Earth Notes: Low Carbon Family Holidays

Updated 2023-11-27.
Be a social superstar without 57 foreign holidays every year! Cut stress, cost, carbon and food waste. Have loads of fun! #frugal #holiday #TravellersCheck

Why No Fly?

Flying is not bad in and of itself if it were not for the carbon footprint. It's a safe and moderately* efficient way to shift a human body wherever it is going per mile. Indeed a fully-loaded small car is comparable. You would not dream of trying to drive to a holiday in Australia in a Mini even if it were possible. And most people would not regard a road-trip across a continent with small children as much fun either. The enemy is not the plane, it is the distance. The jumbo jet encourages us to take far longer trips than we otherwise would, and thus have a much larger footprint than necessary. For example, we regularly take the train in summer to the south of France, at reasonable lick.

Your destination does not have to be foreign, far-flung or a flight away to be fun...


carousel fairground ride

If we're not demonising the mode of transport, maybe just concentrate on staying closer to home! The ultimate 'staycation' is to have a relaxing break at home and not travel anywhere. But if you want a little more variety than that? A holiday within the UK or nearby in Europe, by public transport for still lower carbon, may be the way to go.

(Again, jamming yourself into a small car may be as efficient per mile but still encourages you to haul around extra clobber that you won't really need.)

Though I have flown a lot in the past, partly on business, airport stress and a tiring flight is not something that I'd wish upon my children. (All made worse by lunatic and pointless security theatre: you won't see me going near the US again any time soon.)

Beside the Seaside, Belay the C

We have been taking sun-sea-'n'-sand seaside (and similar) holidays by train for the last few years (as of 2012) with our small children, starting from our home in London, and we're hoping to write up a few of our experiences and tips, including saving cash and hassle and shampoo(!) in case it is useful for ideas.

42s "England London Waterloo on penultimate day 20071112 November 2007 via Eurostar train and Channel Tunnel to Lille France video 102 DHD [VIDEO]" (poster) Uploaded . Downloads:

We do intend to take long-distance holidays in future, but as rare and special events rather than routine: there feels like little point in carefully conserving carbon at home all year only to blast it out several times over out the jet engine in a few hours!

Agde in France by train

In August 2016 we ventured to Agde in the south of France, by train, and a very good holiday it was too. We did check air travel prices, but they were far higher as it happens!

Avoiding Holiday Food Waste: #TravellersCheck

beach near Agde

In 2016 Hubbub piloted their campaign "#TravellersCheck your fridge and wave goodbye to holiday food waste," and it reached 1 million people.

Going on holiday, but still have food in your fridge? You're not flying solo. Each year in the UK £half billion worth of perfectly edible food gets thrown away when people head off on holiday.

For example, Hubbub reports that:

81% are happy to receive food from a neighbour, but only 13% already do this.

Also plan ahead a little before you go, keeping a list of things that are open and to be finished off: it is like using left-overs after Christmas!

#FreezeBeforeYouFly would be a reasonable hashtag too, though not endorsing the flying bit! Louis Theroux announced, for example, "Feeling pretty pleased with myself. We are going away and I turned all the leftover veg into 2 soups for freezing."

Brussels Grand Place ice skating at Christmas

This does not just apply to summer holidays. Much the same goes for (say) a lengthy Christmas break for example.

TL;DR: use odds and ends of food up, freeze it, give it away to your neighbours and friends, or at worst get it into your food-recycling bin in reasonable time. Don't let it moulder in your fridge or breadbin or fruit bowl!

10s "Belgium Brussels Place de la Monnaie aka Muntplein carousel merry go round roundabout 1 DHD [VIDEO]" (poster) Uploaded . Downloads:

2012-05: How-To Holiday Low-Carbon

Guest piece by Jean Ryder.

Before having children we spent a lot of our holidays abroad, not thinking about how many flights we were taking or carbon emissions. Since having children I have gone back to my childhood and started holidaying every year in the UK (with one exception of taking the Eurostar to Lille). We don't own a car, so we can't go to totally remote places or places that are too far for two small children to travel to, but we have had very good holidays, and also visiting friends and relatives without one.

It can take a bit of planning for the longer journeys by train (we only hired a car a few times), to make sure you get your timings right and any connections you need. I normally have a look at first to get an idea of train times and how many changes and also the price. If you book in advance you can save a lot of money compared to paying on the day. I also have a family and friends rail card which can save 1/3 of the price of the tickets. Also booking in advance means you are more likely to get a reserved seat, which when you have children, means you are more likely to be sitting together.

So far for our main and self-catering holidays we have travelled to Torquay, Weymouth, Ivybridge, Hemsby in Norfolk, and the Isle of Wight.

So, how do we get all the things we need for holiday without a car by train? Well I first make a very detailed list of all the things we will need, organising it into people, bathroom, kitchen and other. I will then gather things together from when the holiday is booked so I am not rushing to get the things at the last moment. I used to buy everything new for holiday as I thought "Well why not it's holiday?" But I found that we did not use say all the shampoo up etc and had to bring it back. So now I will take bottles etc. when they are coming to the end and have enough for the holiday and means that I can recycle them there and not have to bring things back with us (more space for souvenirs!).

I also write a list of the things we will need to buy when we are there and as we don't have a car, make sure we have a shop/supermarket that is walking distance. And I find we only buy what we will use on holiday and not waste food (we do eat out for meals). Also we have been at places that have meters for gas/electricity so like at home it is possible to monitor how much we use on holiday too. So you can keep a record if you wish.

I have found space-saving bags that you don't need a vacuum cleaner to take the air out, so means that I can get all the clothes and towels into one suitcase for the four of us. I also now try to make sure that we have a washing machine or at least be near to a laundrette, so we can take far less clothes with us and wash there. So after choosing the clothes to take, I will then do a thorough going over saying "Do I really need to take all these t-shirts?" etc. Then you are more likely to use the things you take, by mixing a matching and does it really matter you where something twice before washing it? I will also try to have a washing-line rigged up if we are at a chalet park that does not have drying facilities and that will limit the use of a dryer (I love the smell of air dried clothes) and I also don't really want to pay for drying clothes if the sun can do it.

I am going to tell you a bit about the holidays we have been on without a car and will include places you can get to easily when you are there and also websites for further information. This is just my experience of travelling without a car or going on an aeroplane and hope it may help you. But one day we will take the children on an aeroplane or on the ferry to Europe as I do want them to experience being abroad, but as they are young a beach (and sometimes grandparents) are good for them.

2018-08: Brexit Confession

Right from the time of the Brexit referendum result up to when we had to have booked a 2018 summer holiday to get a decent deal, it has not been clear what would happen after Brexit. Would a "no deal" abrupt exit make it hard to travel anywhere outside the UK in 2019?

We had half agreed that we would like to visit Spain in summer 2018, and considered, for example, Barcelona by train, which is definitely do-able.

However, given the possible slamming down of the barriers for 2019, I suspended my "no flying" views, and we decided to go to Majorca while we could.

The plane's emissions for all four of us, London to Palma (LGW/PMI) return is about 1tCO2. DEFRA's recommended additional Radiative Forcing factor is ~1.9, so maybe this is best treated as about two tonnes of CO2 (equivalent) total.

(This was the first time that our kids have ever flown, incidentally.)

One reason that I relented on flying is that Majorca is still within a plausible travel distance without flying. Indeed it is a ferry ride from Barcelona.

It is possible to get to Majorca from London by ~18h train then 5h ferry, eg see The Man in Seat 61's suggested routes. My daughter tells me that she would have no problem with this for another holiday... Electric train (with high load factor) may be 5x–20x lower CO2e/km than plane; ferry part still unknown (eg does it burn revolting high-carbon high-sulphur bunker fuel, and idle in port?)...

Incidentally, the Balearics' site itemises how the islands are funding some eco improvements from a tourist levy.

2019-04-13: Air Travel Efficiency

Though I stand by my assertion that the big problem with flying is that it is cheap and fast to travel distances that would seem off-putting by other means, various discussions and articles indicate that air is still many times the climate impact per passenger-kilometre of, for example, EV or electrified rail. Please don't fly frivolously.

I do not expect to be taking another long-haul flight until aviation emissions for it can be eliminated. If it is too far by train, I'm not doing it. I like visiting distant places, so I hope that that transpires before I expires...

Also see "Innovation in airport infrastructure and the transition to net zero" [hemmings2023airport].

2020-08: Weymouth UKation

20200827 Weymouth beach dusk people clouds moored cruiseliners
Weymouth beach at dusk, moored ships in the distance.

Amongst all the coronavirus disruption, two short UK breaks and a two week (low-carbon!) anticipated fortnight in France were condensed into an even lower carbon week's Weymouth UK staycation.

2021-07: Herne Bay UKation 2

Herne Bay to Kentish Flats windfarm horizon 20210728 evening
Evening view north from Herne Bay to horizon past remains of longest pier and Kentish Flats windfarm.

Given that France was still out of reach with coronavirus restrictions in practice, we took a calm pleasant week in Herne Bay, Kent, instead.

Travel was on foot, by London Tube and by train. All low carbon and efficient.

2022-01-15: France For 2022?

We're hoping that we can return (via train) to one of our previous haunts in the south of France this year. Politics seems likely a higher risk than covid-19 at this moment...

2022-08: Been and Done

We made it to Marseillan Plage! Jean noted that other than ours, virtually all the chalets had a car outside, many from NL, some from GB and other points north. Ie most visitors appeared to have driven, some many hundreds of miles.

2023-08-18: France/Spain

As usual, via electric train (Eurostar and TGV) to the south of France, this time a little further than before, almost to the Spanish border, at La Sardane campsite, Argerlès-sur-Mer.

Mainly French holidaymakers this time, but a few British, German, Belgian, Spanish, and from the Netherlands.

Take a look at Climate Perks: employers offer paid 'journey days' to empower staff to live their values and choose low-carbon holiday travel.


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