There’s an interesting narrative in airport towns such as Luton, where we live.
The airport is the biggest employer in the town and so every local politician is in favour of expansion, but it feels like there is a real hypocrisy in cheerleading for airport expansion while also supporting the town’s net zero plans.
For us, not flying, and talking about why, feels all the more important.
Some of our good friends from Luton return home to Sweden for the whole summer every year. We’ve been invited to visit their family’s farm and in the past have declined because we didn’t want to fly. But once we worked out how it could be done by train, we decided to give it a go.
For us, not flying, and talking about why, feels important.
Day one of our journey took us from Luton to Bremen in Germany via London, Brussels and Cologne. Our 9 and 11 year old had never been on the Eurostar before and couldn’t quite believe it when we came out of the tunnel and into France, just like that.
In Brussels I discovered that the wad of Euros I’d found in a drawer were not from a recent trip as I had assumed, but from a holiday in 2008 – making them severely out of date and completely useless. Not ideal when you need cash to use the station toilets. And yes dad, it is urgent.
It was about half past eight when we arrived at our hotel in Bremen, a town in the north west of Germany, about an hour outside Hamburg. It had been a long day given that we had left our home in Luton at 6.30am, so we were keen to get the kids to bed – but they love the novelty of a hotel and were buzzing.
It was interesting to think that had we flown, we would have been at our destination for several hours already. But then we would have missed out on the cities, sights and experiences along the way. We were already having a brilliant holiday and we weren’t even halfway there.
Had we flown, we would have missed out on the cities, sights and experiences along the way.
Day two saw another early start for the train to Hamburg, from where we would catch our next train to Denmark. I’m pleased to say that the Danish trains entirely lived up to the country’s reputation for good design, with comfortable seats in tasteful shades of grey and black.
We arrived in Copenhagen mid-afternoon, and were instantly surrounded by cycling culture. Everyone is on a bike, and there are bike lanes everywhere. There are exotic cargo bikes, and trikes with tiny cabins for children. Lifts go directly from the street to the underground platforms so that people can take their bikes on the metro. I found myself quietly aspiring to be Danish. Our chic modernist youth hostel had bunkbeds in sleek white pods that looked like cabins on a spaceship, which is of course excellent.
The final stage of our journey was to board the train for Sweden, on the afternoon of day three. Our friends live on a farm a left turn south of nowhere, so we found ourselves on increasingly regional railway lines. In the UK, regional lines tend to mean rickety trains, but in Sweden, every train we took was modern and spotless, even out in the countryside. Every station was well maintained and spotless too.
Everything ran on time and it felt as though the best was saved til last: the double decker train that took us on the last leg was the smartest, brightest, cleanest train I’ve ever been on. We arrived in style.
In Sweden, every train we took was modern and spotless, even out in the countryside.
The thing that everyone says about train travel is that the holiday is about the journey as well as the destination. On this trip, we definitely found that to be true. It’s a 2 hour and 10 minute flight from Stansted to the nearest regional airport of Örebro. Our journey took three days. But we saw so much more: five countries rather than one, and many experiences and memories that add to the story of our holiday.
Yes, train travel is more expensive. We can’t afford to do this regularly, especially when our 11-year-old turns 12 and no longer gets a free Interrail pass. But flying isn’t cheap either – it’s just that air passengers aren’t the ones paying the price. If we were to price in the environmental damage of flying, the comparison would be much more balanced and more of us would choose to take the train.
If we were to price in the environmental damage of flying, more of us would choose to take the train.
Taking the train was logistically complicated as well, and there were some hidden costs, such as seat reservations on top of the Interrail passes. It was hard to get reliable information at times – including from the advisor at the Deutsche Bahn customer service desk who insisted that getting from Bremen to Luton in one day wasn’t possible (it was).
The level of complexity will hopefully change as more people take an interest in long-distance train travel, and we’re satisfied to be doing our bit to help move the trend in that direction. Indeed, since our holiday, a new sleeper service to Stockholm has launched, so you can now travel our entire route in under 24 hours.