding, but offset our emissions from all the travel for that trip. (Yes, this option is not the best option, and not problem-free at all, please read this blog Offsetting the Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Your Flights for an in-depth discussion around this.) But it was around this time that we made the decision not to fly in Europe anymore - we could just no longer justify it. So when we went up to Scotland in the Easter holidays of 2022, we took the train (which was LOTS of fun!)
This year in 2023, we've tried to stretch ourselves even further. Whilst our target has been no flights within Europe, our stretch-goal has been to be flight-free in 2023. And as we head into the last term of the year, I can't see us breaking that pledge. And to be honest, we'll probably aim for the same next year too.
It's not that we'll never say never, but flying again will be a very considered decision.
For now, I'd love to share our flight free summer family holiday with you:
Our Flight Free Summer 2023 Family Holiday to France
Day One: London to Paris
Walk to our local station, train into London Waterloo, taxi to St Pancras (we booked before because of a tube strike), St Pancras to Paris!
Day Two: Paris
In the morning we visited (and climbed!) the Eiffel Tower. And in the afternoon we visited La Galerie Dior - well worth the €12 entry fee.
Day Three: Paris
Spent the morning in the hotel pool with the kids, and then headed out into the alternating sunshine and torrential rain to visit the Sacré Cœur and see the Moulin Rouge.
Day Four: Paris to Béziers
We caught an 11am train to Béziers which took just over 4 hours. It was on time, clean and spacious. Although we'd booked late so were sitting in seats away from each other (in the same carriage), the kids just watched movies or read and I enjoyed reading or simply staring out the window. There was a cafe a couple of carriages down where you could buy sandwiches, snacks and simple meals. I had a yummy vegan curry. And you could either stay there, sitting on high bar stools looking out of the window, or bring your food back to your seat.
At Béziers station we picked up our rental car as we knew we wanted to visit Carcassonne one day. Sadly we weren't able to get an EV, but did manage to get a hybrid. And one of the advantages of hiring a car from a train station is that it was nowhere near as busy as at an airport. We were in our car within about 20 minutes of arriving. Then we drove the 30 minutes to our villa.
Days Five to Ten: And rest...
After a full on few years (and resisting my natural urge to visit as many places as possible), we decided we needed a holiday where we just 'stayed put' as much as possible. So that's what we did. We swam lots, rested in the shade, ate, slept, read and watched movies. And I finally got to take our girls to Carcassonne, something I had wanted to do since they were very small. (We even managed to squeeze in a run, and I did some yoga.) It was bliss.
Day Eleven: Travel Home
As our eldest had a Summer Camp starting on the Monday, we had to travel back home all in one day on the Saturday. It was a LONG day. But... 1) I did not feel as 'wrung out' as I have done when flying. And 2) we could have made it shorter, but had built in lots (too much) contingency at every stage. I'll break down the journey and my recommended changes further down.
Comparing flying to taking the train
At this point, I'm sure I've shown you that we had a really nice family summer holiday to France. But what you probably want to know is:
- How much did it cost vs flying?
- How much long did it take vs flying?
- How much carbon did we save vs flying?
So let me tackle these one by one:
1. How much did it cost to take the train?
|Journey breakdown||Price of flying for family of four||Price of taking the train|
|Part one||Return train from London to Luton: £63.65||London to Paris (return): £362|
|Part two||Roundtrip plane from Luton to Béziers: £500||Paris to Béziers (return): £756.48|
|Total Cost for a family of four||£563.65||£1,118.48|
Total extra paid by taking the train: £554.83!
So the cost for us to take the train was almost twice as much as if we flew. With flying being SO cheap to Europe still, taking the train is not a cheap option sadly. What would be great is if the UK government did like in France and ban flights where the journey takes less than 2.5 hours by train, tax flights and use the money to subsidise train travel.
But until that happens, it is sadly a privilege to be able to take the train versus a flight.
However, as going on holiday is a luxury, we feel that as a family, travelling by train is something we're willing to invest in. We feel that by paying for and using the trains we can help create demand, so that rail companies can spread their operating costs, and reduce prices, and then governments help reduce prices further with subsidies. And hopefully that can make it more affordable for others in years to come.
2. How much long did it take to get there by train?
Because we stopped in Paris for a few days on the way there, the best comparison for direct travel is our journey home, which we did in one go.
Villa to Home via train - our actual journey
- 09:00 - leave our villa, arrive 09:30
- 10:59 - train departs Béziers, arrive Gare du Lyon 15:04
- 30 minute taxi to Gare du Nord
- 19:13 - Eurostar departs Paris, arrive St Pancras 20:39 UK / 21:39 France
- 22:00 UK / 23:00 France - arrive home
- Total travel time - 14 hours door to door
However, I mentioned above we built in too much contingency, so next time we could easily reduce our travel time by three hours.
Villa to Home via train - what we would do next time
- 10:00 - leave our villa, arrive 10:30
- 10:59 - train departs Béziers, arrive Gare du Lyon 15:04
- 30 minute taxi to Gare du Nord
- 17:13 - Eurostar departs Paris, arrive St Pancras 18:39 UK / 19:39 France
- 20:00 UK / 21:00 France - arrive home
- Total travel time - 11 hours door to door
In terms of flying, you have two main options of flying either direct to Béziers or to Montpellier.
Villa to Home via plane (Béziers airport)
- 13:20 - leave villa
- 14:00 - arrive at Béziers airport, return car and get to terminal
- 14:35 - check in for flight
- 16:35 - flight departs Béziers, arrives Luton 17:35 UK / 18:35 France
- 18:35 UK / 19:35 France - get through passport control, baggage reclaim and customs
- 20:35 UK / 21:35 France - get home from Luton airport
- Total travel time - 8 hours 15 mins door to door
Villa to Home via plane (Montpellier airport)
- 13:45 - leave villa
- 15:00 - arrive at Béziers airport, return car and get to terminal
- 15:40 - check in for flight
- 17:40 - flight departs Montpellier, arrives Gatwick 18:40 UK / 19:40 France
- 19:40: UK / 20:40 France - get through passport control, baggage reclaim and customs
- 20:40 UK / 21:40 France - get home from Gatwick airport
- Total travel time - 7 hours 55 mins door to door
Total time spent travelling by taking the train: 3 hours.
So with the shorter travel time for the train versus the plane, you're looking at about three extra hours by taking the train. So it's not a quick and easy option.
That said, once you're travelling for eight hours in a day (for a two hour flight), you're already spending most of the day travelling. So those extra three don't feel that much more.
In addition, one thing that was really interesting was that even with our 14 hours of travel, although I was tired when we got home, I didn't feel 'strung out' like I often have felt in the past when I've travelled. I slept well and felt really good the next time. I hadn't realised it, but when I've flown, I've almost had a 'flying hangover' the next day, even without jet-lag. Plus the actual process of travelling felt like an extension of the holiday, and was pretty much all relaxing and pleasurable.
3. How much carbon did we save taking the train?
London to Paris
|Carbon Emissions per passenger by Eurostar||Carbon Emissions per passenger by Air||Carbon Emissions saved per passenger||Total Carbon Emissions saved for the family each way||Total Carbon Emissions saved for the family round trip|
|4 kg||57.8 kg||53.8 kg||215.2 kg||430.4 kg|
Paris to Béziers
|Carbon Emissions per passenger by Train||Carbon Emissions per passenger by Air||Carbon Emissions saved per passenger||Total Carbon Emissions saved for the family each way||Total Carbon Emissions saved for the family round trip|
|47.1 kg||131.3 kg||84.2 kg||336.8 kg||673.6 kg|
Total Carbon Emissions saved by taking the train: 1.1 tonnes
If we'd flown, we would have emitted over three times as much carbon as taking the train at 1.5 tonnes.
But it's very important to note that by making this trip, as a family we still emitted 408.8kg (almost half a tonne) of carbon emissions. (And I haven't included our car travel as I was doing a comparison and we would have hired a car even if we'd flown.)
If we hadn't travelled at all, that would have been the best option for the planet.
Train versus plane?
To conclude: there are costs to taking the train to travel abroad - both financial and time-wise.
Luckily, we are privileged enough to absorb those costs. And to quote Climate and Social Justice Activist, Raeeka Yassaie: "If you are housed & safe with free time or money to do nice things, it’s time to use your skills to protect a liveable planet."
Personally, I just can't justify the carbon-cost of taking a flight in Europe, when I am able to bear the financial and time costs.
Plus, even with the additional time, it's a MUCH nicer way to travel!
So, never say never (even climate activists aren't perfect), but for now, we will be flight-free for 2023. And likely to be flight-free within Europe for the foreseeable future.
I’d love to know what you think in the comments.
With understanding, love, resilience and hope from my family to yours,
p.s. If you want to find out how to make train travel work better for your business too, head to www.thetrainline.com/business for more info.