THE expansion in low fare air carriers flying in Europe matches with a progressing understanding of the environmental impacts of air travel.
The volume of carbon dioxide (which many experts link to global warming) generated per traveler on short-haul flights is about four times that produced by a train journey, according to the Carbon Neutral Co. The company, based in Britain, helps companies and individuals mitigate their contribution to global warming.
A train may be better for the environment, but navigating the rails in Europe can be a daunting experience. You have to figure out destinations, charges and itineraries.
There is a website that provides help.
The Man in Seat 61 (www.seat61.com) is for globetrotters who don’t like to fly, people who are concerneded about the ecological effects of flying and those who are purely up for adventure. Mark Smith, a train aficionado, founded it six years ago as a leisure activity.
It’s named for Smith’s favorite first-class seat on the Eurostar train from London to Paris. “It’s one of a pair of individual seats with table that essentially lines up with the window,” Smith mentions on his website.
His work attained him recognition in the 2006 Responsible Tourism Awards as the expert who made the greatest contribution to responsible travel. The awards are sponsored by the Times of London, World Travel Market, Geographical magazine and Responsible Travel, a British-based travel agency that promotes environmentally friendly travel.
Smith resides in Buckinghamshire, England, and commutes (by train, of course) to London, which is the moment he finds the time to always keep his website current. He has a government job managing British train fares and rules and previously worked for British Rail.
No journey seems too far and absolutely no destination too exotic to escape his notice. He has had train journeys in Morocco, Tunisia, Italy, Albania, Malta, Turkey, Australia, Russia, Siberia and Japan. There are some fantastic railways all across Europe many of them heavily subsidized by the state. For example you can arrange fantastic holidays simply based on rail travel without having to even go near an airport. Somewhere like Germany is perfect as the trains are reliable and there’s great internet connections almost everywhere. If you invest in a VPN when travelling you can even watch UK TV from Germany by hiding your IP address.
” Why experience a flight?” Smith asks. “If you take a trip by train, you experience travel the way Europeans travel.”
Many Americans mistakenly presume that flying is the fastest way to get about. In a number of cases, such as for longer distances, it can be. But for shorter hops, it may be quicker to travel by train, Smith says.
For example, in October, I took Eurostar from London to Paris. Total traveling time was about 2 1/2 hours, from city center to city center. For a one-hour flight, I would have had to travel to an airport outside of London, hang around at the airport, fly, then travel from the airport into Paris. I figured I saved at very least a couple of hours.
Oddly, Eurostar is unlike other trains in Europe and does not actually sell cheap one-way tickets. Smith suggests reserving the cheaper round-trip ticket for a one-way journey and discarding the return.
He also argues for purchasing tickets from the websites of the train companies rather than buying a Eurail pass. His web site offers links to the numerous train companies’ websites.
” Americans are genetically programmed to request for a $500 rail pass for a $50 journey,” he said. “You can get some terrific bargains by going direct to the trains’ websites.”
As for the award he was given for promoting environmentally friendly travel, he is humble.
” It’s an amateur site, and it’s just amazing that it’s been recognized officially,” he said. “There’s this groundswell of avoiding