My green travelogue: A journey from Malta to the Spanish Pyrenees and back without taking the airplane

My green travelogue: A journey from Malta to the Spanish Pyrenees and back without taking the airplane
1. Introduction

Hello there, my name is Sonja, I did the internship in communications with Friends of the Earth Malta in 2022-2023.

In November 2022, I had the opportunity to participate in a training funded by ULEX and Friends of the Earth Malta. The training took place in a remote village in the mountains of Spain. Given the benchmark of two tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita per year that we need to meet if we want to protect the environment and climate for future generations, I didn’t want to get on another plane anytime soon. For this trip, I decided to stay on the water and the land.What that meant in terms of organization I found out during a real booking marathon. In the end, I booked a total of twelve different tickets for ferries, trains and buses for my outward and return journey. I was on the road for a total of two weeks, spending one week at the destination and the other week more or less on the road. The basic requirements were time, energy and personal commitment.

2. My route on the outward and return journey

I started my journey on Thursday morning when I took the ferry from Valletta to Sicily at around 8am and arrived in Salàs de Pallars in Spain on Sunday evening after a journey of about 3 000 km. From Saturday to Sunday, I spent one night in Barcelona. The return journey began on Sunday morning at around 9 am by bus to Barcelona, where I arrived at my flat in Malta on Wednesday evening after a distance of around 2 600 km. Before taking the night train from Rome to Sicily, I spent one night in Rome. For all the tickets (including some journeys I had to make by taxi) I spent about €530.

3. Green travelling means travelling slow

The main reason I did this was because I am concerned about the environment. That’s why I traded a fast but polluting plane for slower but less polluting trains, ferries, and buses. So, travelling slower and more consciously is what you do when you decide to save C02 on your travel route and use lower-emission means of transport. You will travel long distances by land and water and not by air. By slowing down the pace of travel you are able to see all the places in between instead of an airport and white clouds. While flying is rather a mode of transportation, taking a train is travelling in the truest sense of the word. The journey becomes part of your vacation, you get a better sense of the distance and the changes in culture and environment that come with it. One of the most beautiful moments on the way to Spain I had on the night train to Rome: I woke up in the morning after I got on the train in Sicily at around 8 pm. I was alone in the compartment, so I could lie down so that I could look out of the window and just enjoy the magnificent landscape of the Italian west coast.

4. Emissions during transport

Let’s move on to the main point of this journey and the motivation behind my decision to go: the greenhouse gas emissions
‘How much money have I saved?’ was the main query on my mind. The carbon footprint of several modes of transportation is compared in this graph and I used as a guide to compute my emissions. With the exception of the bus emissions, which appeared too high to me, so I did some more research on it and came up with a figure of 23g per kilometre. The image displays the results.
To compare my personal carbon footprint to the amount of CO2 that would have been released if I had taken the plane, I computed my own consumption of the gas.

5. Pros and cons

First, I will recapitulate the disadvantages before moving on to the advantages. As I mentioned earlier, I was on the road for a week, including two nights spent at two stations. So, it’s pretty obvious: travelling by car takes much longer than by plane. The second big disadvantage is money. Because it is still cheaper to get from A to B by plane than to stay on the ground during the journey. One reason is that there is still no tax on kerosene, the fuel that planes use. In total I spent around 550 euros for transportation. Another point I would like to emphasise is that the whole booking process, the planning of the trip and the trip itself require a lot of energy. I can only speak for myself, but for me it was quite stressful and exhausting. Also you are dependent on the weather since there are a lot ways you may have to walk within a city, e.g. from the harbor to the train station or your accommodation. And still you are carrying your luggage with you. So be prepared to pack as light as possible.


But let’s move on to the nicer sides: The advantages. Firstly, by using night trains you can save money on accommodation. In my case, that meant getting on the train in Sicily in the evening and arriving in Rome in the morning. In fact, I was able to sleep well on the trains. What I also really enjoyed were interesting encounters and conversations with people I met along the way. This also added to the whole experience in terms of personal growth. The whole journey was a completely new challenge for me. I was always alone on my paths and thus could not rely on anyone else – so it was a real experience that I grew from in many ways. On the trips I had a lot of time for activities like reading, listening to podcasts or music, writing and so on. I found that very relaxing to have so many hours just for me. What I also appreciated about the trip is that I really felt how long I was on the road. I felt the sense of distance because I was moving slower as I explored the changing landscape. Green travel is also a good opportunity for sightseeing and visiting cities. You can see several cities or countries in a short time. Last but not least, and this is the reason why I did it, is of course the ecological footprint. You consume less CO2 emissions than by plane, so you feel you have done less harm to the environment.

6. Conclusion and advice

There are a few things I would like to tell you before you book tickets and go to Spain. If you have a travel partner, set off together. This way you can split up the planning, save time and energy. In between, it’s nice to talk about what you’ve experienced or have a shoulder to lean on. During my preparations, I also booked each ticket individually, which cost me a lot of time and nerves. But there is also the option of booking an Interrail ticket. However, not all companies participate and in some countries you still have to make seat reservations. Depending on the route, it can be cheaper. There are also portals where you can book entire routes. So do your research and compare prices and routes.

In case you’re wondering, who has that much time ‘just’ to get from A to B. Try to concentrate on the individual stages, stay longer in places you particularly like and to which you won’t return so quickly. Take the chance for a holiday. Instead of planning and flying four or five short holidays a year, travel once or twice more sustainably and take more time for each stage. One last thing I must mention: It was a privilege to make such a trip. That is the critical moment and one thing I often had to think about on the way. My trip was funded by ULEX and Friends of the Earth Malta. It was under these circumstances that I was able to afford it. Besides, the journey there and back took a week in total. Not everyone has that much time and energy. But if you have these privileges, you should use them and do without the plane. I learned a lot about myself, about my limits, I saw a lot and I grew beyond my limits.

7. ULEX training

Finally, I would like to share my experience with the ULEX training itself.

I would describe it in four words:

  • Learning: During the week in the Spanish Pyrenees, we learned from such dedicated trainers on a theoretical level how powerful narratives and stories can be in everyday life. By developing effective stories, ourselves, we put it into practice in groups or in individual work.
  • Growing: Meanwhile, I had many interpersonal encounters and often reached my psychological limits. I have learned from other movements and how they fight for climate justice.
  • Sharing: We all shared our stories and our experiences with each other. Nevertheless, there was enough space for everyone.
  • Listening: We always listened to each other, especially when we weren’t feeling well. All this was possible because we had such wonderful facilitators who had made the framework for all this possible.

This experience taught me how powerful it can be when different movements come together through curiosity, solidarity, and love.

Donate now!