Interrailing has been on my bucket list since high school – the idea of an adventure on tracks felt so intriguing! But it wasn’t until IPCC published the Global warming of 1.5 ºC report in 2018 that I came to think of the environmental benefits of switching flights to train travel.
I’ve studied environmental and sustainability science for six years now, and it has made me more and more conscious about my consumption of food and fast fashion. The climate impact of flying on the other hand didn’t really grab my attention until last year. The IPCC’s report, and the public discussion it sparked on aviation, got me to reflect on my own travel habits.
I was also very inspired by my Spark colleague Felicia, who is a real role model when it comes to slow traveling. Her trip all the way from England to the Canary Islands by train and ferry sounded so cool I suggested to my boyfriend Valtteri we’d do something similar. As he shares the same values as I do, he got really excited about the idea of traveling by land, and so it was decided: we would skip flying on our next trip!
Two tickets to adventure, please!
We started the planning by visiting the recently established Finnish website on traveling by land, Maata pitkin. I had been dreaming about Venice for a long time, so we typed Italy as the country of destination, and the website showed us all the information we needed at that point: travel time, different route alternatives, a cost estimation, and where to get the seat tickets that are sometimes needed in addition to the interrail pass. We were astonished by the fact that it only takes two days to travel from Finland to Italy by land! So, that became our destination.
As we headed to the Helsinki Central Railway Station to buy our interrail passes a week later, we had no practical plan whatsoever. We reasoned that as soon as we actually bought the tickets, there would be no turning back, and we would simply have to get things done.
This proved to be a good strategy! We both got super motivated to start planning the trip in more detail – which was surprisingly time consuming, mainly because we were both first-timers and had no clue where to start. Luckily, we had friends who had recently been interrailing in Europe and both of them recommended an app called Rail Planner, which would “make interrailing almost a bit too easy”. We downloaded the app and entered Helsinki as the place of departure and Venice as the destination. After a few seconds, the app had literally planned the entire route for us, including all the timetables, where to switch trains, and a list of all the trains to which we would need to buy an extra seat ticket. With that info, we could easily take care of the rest of the bookings and start looking forward to the trip itself!
It’s not the destination, it’s the train trip
We loved Italy! Venice was everything and more than I imagined it to be. Still, the place I really fell in love with was Tuscany, and I’m already dreaming of going back one day.
But the best part was the interrail itself: the feeling of freedom when carrying everything you need in a backpack, the shabby night trains, and buying yummy food and snacks at every pit stop. Not to mention those lovely encounters with fellow travelers! For example, in the night train from Stockholm to Hässleholm we shared our bunk with four Indians. They were so nice and time really flew by as we sat there talking with them about everything from IT to Lapland.
I was surprised by how effortless interrailing in Europe is and how easy it was to switch trains at every stop along the way, no matter the country. The challenging part was booking the seat tickets – it’s discouraging when you have to buy them separately for some of the trains, in addition to the interrail passes. But the Rail planner app shows you all the trains where a seat ticket is mandatory. Buying one might make your travel more comfortable also on trains where they are optional. For example, in the train from Hamburg to Munich we didn’t have seat tickets, and ended up having to change seats four times. At times we had to sit on the floor – although that was actually pretty fun!
The one thing that made the trip feel particularly meaningful was the fact that I got this amazing experience with a smaller climate footprint. I was able to travel and enjoy my first summer holiday in a long time in a less polluting way, with the trip’s emissions being less than a third of what they would’ve been if we’d traveled by plane. My mission with the trip was also to raise awareness about the environmental impacts of traveling and I wanted to inspire others to try out climate-smarter ways of seeing the world.
Now that I’ve discovered interrailing, I’ll definitely travel more by land in the future. This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop flying for good, but I’ll avoid unnecessary flying. I have already stopped making short trips or weekend getaways by plane, and I know that if and when I fly in the future, those occasions are going to be well considered and planned. I also made a deal with myself that from now on, when I travel, I’m going to do at least every other trip by land. I’ve already got my eyes set on Greece for my next adventure!”
Jasmin’s tips for smooth train travelling
Useful websites and apps for trip planning:
- The Rail Planner App
- The Maata pitkin website (in Finnish)
- The Seat61 website
- The Facebook group Maata pitkin matkustavat (in Finnish)
- The Facebook group Tågsemester (in Swedish)
- Seat tickets are mainly needed on cross-border or high-speed trains, and they can be booked through the railway companies. You can also book seat tickets from interrail.eu, but the site charges about 3€ per purchase.
- The prices of seat tickets range from 5€ to 20€ (for example couchettes/beds in night trains are more expensive than normal seat tickets).
- If you’re traveling from Finland and wish to go through Sweden, I recommend to use Viking Grace as a ferry option. It has lower emissions compared to other available options because it runs on liquefied natural gas, and it also has a wind sail that reduces fuel consumption somewhat. Viking Grace leaves from Turku port. If you prefer to travel by land through the Baltics and need to use ferry between Tallinn and Helsinki, Tallink M/S Megastar runs on liquefied natural gas, too.
- Another possibility is to travel with a cargo ship. This is definitely something I want to try out next time!
Recommended train change times:
- I definitely recommend to reserve at least 30 minutes between trains, especially if you have never traveled by train in Europe before. Also, be critical with the changes that the Rail planner app suggests, since the connection times can be unrealistic. Use common sense when planning your trip!