I’ve never been a great flyer. grow in Germany as a working class immigrant child, most of our vacations abroad were done by car. In the early 2000s, it was the cheapest and most convenient travel option.
It wasn’t until my teens that I ventured into occasional short haul flightand even stuck in a vacation weekend south of France (I will never understand how anyone could find these trips relaxing). But stealing never pushed me. While I understand the convenience it provides to some, it feels bad to be so high in the air.
After moving to the UK, I mostly opted for the train and the buses in Europe. When I became a climate activist during my college years, I made the complete transition to flightless travel.
What many people don’t realize is that Travel by rail is often cheaper than flying, if airport transfers are taken into account. For me, traveling on earth is not only about living low impact, but also about connecting more significantly with the places I visit. Seeing the earth go by on the train always leaves me in awe of how people would have traveled a long time ago.
So when I was offered the opportunity to visit the Aland Islands for employment after a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus, I was eager to make the trip by form. I decided to make it a multi-stop adventure and Interrail seemed like the logical option.
Traveling with Interrail offers convenience and flexibility
I had never ventured on a Interrail trip before, frankly because I felt intimidated by the whole process. I quickly realized that my concerns were unfounded: Interrail did the heavy lifting for me, suggesting a ticket based on my destinations, and the user-friendly app saved me the journeys which I might want to do.
Travel days can be activated and linked to saved journeys, which creates a QR ticket. The only slightly inconvenient aspect was the seat reservations, which must be reserved for some High-speed trains like the Eurostar as well as the ferries. But overall it was a small price to pay for the convenience and flexibility that an Interrail ticket offers.
The first leg of my journey was as difficult as it could be: due to the energy price crisis in the UK and generous Interrail discounts, many people had opted for the Eurostar rather than steal. Good for the climate, not so good for someone unprepared.
Booking my seat reservations three weeks in advance was not long enough. So I had to make a detour via Paris before moving on to Brussels and Hamburg. The advantage is that I was able to experience the French Thalys the trainswhich are almost as fun to travel as the Eurostar – although both charge an extortionate amount for seat reservations, making the Interrail ticket only worthwhile if you’re traveling to Hamburg in a day.
Scandinavian high-speed trains make getting around easier
I arrived in Hamburg the next day, spent an afternoon there before moving on to Copenhagen. I managed to sneak up the famous St. Michael’s Church for great views of the city, rent an electric scooter to explore the riverside, and eat amazing vegan food at Musketiers. Scooters will become a much-loved companion throughout my journey.
From Hamburg, I traveled to Copenhagen accompanied by a childhood friend. Scandinavia High-speed trainswith their reliable wifi and few delays, were a welcome break from the often dysfunctional public transport systems in Western Europe.
The capital of Denmark immediately appealed to me – many places in the city center have devoted more space to pedestrians and active travel than cars. The natural consequence of this is that bike becomes the most common means of transport, alongside the reliable metro.
Our favorite part of town was anarchist commune Christiania, with its artsy cafes and quirky characters. This enclave is famous for selling marijuana on the famous Pusher Street and defying Danish laws, and resisting police repression for over sixty years now.
By luck, rather than good planning, we visited the city during Pride the week. The energy was electric and brought out the most incredible atmosphere the city had to offer. It was great to be involved in such an important movement in a new part of the world.
From Copenhagen, we hopped on a train to stockholm. I had intentionally left some space in my backpack for second-hand finds, and it wasn’t in vain – the Swedish capital is a thrifty paradise. The fashion industry is one of the most polluted on the planet, and why contribute to the sector’s enormous waste of resources when what is already in circulation may be even more fashionable?
Our highlights were exploring the beautiful old town of Gamla Stan, watching the golden sunset descend over the city from the hippie quarter of Södermalm, and exploring the many vegan food options.
Like Copenhagen, Stockholm is best explored using public transportand you will find many surprises in the metro of the capital, which presents historical objects and impressive geological formations.
The Aland Islands are very bike-friendly
Traveling towards sunset, the picturesque Aland Islands were finally on the horizon. There I worked at the youth sustainability ReGeneration 2030 festival with a group of future sustainability leaders. Outside of work, I explored nearby islands on a rental bike.
Like my previous destinations, Aland was very suitable for cyclists, with cycle lanes separated from the roads and little traffic outside the towns. Although it lacked the adrenaline fueled excitement of a London drive, I have to admit it was much more enjoyable.
My week on the island has been profoundly regenerator, and desperately needed. I loved seeing so many new places, but jumping around really takes its toll on the body.
Helsinki was the highlight of my trip
Aland’s tranquility has me recharged and ready for my personal highlight, helsinki. For the ferry ride there, I was placed in a cabin below water level, which I realized was way out of my comfort zone. Being underwater is for the fish – just like being in the air is for the birds.
The climate in Helsinki is cold (and I’m not a cold person), but it was always easy to drive away the cold in the ubiquitous saunas – I even found one at the top of a big Wheel.
I spent my mornings in a café overlooking the harbor, followed by a visit to the adjacent restaurant sauna and sea pool. Working in cafes had become my habit by then, and I enjoyed trying dozens of varieties of Americano oats while watching locals and other tourists go about their business. In my opinion, remote work is a major positive that has come out of the pandemic – allowing many people to travel more slowly where they would have flown before.
The Finnish way of life is slow, attentive, close to nature. You are never far from a wood or a lake.
With their untouched nature and dozens of old bunkers, helsinkiThe nearby islands of Suomenlinna and Vallisaari are not to be missed. And if you fancy seasonal dishes, the Magu restaurant is worth a visit. I had an amazing mushroom risotto which was so rich and flavorful. Eating out is not cheap in Finland, but it was worth it.
My stay in Scandinavia was followed by 10 days of rapid exploration of the Baltic countries. I traveled in Tallinn via the ferry (which only takes two hours) and set off to discover the most intact old town in Europe.
Tallinn had a lot to offer, including its vast nearby forests, which are full of biodiversity. On a morning jog, I encountered dragonflies larger than my palm and even a lone snake slithering through the greenery. It reminded me of the many summers I spent in my home country, Poland as a child, when wilderness was found more widely in Eastern Europe.
Riga, the capital of Latvia, felt much more western and in many places reminded me of London. Digital Nomads will be enchanted by its charming cafes and bustling city center, with parks and green spaces scattered throughout the urban jungle.
In stark contrast, Vilnius is one of the most laid back towns I have come across. Boasting the largest old town in Europe, its architectural beauty is breathtaking. And like Copenhagen, it had its own alternative community: the republic of Uzupis, home to numerous art galleries, quirky cafes and a creative soul.
I ended my journey at the Global Climate Strike in Brussels
After seeing so many places in such a short time, coming home felt strange. Traveling on earth reminded me how beautiful this planet we live on is still and why I do what I do in the first place.
After a brief stay with the family near Frankfurt and a one-day stopover in Liège, my last destination was Brussels for the Global climate strike – how fitting!
Whereas aviation is a highly polluting sector, the debate around the aircraft is often highly focused on changing individual behavior. And while I believe we should give up flying if we have the time and the financial resources, let’s not forget that the majority of aviation emissions come from frequent business travelers and private jets.
Let’s face it, I’ll probably end up flying to work at some point. Flying is a nuanced issue and, in my opinion, the positive impact of some travel can outweigh carbon cost to get there. But my goal is to avoid traveling to Europe for the foreseeable future – after experiencing the joys of train journeyI never want to go back there again.