In the times of “work from home” it’s worth to have a look back and appreciate all the past travel experiences of ours, and perhaps dream a little bit of some upcoming ones! (Dreaming is not restricted yet, right?;) Some of our student’s experiences are especially noticeable, as they reached their Erasmus Exchange destinations by… train! I decided to interview one of such students, our former DA Dasha who is now finishing her degree in Nutrition Science.
Let us start! Dasha, why did you decide to take a train to reach your Erasmus travel destination, and where was it, exactly?
Dasha: Oh, I decided to do it primarily for environmental reasons! As the „flygskam“ movement was growing, I became more conscious of my personal environmental footprint and started to evaluate and plan my travels more carefully. I was surprised to find out that, for example, a Brussels–Stockholm return flight emits 0.42 tonnes of CO2 and a Brussels to New York return journey emits 1.9 tonnes flights are clearly a large part of an individual’s emissions. To put things into perspective, the data from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency suggests that the average Swede has a footprint of ca 10 tonnes of CO2 per year, of which ca 2 tonnes are directly linked to transport emissions and ca 2 tonnes in food emissions, such as food waste and meat-heavy diets. A return flight between Stockholm and New York emits ca 2 tonnes. I was going to Madrid, not to New York, haha, so I decided that I can and should do that for the sake of the environment! And I genuinely enjoyed it =)
Aleksandra: Oh wow! This sounds exciting. How long did the whole journey take then? Did you make many stops, or stayed in some city overnight?
Dasha: I evaluated different options using Interrail’s official app „RailPlanner“, which has the option to see the „fastest“ route. If I remember correctly, it had multiple changes (very short changes, like 7-20 minutes for some), and the journey would take 36h hours in total. However, I wanted to take it easy and see some cities along the way. A friend of mine, one very experienced „Interrail-lady“ helped me to find the best possible route and viola! 3 days and 2 nights, which seemed like a plan to me, so I made a booking and was good to go (at least that’s what I thought xD)
Aleksandra: It seems like one needs to put a lot of time and effort into planning! Doesn’t it also become more expensive than just buying a direct flight ticket?
Dasha: Luckily, we get an additional travel grant of 2000 SEK (around 200 EUR) from Erasmus+ (EU) of we decide to get to our Erasmus exchange or Traineeship destination by train. A direct flight ticket from Stockholm to Madrid would cost me about 140 EUR, whereas the cheapest Interrail pass (5 days in 1 month, plus fast & traceable delivery and/or pass protection), is also 200 EUR. Thus, the extra-money covers the Interrail pass itself, but one needs to pay the food, the hostels. For me, 2 nights in cheaper hostels near the train stations (around 20-25 EUR/night), and food (3-7 EUR/sandwich, and extra for endless coffees :D) resulted in additional 70-75 EUR spent over 3 days or so? Oh, I also forgot to mention, that some trains require an additional seat reservation. As you can see from my Excel sheet, I tried to mostly take national trains in Sweden, Denmark and Germany, but in France and Spain I had to make additional reservations, 20 & 40 EUR each (better to do it beforehand, at least 1 week prior to the travel, via the internet!). Thus, the whole journey cost me maybe 130 or 150 (I went to a „fancier“ dinner place in Avignon). So, around 350 EUR in total, 200 of which are covered by this „extra train travel allowance“ from the EU. Not much more expensive than the 140 EUR flight, if you think about it!
Aleksandra: This is good to know for the students with a limited budget! In theory, a more climate-smart option shouldn’t be the more expensive one, what do you say?
Dasha: Exactly and my experience with the Interrail trip Stockholm-Madrid suggests that it is quite comparable! Although is more about the journey as a whole =D
Aleksandra: What was the most special thing about this train trip across Europe? I bet there were many!
Dasha: Oh yes! It is indeed very different from just taking a 4-hour plane flight. It is more stressful, as you have more chances where one train will be delayed, and you will miss the next one. You get physically tired from carrying your big backpack (I only travelled with 1!) everywhere you go. You can get lost and not find your platform on time, can get robbed if you’re not careful enough, and will spend more time „on the road“. However… this time „on the road“ is fantastic! You get to enjoy incredible views along the way, such different ones in cold Sweden and sunny Spain! You can spend some time in a new city, or catch up with some old friends! Did that in Frankfurt, where 2 of my friends from the Bachelors (they’re now studying in Heidelberg) came to have a walk and lunch together. It was literally the highlight of the whole trip, and wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t „casually passing by“ with my train 😀 I also met some awesome people on the train and at my hostel’s pub, and these unexpected conversations one also very fun and enjoyable! Most of the trains I took, like DSB/DB in Germany and SNCF in France-Spain also had a stable internet connection, so I could work and read stuff for my thesis project on the way! The seats are much more comfortable that on the plane for sure, and the very first night train Stockholm-Malmö was also OK!
Aleksandra: this sounds very interesting! Were there any unexpected „bumps on the road“?
Dasha: oh yes haha, like with every journey! On my night train to Malmö, there was a drunk and sad man who started (very loudly) complaining about his life in the corridor in the middle of the night. The police took him out in Helsingborg, but because of this incident, our train was delayed, and I almost missed the connection to the train to Copenhagen…but made it in just 3 minutes! Felt like a quite an accomplishment I must say :DD
Aleksandra: Wow! Quite an adventure indeed…But despite some accidents, would you do this train trip again and recommend this experience to other future Erasmus students?
Dasha: Definitely! It might not be 100% as you expect it to go, but will certainly bring you many special memories and unforgettable moments – all the views you get to enjoy, new interesting people you meet, beautiful cities you get to see are totally worth it! Not to mention you’re saving the Earth, so it’s a double-win! I loved it and would certainly do it again!
Aleksandra: Thank you for your story! I didn’t think about travelling around Europe by train. It used to be the only option back home and I must say that 23 hours journey was exhausting. Maybe I’ll change my mind next time 😉