The LCT team on tour!

The LCT team on tour!

In this blog, Laura, Irene, Tessa, Simon, Lotte and myself (Natascha) – all part of the low carbon travel initiative – share some of our experiences with traveling for our work at the TU/e (or other employers). We highlight the motivations, pros and cons and tips to overcome (perceived) barriers. We all sometimes need to travel for work: ranging from visits to conferences, workshops, summer schools, fieldwork sites to project meetings. Already when planning these trips, we try and consider sustainable modes of travelling to reach these destinations – with varying success ?. 

Why do we do this? 

First and foremost, and straight to the point: the climate crisis. As Tessa states: “The climate crisis is now, and we need to act.” There are some clear practical benefits to traveling with a sustainable mode of travelling. It is, for example, easier and more comfortable to work in a train than on a plane. Also, it is more convenient to take all the luggage that you need with you, especially when sharing an electric car with your colleagues. Laura shares that for one of her visits to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility to do measurements, she and her colleagues took an electric car “as this was convenient for transporting lots of samples and chemicals”. Another practical benefit is that trains and buses often depart and arrive in the heart of the city so a commute to the airport is not necessary: “if you are lucky, you have no stopovers and arrive in the middle of your city of destination!” says Irene. These practical and pleasure-related benefits make travelling low carbon often an attractive and excellent option. But sometimes it is despite inconvenience and discomfort that we still choose trains, buses, bikes, and electric cars over planes. Simply to limit the climate impact of our trips. 

An added benefit, next to the environmental and practical benefits of choosing a sustainable mode of travel, is that most of us very much enjoy travelling over land, because of the nice landscapes. Lotte explained that she took the train to Stockholm because she was conducting fieldwork: “the views from the train were magnificent”. Simon adds to this that the train “is very comfortable to sit in” 

 

Picture taken during one of Irene’s conference trips to Denmark: travelling by train 

 

Picture taken from Milan to Zürich, before getting on the Night Jet to Utrecht, by Tessa 

What do we dislike about low-carbon travelling?  

Despite some clear benefits to low-carbon travelling, of which limiting our climate impact is most important, there are some disadvantages of travelling over land as well. Connections get missed, the train schedule is not always reliable, it sometimes is a very long sit, it can be chaotic and an administrative burden when a train gets cancelled, or a connection is missed to get the money back. This didn’t stop us planning trips with multiple connections: to Tuscany, Dublin, Madrid, Osimo, Milan, Manchester, and Stockholm, for example. Nevertheless, these issues can make travelling low-carbon quite stressful and difficult. 

Do we always choose a sustainable mode of travel?  

Some of us, like Simon, have consistently taken a sustainable mode of travel when travelling for work. However, for some trips, especially to destinations outside of Europe, it can be very difficult to plan in such a way that we limit the climate impact of this trip. Lotte for example attended a conference in Chicago, for which she took an airplane. However, it is also possible to find a middle ground between convenience, cost, and low carbon travelling. 

 

Picture taken by Lotte, a sleeping carriage in a Scandinavian train 

How do we deal with the complications of low-carbon travelling?  

One great tip given by Lotte is to book overnight trains when possible. These trains, especially when they arrive at your destination, can be wonderfully comfortable: the picture above shows a sleeping carriage that she spent the night in during a private trip in Scandinavia. As you stay in the train overnight, the trip seems shorter and a bit more comfortable.  

Also, when a destination is too far to reach by land, or too expensive for the budget that we have, we look to find a middle ground. Tessa for example travelled to Dublin for a conference which was a long and expensive journey involving the train, a boat, and a Flixbus. She got out of the Flixbus at 1 in the morning, to sail on massive waves for two hours, to arrive “totally wrecked for a full day of conference in Dublin”. She took the plane back home, both because of convenience, and because of costs: her (previous) boss paid for it, and she did not want to spend that much money on her conference trip.  

Another example of seeking middle ground is to avoid certain travels. Part of Natascha’s fieldwork is taking place in the Sundarbans in India. Instead of taking a few short trips of a couple of weeks, she decided to go only once or twice, and spend a longer period in the area. She still opted to take a plane there and back. An advantage of making a longer trip as opposed to some short ones was that she could immerse herself in the context completely. A disadvantage, however, was that due to Covid-19, she had to wait quite a long time to gather empirical data in her Indian case study. This could have been avoided if she had already travelled to India in year 1 of my research project for only a few weeks.  

Train ride through Switzerland, picture taken by Natascha 

To make low carbon travelling more enjoyable and more accessible for TU/e employees, we as the low carbon initiative are formulating ideas and recommendations. Please stay tuned if you want to be updated! Additionally, we are very interested in your experiences and ideas about low carbon travelling. How do you approach planning your trip for work? What is keeping you from travelling with a low climate impact? What would make low-carbon travelling for work more accessible for you? Let us know, for example by sending an e-mail to lowcarbon.travel@tue.nl!