The Downsides of Travelling Green

As someone who is passionate about travelling green, I regularly seek ways in which to travel that pose as little effect on the environment as possible. Where I am currently based however in the UK, it seems to make less and less sense to travel green, both financially and in terms of journey time. Travelling green when you don’t have a lot of time to get to a destination can often be out of the question, and for a budget traveller it can sometimes be impossible! Something needs to change to make it more beneficial for people to travel in an environmentally friendly way. Below are some of the downsides to travelling green at present:

The Expense

Certainly in Western Europe, it is much cheaper to travel by less environmentally friendly methods such as flying. Even domestically, on short distances, where you would expect to be able to travel cheaply on public transport, it is often much cheaper and quicker to take a flight, the UK being particularly bad for this. For instance, I will be flying from Glasgow to London’s Luton Airport next week for business. The distance covered for that journey is around 383 miles (616km). A return flight from Glasgow to Luton Airport at this time is around 85 gbp including taxes. A train for the same journey, taking 4.5 hours longer costs around 200 gbp. Even when I add the cost of a 40 minute taxi from Luton Airport to where I am going (as I am restricted by time for public transport when I get there), it will still cost me much less than travelling by train. With such a saving to be made, and the fact I will get to my end destination in a total of 2 -3 hours including check in time (as apposed to 5 – 6 hours by train), it simply would not make sense to go by train. Even if I was to travel by long distance coach, I wouldn’t make much of a saving on this particular journey, and it would take me about 12 hours to get there instead of the 2 to 3 hours by plane and taxi. A journey by coach/bus would cost around 60-80gbp for a return, but aside from the added 7 to 8 hours to my journey I would also have to change buses a total of 4 times, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as comfortable as a plane, and there isn’t enough of a saving to really make it more beneficial. The expense of travelling green is a major factor in why most people choose alternative options, and it is definitely one of the main downsides if you have chosen to travel in this way.

Comfort

Until they invent an eco plane, or make travel by train much quicker, the fact that an aeroplane can get you to your destination so much quicker means that the greener modes of transport are at a distinct disadvantage where comfort is concerned. The more hours you are sitting in a seat trying to get to your destination, the more uncomfortable it is. Trains do at least allow you to get up and walk about as you want, and if the price was better here in the UK and the rest of Europe I would travel by train much more, but at the end of the day a plane gets you there much quicker. The less time you spend actually travelling to your destination (and by travelling I mean on a mode of transport, not the general term associated with backpacking etc) then the more time you have to enjoy your trip, and the less discomfort from travelling long distances.

Time

As I mentioned previously above, departing by greener methods of travel usually means adding more hours to your journey time. If you don’t have a set time to be somewhere by, then you can easily get around this and make a lot of stop offs. In fact, this can actually add to your trip as you may discover great places you wouldn’t have otherwise, but there will be times that you will have a set time limit to get to your destination. Whether it’s for business, you’re meeting someone, or you only have so much time off work. Regardless of the reason, many of us have commitments that mean we simply can not travel by greener modes, or it would cause serious inconvenience to our trip if we delayed it so. Advancements such as the Bullet Train in Japan pose great opportunities for alternatives to flying that are equally fast and comfortable, but until these positive advancements are produced more widely around the world, we are unfortunately left with this great downside to travelling green.

Travelling green is something I am particularly passionate about, and I always try to travel in ways that are better for the environment when I can. However, when it comes down to it, I will always choose travel over travelling green. If I have to get to a destination fast, or there is a huge difference in price, then I will always choose that option, because that difference in price or saving in time could allow me to travel longer, or meet commitments I could not otherwise. I hope one day there will be options available to us all that allow people to travel environmentally in a way that is affordable, comfortable, and fast. Until then however, travellers will continually have to make that choice between what’s best for the planet, or what’s best for their travels?

13 Responses to “The Downsides of Travelling Green”

  1. Ant Stone says:

    I think you’ve been brave to cover this topic!

    I think much of the importance of travelling green isn’t only in the action of travelling (i.e. getting on a plane), it’s in the idea of travelling. I believe you need to plan ahead, travelling last minute isn’t conducive with travelling green, but you can achieve the same budget.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but before I left the UK in 2007 you could book a train ticket in advance from London to Edinburgh for around £18. It just took a little planning.

    Things certainly need to change to make things easier for everyone (including the environment), but most of all people need to make a conscious choice and try to change the destructive attitude of many travellers today.

    • jane says:

      Thanks! I realise it’s probably an unfashionable thing to say right now, but as much as I want to travel green, in the world we live in we also have to consider price and the practicalities too. That being said, I will more often than not choose to travel by train instead of plane when I can. It was just really brought home to me today when I had to book transport for a business meeting down south at reasonably short notice, and comparing the difference in time frame it was just not practical to travel by coach (as I wouldn’t get there in time), and the price difference was so great compared to train travel that the only sensible way to get where I wanted to be was by plane.

      It made me realise that in the real world where people can only take so much time off work, or have to travel on a stict budget, many might be forced to face the question of travelling by less environmentally friendly methods (budget flights etc), or not travel at all. As much as I would love people to travel green all the time, I can now understand why a lot of people don’t.

      Train travel in the UK is extortionate, especially if you have to book short notice. Usually with about a month in advance you can get a ticket for around £40-60 from Edinburgh to London. I think you may be thinking of long distance bus/coach which is much more affordable. Megabus and National Express do really cheap journey’s running between all major cities in the UK. I’ve travelled for £5 from Edinburgh to London with Megabus before which is great! Unfortunately though these tend to be promotional offers, so you don’t get them all year round, and it also take around 12 hours on the bus, compared with 5 hours on the train, or just over 1 hour on the plane. Usually, I will just come down to London the night before which allows me to take the more green but much longer bus service, however sometimes you may have to be somewhere last minute from time to time, and at present there is nothing that competes with air travel in the UK for those instances.

      🙂

  2. Ant Stone says:

    No it was definitely train; it was called the GNER Advanced ticket, but I seem to remember someone telling me GNER no longer operate that line.

    You might enjoy this article which your fellow Scot, Jools of He Thought of Trains brought to my attention: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/blog/2009/oct/21/train-travel-myth-reality

    • jane says:

      @Ant Actually now you mention GNER I do vaguely remember something about cheap tickets a while back, however there is nothing like that anymore as far as I can see.

      Great article by Jools! Maybe it’s just us Scots being to stingy to pay extra for a fare haha

      @Melissa Thanks! I do feel like its something that needs to be said, and I hope that travel companies eventually cop on to the fact that people are interested in travelling green, but not when they have to pay a fortune to do so!

      Will check out your blog post when it’s up! 🙂

  3. Melissa says:

    Hi Jane! I think you are brave to cover this topic but you said things that definitely need to be said. I get so sick of hearing about carbon offsetting (um hello, humans are carbon based-creatures), keeping your impact small, and everything else that goes along with “green” travel, when in fact so much of what is green is designed as a sales point. I wrote the first in a series of posts about green on my blog last week. The second should be forthcoming and includes common sense things to do that won’t be a huge inconvenience or drain on your pocketbook, so check it out if you have time. And I agree, until there are reasonable options available, choosing travel over traveling green is the way to go. Great post!

  4. Ross says:

    I believe National Express run the old GNER line but I am pretty sure I read that since I left even they gave up on that. Who runs it now Jane? I have a funny feeling the goverment took it back.

    The cheapest you could get a ticket to EDI-LON was 45GBP. If you booked 3 weeks in advance.

  5. jade says:

    I completely agree with you. (I’ve taken the train ride and a plane both ways , and i’ve always found the plane ride to be cheaper. )

    As far as traveling for business- what company is willing to pay employees for all that extra travel expense and time to be green? Unfortunately, in many business settings money outweighs being green- not like that’s anything to be proud of, but the way of the world.

    And, BTW- that bus ride sounds like it would be awful! 4 transfers and 12 hours- ugh. I would say at this time compromise is what most are able to give to be green. Ride the plane, but try and green the rest of your travel while in the city.

  6. Ross says:

    I’ve done that bus journey many times and can mean an extra evening in Edinburgh or London. Last train either way is at 5pm.

    If you are at a concert/show/football match it is still possible to get home that night without having to pay expensive accommodation.

    A bottle of red wine and some sleeping pills before hand does the trick.

    http://www.newadventuresinbackpacking.com/?p=221

  7. Keith says:

    Traveling green won’t be a common and affordable option until the oil companies either don’t control world economies or move into green technologies. It’s a sad fact that greed is trumping the future of our world.

  8. jane says:

    @Ross Yeah, as far as I am aware the government took it back.

    @Jade I’m with you. I’ll try travel green when I can, but when there is a huge difference in price or there are time restraints then there really is only one option at present.

    @Keith I think governments should make incentives for companies who offer affordable green methods of travel. There needs to be something to get the ball rolling…

    @Ant That’s just prices from £13. For instance, if I was to book a ticket for today it would cost me around £150 – £200. So for someone who has to be somewhere last minute, or can’t book far in advance, there still is no real benefit.

  9. Hi Jane, I agree the price of train tickets vs plane tickets is very frustrating and it’s great to see so many comments on this side of things. As for the time issue, what about the Caledonian sleeper? I admit it is often more expensive than a standard ticket (although there are bargain births available at £19 one way which are available from 12 weeks in advance). The train actually takes longer than a standard route but your “real travel time” is about 30 mins to 1hr seeing that you will be asleep the rest of the time! This means you can get to London from Scotland for a 10am meeting without having to get up at 5am. Better still you could have your meeting at 8am and have the rest of the day to spare.

  10. I think it’s crazy how much more expensive it has become traveling by train than flying! How come the airlines can push their prices lower and lower, and the train companies do the complete opposite? I really try to travel greener, but when it costs 3 times as much and takes the double amount of time getting to a place, it’s almost silly choosing that option.
    It’s really too bad, because I believe that if the prices were close to the same (or lower) people would choose the greener option, even if it takes a little longer.
    To my mind it makes no sense that it would be cheaper backpacking around Europe by plane, but that seems to be the reality…
    Great post, thanks!!!!

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