My sustainable journey: a smaller footprint

The past years I visited many places. Most of the time I took the plane to get there. I flew to Canada, Australia, Greece, Croatia, Romania, Austria, Montenegro, Ireland, Sweden, The Netherlands, England, Denmark, Spain. Sometimes even multiple times a year. I didn’t see the harm in it, how big my footprint was. I was happy to travel around the world and to broaden my experiences.

After a while though, I started to get more aware of the impact of flying. Every time I took a plane to go somewhere I felt more and more guilty. I was in conflict with myself and my believes. For a long time I had been trying to change my lifestyle and to lower my footprint. I became a vegetarian, I reduced my plastic waste, I started to buy second hand. The next step would logically be stop flying, or at least start to fly less. But I wanted to be able to see the world too. I wanted to keep the freedom to decide on one day to leave on the next. So for a while I ignored the doubt and the guilt and I just kept going on.

It’s not possible to keep doing that forever. There’ll always be a moment in your life on which you have to face the truth. You have to acknowledge that what you are doing is wrong and harmful. That you can’t make excuses for not changing your own behaviour. And that’s not easy.

Travel by train for a smaller footprint

When I decided to visit Kiruna during my stay in Stockholm, I knew it was time to finally make the step to a sustainable travel style and to lower my carbon footprint. So instead of taking a domestic flight, I booked a train trip. It wasn’t much cheaper at that time and it took 15 hours instead of 3,5 to get there. At first glance I thought of myself as crazy. But knowing that I prevented myself from polluting the earth again, was worth so much more than being able to travel fast. Look at the difference below, I saved 110 kg of carbon emissions by choosing to travel by train!!

Kiruna <–> Stockholm Train Flight
CO2 Footprint* 30 kg 140 kg
Travel time** 15 hrs 3,5 hrs
Costs*** 120 euros 165 euros

*Calculated with www.carbonfootprint.com, return trip
** One way, Travel time train: www.sj.se, Flying time: Skyscanner + waiting at airport (estimated)
***Train: www.sj.se, Flight: average price Skyscanner

When I compared the numbers, I was amazed. Apparently I needed to be confronted with the facts to see the impact I made. To see how much smaller my carbon footprint got by a just a small change. Also, I hadn’t even calculated all the other pollution that comes with flying yet. This insight motivated me to keep searching for alternatives for flying. So when I had to travel back from Stockholm to The Netherlands, I decided to do the same. I compared the train rates and bus rates, and eventually I chose to travel to Copenhagen by train and from there via Flixbus to Groningen.

Stockholm -> Groningen Train +  Bus Flight
CO2 Footprint* 70 kg 220 kg
Travel time** 20 hrs 9 hrs
Costs*** 70 euros 250 euros

*Calculated with www.carbonfootprint.com, one way trip
**One way trip, Train + Bus: www.sj.se + Flixbus, Flight: Skyscanner + waiting time at airport + travel from Schiphol to Groningen
*** Train + Bus: www.sj.se + Flixbus, Flight: average price Skyscanner

The trip was long and I didn’t get much sleep. But who cares? The trip by plane would have taken hours too. It would have costs me four times as much and the most important part, my footprint would have been way bigger. Just knowing that made my travels already great.

Enjoy the ride

Not only the fact that my carbon footprint was way lower made me feel good. It was also nice to take the time to travel. To not just ‘transport’ myself and see the travelling solely as something necessary to get from A to B, but to really enjoy the ride and see it as an experience on its own.

When I travelled to Kiruna, I saw the Swedish landscape changing while the hours passed by. I saw rivers and lakes, mountains and fields, sun and clouds. I literally rode into a white snowy landscape. Of course, the view from above the clouds is amazing too. But this was different. The scenery was changing all the time and I had time to adapt to it. And during my trip back to the Netherlands I enjoyed the sunset at the sea, I had fun with the bus drivers and I had the chance to wander around in Copenhagen. I would have missed all of that if I would have travelled by plane.

Of course I could have slept in my own bed the same day as I left, if I would have travelled by plane. I could have taken more time to relax. I would have had more time to prepare for my summer job. But did I really need that? To be honest, no. It would have been pure luxury to fly.

Be of change if you have the chance

I am not claiming that you, at any time, should travel by public transport. Sometimes flying is your only option if you want to be able to see something from the world, or if you want to visit friends or family. We live in a world where ‘time is money’, which leaves us often unable to truly take the time.

But if you have the chance, take it! Every step helps in making our footprint smaller. Even If that means you only cut down one flight a year. Plan your trip in a different way, take your time and safe the earth.