A summer to remember! The joy of rail. The beauty of Italian cities. The weak pound. Endless blackberries.
We haven't flown abroad on holiday for several years, for rather obvious environmental reasons, yet we love the experience of European travel and are loathe to give up our annual immersion in other languages, cultures, climate and cuisine. This year, despite the poor exchange rate, we decided to travel to Italy for our summer holiday, to see places we haven't seen before and to give our 16-year old daughter a more memorable European experience. We invested plenty of time up front in planning our itinerary and accommodation, so that we could book the right trains on Rail Europe as soon as they became available, 3 months before travel. All our plans bore fruit, every train throughout the holiday ran on time and we loved the adventure of watching countryside, seas and mountains from our panoramic windows. Our hotels in Paris, Rome and Venice were all well situated for exploring these great cities on foot and by underground or river bus. Our most relaxing break was in an apartment overlooking the small village of Argegno, on the shore of Lake Como, which we reached by ferry and bus.
Last year, the carbon emissions from our family of four travelling to the Tarn region of southwest France and back, by car and cross-channel ferry*, were around 670 kg - or 170 kg CO2 per head. According to Best Foot Forward, in their study commissioned by Rail Europe, the equivalent emissions for this year's holiday by rail for the three of us were about 135 kg - a mere 45 kg CO2 per head. Conversely, if three of us had flown to Rome and back, our journey's climate change impact (including radiative forcing, due to the altitude of the plane's emissions) would have been 1,660 kg - or 550 kg CO2 per head, according to the Carbon Footprint calculator.
So, a European family holiday by train results in less than a tenth of the carbon emissions of the same holiday by plane. The same holiday by car results in 3-4 times the emissions of the train but only a third of the plane.
Scaling this up, I have just returned from a fabulous week at Scout camp in Belgium. 22 of us travelled by Eurostar and 5 leaders took our kit across in a car and a van. The GHG emissions from our 22 return rail journeys were just 57 kg CO2, the same as those from one single passenger making the same trip by plane! Adding in the car and van journeys (475 kg CO2*) gives a carbon footprint, for 27 of us and our kit travelling to and from camp, totalling 530 kg - only 20 kg CO2 per person.
And the blackberries? I'm not talking about the rioters' social medium of choice but rather the extended harvest of wild fruit we have enjoyed this summer. Spurred on by the hot, dry spring, all our apples, blackberries and other wild food are offering a prolonged and bountiful harvest of succulent fruit. Even the mushrooms seem to be coming out early this year - if you know what to collect and eat safely, you are in for an outstanding season of delicious, free food!
* Modern cross-channel ferries emit around 8kg per passenger (return journey), according to the Best Foot Forward study reported on the SeaFrance website. I have included this amount in all the driving calculations shown in this post.