From train to bicycles: 4 alternatives to air travel

Airplanes have made it possible to reach places thousands of kilometers away very quickly, but more and more people are realizing that this means an important part of travel gets lost.

By covering long distances on foot, on a bike or on a cargo ship, you get more of an authentic feeling about the travel experience.

Not traveling by plane is also better for the environment – although you will certainly need a lot more time. Let’s take a closer look at the alternatives:

1. Put your backpack on and go: Discover forgotten paths on foot

“At the start, I was overwhelmed by how long the path was,” Rebecca Maria Salentin said. She walked the 2,700-kilometer (1,677-mile) mountain trail of friendship from Eisenach in Germany to Budapest, Hungary.

“It was hard. If you’re on foot the entire time, you can’t skip boring or rainy passages.

“You can’t walk away from your own doubts and fears,” the long-distance hiker said. “Instead, you notice the beautiful things along the way. I realized I’m much stronger than I thought. After about three weeks on your feet, you have thought through everything that had been bothering you. You find an inner balance.”

Her personal highlight wasn’t just the people she met along the way, but also the friends who supported her and accompanied her at certain points. She named her book about long-distance hiking after this club of friendship: “Club Druzhba.”

  • Comfort: After a week in the forest with your bags on your back, you really appreciate a warm shower and clean clothes.
  • Price: It works out well if you travel with a tent and cook yourself.
  • Speed: An average of 25 kilometers per day.
  • Sustainability: Great, if you arrive and leave by train.
  • Adventure factor: Very high. Bears, wolves, steep mountain passages, wilderness and storms are all possible perils on the trail.
  • Equipment tip: A thick inflatable sleeping mat for a good night’s sleep and trousers that prevent rubbing between the thighs.

2. An adventure on two wheels: What’s important for bike tours

For David Kossmann from the Pressedienst-Fahrrad news service agency, traveling without a plane is about taking responsibility. “The ecological footprint of flying is huge,” he said.

Kossmann sees bike travel as an excellent alternative, a harmonious way of getting around. “Many find cycling to be exactly the right speed for the soul.” In addition, you get to know people in a different way. “Many people see you traveling with little luggage and want to offer their support.”

Try biking through a forest road in the mountains on a spring day. (Shutterstock Photo)
Try biking through a forest road in the mountains on a spring day. (Shutterstock Photo)

Kossmann recommends that anyone traveling with others should clearly agree on their expectations and priorities beforehand. How much distance can and does the group want to cover in one day?

  • Comfort: Strongly depends on the travel destination, travel time and comfort level of the overnight stays.
  • Price: There are often no transport costs, but you’ll first have to invest in a bike and equipment.
  • Speed: Between 30-130 kilometers per day.
  • Sustainability: The carbon footprint is very low.
  • Adventure factor: Quite high. There is nothing separating you from the environment and the weather. Last-minute changes of plan are often required.
  • Equipment tip: A charging system on the hub dynamo can be used to charge your mobile phone and sat nav when there is no power socket within reach.

3. Extreme ship travel: Crossing the seas by cargo ship

Leonore Sibeth and Sebastian Ohlert have covered 97,000 kilometers in 34 months without flying once. They have a blog describing how they traveled from Germany to Mexico in the first 24 months. On the east coast of China, the question arose: Should we cross the Pacific or head back home?

Sibeth and Ohlert decided to go to America. They bought tickets months in advance for a cargo ship to Mexico and traveled 13,500 kilometers across the Pacific in 18 days. “There are travel agencies online that specialize in these trips or you can contact the shipping companies directly,” Sibeth explained.

The pair barely suffered from seasickness: due to its size, the ship was pretty quiet most of the time. More strenuous were the time changes, with Sibeth and Ohlert reaching a new time zone every two days. Boredom did not set in: “We were always allowed up onto the bridge, where we were able to observe animals and even got a tour of the engine room once in a while,” Sibeth said.

  • Comfort: It’s pretty comfortable, with your own cabin and bathroom.
  • Price: Around 100 euros ($113.20) per person, per day.
  • Speed: On average of 800 kilometers per day.
  • Sustainability: The pollutant emissions are high, but the carbon dioxide emissions are less per person than by plane.
  • Adventure factor: High. You’re in the middle of the sea and exposed to natural forces such as storms and waves.

4. Watch the landscape whiz by: Relaxed train travel

For Stephanie Forsch, traveling by train is a chance to sit back and relax. Looking out of the window for hours, chasing your thoughts and having a walk around and stopping by the onboard bistro: “It means I arrive at my destination relaxed and feeling zen,” said Forsch, who gives tips on her blog about rail travel in Europe.

For the most relaxed travel experience possible, she recommends reserving a seat, packing a rucksack instead of a large suitcase and booking a night train for city trips with a shorter stay.

  • Comfort: From comfortable to basic, anything is possible – depending on the destination, route and train.
  • Price: Night trains are often expensive, otherwise prices vary from region to region.
  • Speed: This can vary greatly – depending on whether you are traveling on a slow or high-speed train.
  • Sustainability: Significantly less carbon dioxide emissions than flying.
  • Adventure factor: High. If you plan your trip with overnight stays, you can get to know a place from very different perspectives.

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