Let’s not kid ourselves. If you travel to EAIE Barcelona 2022 from the Netherlands, it’s not faster or more convenient to travel by train instead of flying.
It takes planning, transfers, and simply more time to get from A to B. Time I could otherwise spend with my family.
So if you choose a different travel method, I completely understand. I also take planes, though I try to limit it.
Here’s why I choose to travel to EAIE 2022 by train:
1. Carbon savings
Let’s get this most obvious point out of the way first. This is how the CO2 footprint compares for my return trip from Breda to Barcelona:
- Plane: 330 kg
- Train: 20 kg
The numbers speak for themselves, and that’s why carbon savings are such a powerful measure. But let’s not obsess over them. Me opting for the train instead of flying isn’t going to prevent a single plane from taking off, so in a way it’s an artificial measure.
2. Change my own habits
Part of the difficulty of choosing to travel by train is the booking process. I had to scour several websites to piece together a convenient and affordable journey. I discovered seat61.com as an excellent resource for comparing routes, and Happyrail greatly simplifies the international booking process.
But is it really that much harder? Figuring out my train journey took perhaps an hour. Booking flight tickets and transportation to/from the airport also requires skill. Having done it often makes it seem easier.
By making “not flying” the default within Europe, I’m taking a tiny step out of my comfort zone. Next time I’ll do it, it’ll be just a bit easier.
Simply going through the booking exercise also helped me dispel the myth that train travel is necessarily expensive: the full return trip, Breda central station to Barcelona Sants cost me EUR 168. It helps greatly to book early, though.
3. Help others change their habits
Expressing your opinion online is easy. That makes it nearly meaningless.
Doing is more inspiring than talking.
If through my example just one other person (you?) decides to make the journey by train, I already double the carbon savings. Many of you have colleagues, so you can be the reason some of them decide to make the journey together. And the people you inspire, can inspire others in turn.
If you’re in a leadership role, going by train and talking about it can have a ripple effect through your organisation.
And it’s more than inspiration alone. If you work in international education, you are in a perfect position to help international (exchange) students to make the trip to/from your institution by train. First hand train travel experience makes you a better advisor.
If you are planning to make the trip by train and want to compare notes or travel together, don’t hesitate to reach out to me!
You can also share your travel plans with Travel with CANIE and help amplify their message. If you leave a testimonial, they’ll even make a nice image for you 🙂
4. Send a signal to society
There are all kinds of issues with pan-European train travel that need to be fixed.
- Crossing Paris north-to-south requires a station-to-station transfer by metro. A smoother transfer could cut perhaps 45 mins from my Breda – Barcelona journey and spare me a lot of inconvenience.
- There’s no VAT exemption for train travel yet (there is in France, but not in most other EU countries). Why is there a need for that? Because flights are exempted from VAT. It really should be the other way around.
- Train security systems vary from country to country, which makes it a difficult for railway operators to cross borders. (Crossing into Spain is even harder as it has a different track width, there’s no easy fix for that…).
So yes, a lot more needs to be done urgently to make international train journeys a realistic alternative to flying.
But the above points aren’t directly under my control. What I can do is: travel by train anyway. Live in the future we aspire to as if it’s already there.
Hopefully, I inspire some of you to do the same. Even if you only have the time to take the train one way, it’ll make a small difference. If enough of us do this, the signal will come through to boardrooms, ministries and parliaments across Europe who can act on it.
See you at EAIE 2022?