Previously, I would travel globally with all expenses covered in luxurious accommodations – however, I could not reconcile with my moral compass.
As someone who writes about travel, I am accustomed to being invited to luxurious resorts in exotic locations like the Seychelles with all expenses covered. However, I now disregard these emails. I made the decision to stop flying three years ago due to the climate crisis. Along with travel, I also focus on environmental issues, and I felt it was no longer ethical to promote sustainability while still contributing to air travel.
I became a supporter of the cause later on, flying to Israel in 2020 to cover a Palestinian cycling advocacy group. Now, even if there was sudden peace, I would not be able to make a similar trip. It is extremely difficult to travel to Israel from Europe without flying and it is also challenging to reach the Antipodes from the UK without a long-distance flight, making it nearly impossible for me to take a quick trip to New Zealand or Australia.
If I were patient enough, I could travel to North America by taking one of the monthly trips on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 from Southampton to New York. However, this would not be a quick journey as it would take two weeks for a round trip (and tickets for paying passengers begin at approximately £1,000 for one-way).
Giving up flying has definitely reduced the size of my world. However, I still take long-distance journeys within Europe by using fast trains and overnight sleeper services. I also enjoy traveling by sea: I have written about train and ferry combinations to destinations such as Malta, Sardinia, and Ibiza. In addition, I had the opportunity to test a wind-powered catamaran ferry that would potentially run between Dover and Boulogne.
Surprisingly, my productivity has not been affected despite not traveling by plane. I have been able to submit articles from the European Commission in Brussels, write business stories during the Tour de France’s stop in Denmark, and attend a press event for a new electric car in Sweden. For the opening ceremony of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, I rode my bicycle from Newcastle. When I needed to return for the summit’s conclusion, I took the Caledonian Sleeper train from London.
Despite being environmentally conscious, I can’t help but feel like a poor advocate for flying-free because I haven’t been able to persuade my family to join me. Just last year, my wife took a flight to Madeira without me (as there are no ferries available to the island). Currently, as I write this, our three millennial children are all on separate trips that involve flying, to destinations such as Belgium, Dubai, and Greece.
I express dissatisfaction with their chosen method of travel (which is harmful to the planet) in a subtle manner, and they accuse me of being a hypocrite because, admittedly, I have traveled extensively by plane throughout my life. Irritated by my self-righteous comments, they claim that I am not in a position to criticize them. This is a valid argument, so I ask Maja Rosén, co-founder of We Stay on the Ground, who has not flown since 2008 and leads the global “flight-free” movement.
“I was told by her that we must reduce our emissions immediately, but she couldn’t come up with a convincing argument for my family. She suggested that there are numerous alternatives to flying for traveling the world, which is true. However, this doesn’t persuade those who have a strong desire to travel but cannot afford the expensive costs of long-distance train travel.”
Many people consider choosing to travel by train instead of flying as a form of “virtue signalling”. In fact, there is even a new Swedish term for this: tagskryt, which translates to “train bragging”. This term is used to describe individuals, myself included, who boast about their long-distance train journeys as a way to show off compared to those who fly. Despite the convenience, affordability, and inclusivity of flying, it is still the preferred method of travel for many.
Is the concept of being a digital nomad and being able to work on trains a convincing argument? It most likely isn’t, and it’s often exaggerated. Despite my intentions to be productive and write numerous articles while traveling by train, I usually end up mindlessly scrolling through my phone, much like I would on a plane. And although the scenery may be mesmerizing during the day, riding through Schleswig-Holstein at night is just as uneventful as flying over it at 30,000 feet.
The main reason I choose not to fly is because it is more environmentally friendly. Despite the overwhelming evidence that flying has negative effects on our future as a species, those who try to limit air travel are often viewed as spoilsports. However, I am content with my decision to give up flying, although I do occasionally miss the idea of being able to visit faraway places only reachable by plane. To avoid temptation, I have taught my inbox to automatically delete any travel invitations.
and author of the books “Roads Were Not Built for Cars” and “Bike Boom”.
Carlton Reid is an independent journalist who specializes in transportation and has written two books titled “Roads Were Not Built for Cars” and “Bike Boom”.