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Map of the UK and surrounding countries highlighted in red, yellow and blue.

A Blog post by Prof Andrew Russell, Department of Anthropology.

Blog post 2: Trains to Europe and Beyond - your carriage awaits 

It should be possible to travel between places like Durham and Dubai without taking to the air at all, but it isn’t.  The reasons for this will be the subject of Blog Post 3.  This Blog is more positive, celebrating and championing the work of Durham University’s Environmental Sustainability in Research Working Group.  I sit on the travel policy committee of this group.  Our committee has come up with the following recommendations for a sustainable research travel policy:

  1. Minimize the number of journeys taken for research purposes, particularly those involving air travel.
  2. Promote no-travel, sustainable and active travel initiatives, including greater use of train travel within Europe.
  3. Use a travel supplier that can provide and book detailed, integrated non-flight travel itineraries and provide the necessary support after.

I am using my journey from Durham to Dubai to attend the UNFCCC’s COP28 as a test case demonstrating this policy in practice, albeit to a rather extreme degree.  As far as recommendation 3 is concerned, I have used Byway Travel for the European portion of my journey (they don’t extend beyond Europe at the moment).  They have booked all my European train travel, and some of my accommodation, making use of Interrail passes keep costs down. 

Upskilling in eco-friendly travel

Yet travel eco-awareness requires an upskilling in the practicalities and vagaries of other modes of transport, particularly DIY bus and train travel, wherever one may be (or want to reach) in the world.   European rail travel had always been something a mystery to me compared to DIY flight bookings.  A grant from the University’s Ring-Fenced Carbon Budget in 2019 gave me the additional finance necessary to be able to offer our undergraduate students green travel options as part of our Department of Anthropology’s field course programme. But such plans had to be put on ice until the world opened up to travel again in 2022 following the Covid-19 pandemic.[i] 

That year I took my first trip on the Eurostar, as part of a journey by rail from Durham to Copenhagen via Cologne.  Engagement with helpful travel agents and websites taught me some of the intricacies of rail travel, including the judicious use of Interrail passes.  It’s possible to get from the UK to most of the rest of Europe and back using a ‘4 days in 1 month’ flexible Interrail pass for much the same cost as flying (once you take airline baggage charges and the cost of getting to and from the airport in your origin and destination cities into account).  The amazing Seat61 website, a font of all knowledge for actual and potential train travellers, has this useful chart:

Europe Train Travel Chart from Seat 61


As an adult (aged between 28 and 59) the cost of a four-day pass is £226, or you can travel 1st class for a supplement of £61 (recommended).  As you can see from the table, Seniors (those over 60, like me) pay less, young people under 28 pay less again, and children under 12 pay nothing at all. 

Another big advantage of the Interrail pass is that same-day journeys from your UK home as part of an outbound or inbound journey to/from continental Europe are included in the cost.  Seat reservation fees (essential on Eurostar and some high-speed train services on the European mainland) are the only additional costs you incur, unless of course you need overnight accommodation en route.  There are decent, reasonably priced hotels near most European railway stations.  Or if cost is an issue, you can always join a couch-surfing website, save money and meet people.  

Planning your journey

DIY rail travel requires familiarisation with the Interrail website and app.  Byway Travel provides the following useful time-and-distance map, although you can get further for a ‘long weekend’ than some of the places they indicate.  Travel between Hamburg and Durham in a day is quite doable, for example, if you don’t mind either an early start or a late finish. 

Europe Time-and-Distance Map


The most comprehensive online timetable for European trains is the Deutsche Bahn website (DB).  It’s worth allowing more time for connections than DB generally does to avoid what in the rail travel business is known as a ‘failure point’.  If you are travelling further afield, the Thailand-based online company Go2Asia offers a range of bookable routes in and between a number of countries, although it’s not comprehensive in the options it gives (for example, Sofia-Istanbul by rail does not come up in its list of travel modes for that route).  Finally, you can see how much carbon you are saving by changing your mode of travel on the Carbon Footprint app.  According to Byway Travel, the European train journeys I am taking are using 257kg of CO2.  That’s an 85% reduction overall on the carbon footprint I’d have incurred if I’d done those sectors by air.

I hope this post has been useful in explaining more about the practicalities of green travel options in Europe and elsewhere.  You can continue to follow my journey unfolding on the Instagram channel @cop28overland.  I shall be considering barriers to making the switch from flights to non-flight options, including some of the less obvious ones, in my next blog.

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[i] You will be able to read more about this programme in a forthcoming article ‘Greening an Anthropology Field Course Programme – assessing the comparative importance of Net Zero agendas and Covid-19’ in the online journal Teaching Anthropology.