From north to south avoiding flights: interview with our former volunteer Glòria

Thanks to our growing number of volunteers, EKOenergy is broadening its reach from north to south, east to west! Recently Glòria, who helped us spread the message of the ecolabel in Spain and Latin America, finished her year of European Voluntary Service (EVS) with us. Upon returning to Barcelona, she wanted to avoid taking a flight and, instead, completed almost 3750 km in 3 days to get back home. We interviewed her to find out more about this experience.

Hello, Glòria! Wow, you made it! A sustainable trip from Helsinki to Barcelona by ferry, bus and train. How did you come up with the idea?

Thank you! Well, actually some other volunteers with whom I had the opportunity to work with at EKOenergy also decided to go back home with other means of transport than flying. Valeria went on a ferry to Lübeck and then with buses to Brussels. Also, there was Maria, who went back to Perm (Russia) with two trains. Let’s say I got inspired by them and decided to give it a try too. Why not go from northern Europe to southern Europe by sea and land?

So why did you decide to take this path? What was your main motivation to do so? It was probably much more tiring than just taking a single flight…

It took me more time to prepare and check everything than just buying a flight, that is for sure! The route I took was basically based on bus routes and schedules. At first, I knew I had to take the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn on Monday 13th, and then I checked the availability and schedule of the trains in Paris going to Barcelona. Knowing these limiting factors, I then checked the availability of buses across Europe to Paris, and that’s how I decided the route. Firstly, the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, then several buses and transits to Warsaw (Tallinn-Riga-Kaunas-Warsaw), followed by a single bus straight from Warsaw to Paris. Finally, the train from Paris to Barcelona and after 6 hours I was home.
Volunteering and meeting people from around the world, in combination with this way of travelling, also allowed me to meet old friends along the way. This way, the overlays with buses were spent with local friends from Riga and Warsaw.

Did volunteering in EKOenergy have an impact on your decision? If so, how?

Somehow, I would say yes. After spending a year volunteering in an environmental NGO, increasing my environmental awareness about the energy sector, and reading more about real alternatives to our current modes of consumption and transportation, I gained a lot of information. Also, as EKOenergy, we participated in several climate strikes and protests together with FANC (Finnish Association for Nature Conservation). Having deepened my theoretical understanding, I wanted to act on what I had been preaching and make a change, so the next step was to take action; less talk, more action. That is one of the main things I’ve taken away from volunteering at EKOenergy and I thought that this would be a perfect way to finish my EVS. A small contribution to the global reduction of CO2 emissions, yes, but it is my concrete action and contribution.

What about environmental impact? How much CO2 did you avoid?

When comparing either taking several means of transport or taking a flight from Helsinki to Barcelona, I made economical and environmental calculations and the prices were more or less the same. So, no big difference financially. However, there is a huge difference when looking at the environmental impact. By plane, including an overlay in Amsterdam, it would have released (approximately) 391 kg CO2, while by taking ferry, buses and a train, my trip only released around 104 kg CO2. Almost four times less! Of course, there are pros and cons. The time and days invested have to be taken into account when travelling this way, and one cannot always travel like this.

Was it difficult to calculate the carbon footprint of your trip?

No, it was quite easy. There are many CO2 calculators available online. I used as it allowed me to calculate for the specific means of transport I travelled with. It is a great environmental awareness exercise to know your own numbers.

Would you do this again or it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience? Do you think you will keep travelling sustainably?

Maybe… you never know. But if I would repeat, I would choose more trains rather than buses and also another route. When travelling in my own country, I will continue using trains, buses or car sharing. In other countries in Europe, depending on the time I would have and the distance, I too would consider trying it by train and bus (but again checking and comparing it with flights).

Would you encourage your friends to do the same?

Definitely! Give it a try and enjoy the extra time spent on your journey to your destination! If you have time or want to go on holiday in a more relaxed way, I would encourage you to take it easy and enjoy the differing means of transport. It is a great way to make you more conscious about your journey, through being more aware of the changes in the landscape and architecture, to understanding common problems that locals may face. I will not lie though. Whilst it may take more time preparing your trip beforehand, by using such modes of transport, I definitely felt more present in a world where the ease of travel is increasingly being taken for granted.

This interview was conducted by Kristi Ghosh
Pictures: Glòria Monterrubio
Posted on 6 February 2020