TRAIN-ING TO ITALY
By Natascha van Bommel — As I am writing this, I just got off the bus from Osimo to Ancona. I am now in the train from Ancona to Milano, after which I will take the train to Basel. Then I will travel to Köln, and then to Utrecht. This is a beautiful train trail! It goes along the East coast of Italy, through the Dolomites, and through the Swiss Alps – I’m feeling holiday vibes :). Also, I had some intense research days, and it is good to be ‘trapped’ in this train and collect my thoughts.
“To be completely honest, I am a bit shocked about the ease with which many other researchers and professionals working on sustainability are flying around within the European borders”.
Avoiding air travels
My main reason for choosing this mode of transport is not that I like to collect thoughts when I am trapped in a train – it is that I want to avoid travelling by plane. My PhD research is related to sustainable energy systems. Therefore it feels hypocritical to fly for my research, especially when I travelling within Europe. To be completely honest, I am a bit shocked about the ease with which many other researchers and professionals working on sustainability are flying around within the European borders.
It is quite clear for me why I do not want to travel by plane. Nevertheless I still found it difficult to decide that I would mainly travel over land for work. In this blog I will give you an idea of my main considerations and decision process. I hope it will help you to make a conscious decision about your future travels as well.
Different priorities in leisure or work trips
First things first: this is not new to me. In seven years, I have only once taken the plane – I try to avoid it as much as I can. This did not stop me from traveling, so I have some experience with taking buses and trains to different parts of Europe. I love travelling over land, and not only because this allows me to avoid the plane. I love to see the landscape change, and the adventurous feeling of being on a journey.
Also, it is a lot more comfortable in my opinion. You can walk around a little bit, often there is a restaurant on the longer train trails, there is more leg space, and you can reach all of your luggage at any moment. A bonus is that you also have enough space to do some work. It is possible to use your laptop, read some papers, or make a call, and there is often an electricity plug so that you can charge the device on which you are working.
“For some reason it was tempting to book a plane ticket and be home in time for my friends’ birthday.”
While I just started as a PhD student, I have noticed that my priorities slightly change if I have to travel for work. It almost goes without saying for me that I will travel over land for holiday purposes. Nevertheless, if I travel for research, I initially want it to be as efficient and as ‘easy’ as possible. With efficient, I mean that I want to get the most out of my trip, in the shortest time-frame possible, to be back home as soon as possible. For a holiday trip, it seems inevitable to miss things at home, and I never really worry about that. However, for this research trip, I for instance missed my close friends’ birthday because I traveled by train. This might seem silly, but for some reason it was tempting to book a plane ticket and be home in time for my friends’ birthday.
Easy and efficient travelling
With traveling ‘easy’, I mean that whether I travel to attend meetings, a conference, or to conduct research, I want to be well-rested and sharp when I arrive at my travel destination. Travelling by land can take a lot more time, and it can be quite tiring to travel for a long time. While it could have taken me about 7 hours in total to go to Osimo, it now took me 21 hours. Also, because traveling over land can take more time, it is difficult to make the trip efficient – I need some time to rest after a 21 hour trip, and thus I need extra time for my trip.
This is also the main reason that I was hesitant to ask my supervisor if it would be ok if I took the train instead of the plane. Travelling over land not only takes longer, but also it is often more expensive than traveling by plane. Therefore, in my head it was a big deal to say that I did not want to fly for work. Especially as I just started my PhD. However, the reaction of my supervisor was very positive. This meant that I could start planning my travel over land. In the end, I even think my total travel costs were similar to what they would have been when I traveled by plain.
“My fear is that people stop taking me seriously as a researcher and start seeing me as an activist or a hippie.”
There is one completely different reason for me to doubt my decision. As I started working now, I am very self-conscious about how I present myself. Especially since I sometimes do feel like I am relatively young, and maybe even because I am a woman, I really want to emphasize that I am a professional. In my day to day life, I make many decisions based on whether or not it is sustainable. My fear is that people stop taking me seriously as a researcher and start seeing me as an activist or a hippie.
Travelling 21 hours by train to Italy might be perceived as extreme by some. I know that my colleagues and my supervisor will take me seriously even if they think it is extreme. However, I feel that other professionals that I have to work with might perceive me as less professional due to my choice to use alternative travel modes.
Time, money, the feeling of being demanding, and the fear of not being taken seriously, those were the main reasons for me to doubt about what I should do. However, I am very happy that I traveled by train for this research trip: it has been a good experience. I am quite certain that, for future work trips within Europe, I will continue to travel over land. I planned my trip well: it was still quite efficient and the travelling was not too tiring. Also, I decided to enjoy it as much as possible instead of stressing out about the trip being efficient. In the end, I have traveled 2800 km by train in less than a week. The realization that I traveled this amount of kilometers made it a lot easier to allow myself to take some time for this travel.
In the next blog, I will discuss some tips and tricks for travelling over land when you are on a work trip. Additionally I will share some of my mistakes: for warned is forearmed 😊.