The ferry costs the same as a flight – and costs the planet a lot less

Cheap flights had really taken the joy of travel out of travel even before the pandemic. The exhausting dash and dawdle involved in hunkering down on the metal tube now comes with a further questioning of what’s contained in the soup’s recirculating air. If there ever was a golden age of air travel, it is now firmly in the rearview mirror.

Air travel is presented to us as an integral part of modern life. But frequent theft is still a rarefied habit of high-income earners. In 2018, just over one in 10 people on the planet took a short-haul flight. And less than four out of every 100 people on the planet have flown overseas.

The carbon cost of flying is far from cheap, and the world’s poorest people (who fly the least) pay the highest price. Carbon inequality leads to staggering levels of injustice in air travel. Less than 1% of the world’s population is responsible for 50% of aviation’s carbon emissions.

I come from a generation that remembers ferry trips with a shudder. The school trip to France in a sideways tilted world with the churning sensation of walking uphill until the “hill” disappears beneath you. But the ferries have changed. Outriggers keep ships level as they ply all but the highest seas, meaning our overseas family trips have involved a car ferry rather than an airport for several years now.

The cost is the same, or cheaper. The upgrade to first class (hello mini danish and a glass of jelly in the premium lounge) is far more affordable than its airline equivalent.

Last month I took a mid-term trip with a teenager whose school trip had been blocked by Covid, and we decided to try sailing and rail. We departed from Dublin Port in calm blue seas with the sun rising ahead of us. Even with three train changes, the journey was never difficult.

On the final leg, we sat in the luxury of a high-speed train. At one point it was skirting a highway, traveling so much faster and easier than anything on the road. We took a trip, saw barges, fields of solar panels, lots of sheep, a hand painted sign saying miles to London and miles to Holyhead.

Although the journey took longer, the distance seemed oddly shorter. We traveled at a speed that didn’t let our heads spin. We returned home with the joyful feeling that the relations we visited are now closer than before.

Catherine Cleary is co-founder of Pocket Forests

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