Giving up air travel is a positive step to reducing your carbon footprint. But it doesn’t have to mean giving up travelling or never going abroad. In fact, flight-free travel can turn getting around into an adventure all of its own, says complementary therapist and charity worker Linda Jones, who shares her account of travelling to Malta by train. 

I’m sitting on a train, looking out of the window with amazement. I knew this was coming but hadn’t really understood what it would feel like. Up above, the sky is a bright blue and it feels like a long time since we left Naples, early this morning. A loud crunching noise beneath me sounds a bit alarming, but strangely, though I’m an anxious sort, I feel peaceful. We are being loaded onto a ferry. Not just me and my fellow passengers, but the whole train, divided into two parts. We’re going to cross the Straits of Messina to Sicily.

Travelling across Europe - without planes

When I was invited to give a workshop in Malta, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to make it. How could I get to Malta without flying? But I checked with the no-fly traveller’s best friend, the Man in Seat Sixty-One, who told me it could be done in 2 or 3 days. I would have to travel by train, ferry, train on ferry, and catamaran.

The journey started in London, where I took the Eurostar to Paris. This part of the journey is almost always comfortable and easy. Once I get started on a train journey, I don’t like to stay in hotels en route, as for me that spoils the atmosphere. But this time, I was going to have to spend at least one night in Siracuse, on Sicily. The Man in Seat 61 suggested a night in Milan as well, but I decided on a sleeper. I booked a single so that I wouldn’t have to share. Bliss!

I travelled by the amazing Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) train in Italy as far as Naples, reaching a top speed of 300 kilometres an hour, but from then on it was local trains, generally travelling at about a tenth of that speed. The hardest part of the journey was the shortest! It’s just 40 miles from Siracuse to Pozzallo, where you catch the catamaran to Valletta. Trains are irregular, and the station is a long walk from the ferry port. However, you do pass fields full of lemon trees and get to see all the latest in Italian graffiti on the old train stock in the sidings.

After just 90 minutes on the catamaran, I step off onto the historic island of Malta, where I look forward to trying out the local buses and water taxis during my week here, before turning round and trying a different route home.

A more flexible attitude to travel

Some of the possible routes suggested by Seat 61 from London to Malta

Flight-free travel takes an adjustment in your mindset. But I love the way that it's possible to get right across Europe by train or bus.

I always use Loco2 to book my tickets as they’re really flexible and, knowing your own frailties and the vagaries of all railways, you can choose tickets that leave plenty of leeway at stations where you’re going to have to change trains. Some people might find that frustrating, getting somewhere early and having to wait for your next train. All I can say is that I prefer to taste a coffee on a station in Milan than have to hurdle an Italian grandma’s suitcases and push toddlers out of the way in order not to miss my connection.

Packing light

I also pack as light as I possibly can – who wants to heave massive suitcases up and down escalators all day? I always take a Kindle and a power pack to recharge devices as my luxury, but otherwise only insurance, tickets, medication and passport as essentials in my handbag. I pack my clothes and shoes in a rucksack. That way I don’t need to unpack the whole rucksack just to find my earplugs.

Going Flight Free

Flying to your destination has a big impact on the planet. A plane burns around 10,500 kg of fuel for a 500km journey. This is about the distance between London and Edinburgh,  - which releases around 33 tonnes of CO2. –So  rail, boat and bus can offer fantastic alternatives.

Travel can put a great deal of stress on your immune system, and air travel in particular subjects your body to temperature and air pressure changes, not to mention breathing in the same recycled air for several hours.

By contrast, taking a train can give you a chance to unwind, sit back and experience some amazing views as you travel from country to country - or space and comfort to get some work done on business trips.

It’s time for all of us to rethink our travel plans. But the adventure doesn’t need to end here. 

Find out how you could take a flight-free holiday and plan your journey at The Man in Seat Sixty-One.


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