When it comes to journey time from the UK to Portugal, the choice between hopping on a plane or taking the train is a no-brainer.
The flight is a speedy three hours while the train takes roughly three days.
However, one carbon-conscious traveller found that taking the slow route is not only kinder to the planet but it makes for a much more memorable adventure.
Long-distance train journeys can be a headache to organise, so here are some tips if you want to try the trip for yourself.
What it’s like to go flight-free
Conrad Langridge, a marketing manager at carbon accounting software company Sage Earth, has been flight-free for over four years. He lives in Bristol in the UK.
“I’ve always been conscious of the impact I have on the planet and I’ve tended to make the changes every new year that have a positive impact,” he says. This includes being vegetarian for over 10 years, not buying new clothes for eight and switching to an ethical bank six years ago.
“Flying was, at the time, my biggest contributor to my personal impact on the planet,” he says, so four years ago he vowed to stop. Now, when he goes abroad, he takes transport like trains and buses.
“Stopping, or reducing flying doesn’t have to be a negative thing, my mindset went from wanting to experience new things all the time, to appreciating what is local and enjoying familiarity.”
However, using overland transport can be time-consuming. This isn’t a problem if you are using your own annual leave, but when it comes to travelling for work you might run up against problems, as one climate researcher recently found out.
If you have a slow travel policy and are on the hunt for a new job, you might consider checking if future employers will take this into account.
Luckily, Langridge’s former company not only accepted but also financially supported his no-fly requirements so, when he had to visit Lisbon for a conference, they increased the travel budget and covered the extra travel days.
Why you should try taking the train instead of the plane
According to Langridge’s calculations, his slow travel transport choices between Bristol and Lisbon meant cutting his emissions by over 50 per cent compared to flying.
Furthermore, while flying is just a way to get from A to B, travelling overland can become a holiday in itself.
Langridge chose to extend the already lengthy journey from Bristol to Lisbon into a two-week long trip in order to fit in some social visits and sightseeing en route.
“When you slow travel you have to make the most of it, turning a work trip into a holiday and into a chance to visit friends,” he says. “It has also allowed me to visit beautiful places I would have never thought of.”
Langridge stopped in London for a night to see a friend and then two days in Avignon in France to explore the city.
“It was magical, I walked around all day and soaked it all in,” he says. “I never would have planned to visit Avingon, but slow travel forces your hand sometimes and sometimes that’s great.”
The journey also led to other serendipitous events. While on the way from Avignon to Madrid, he posted a summary of his journey on LinkedIn. Another user saw his post and ended up buying him lunch on arrival.
Langridge then spent a week in the Spanish capital remote working and staying with friends.
What it’s like to travel to Lisbon by train
The journey from London begins with a Eurostar to Paris. If you’re following Langridge’s route, you can then take an Ouigo TGV to Avignon.
“Paris to Avignon only took me two hours and 40 minutes,” he says. “More trains like this please!”
From there, you can take a seven-hour Renfe TGV directly to Madrid. If you fancy adding some more sightseeing breaks into the journey, the train stops at Perpignan, Girona, Barcelona and Zaragoza en route.
Alternatively, you can travel direct from Paris to Barcelona by TGV and change there for Madrid.
By train, the journey between Madrid and Lisbon requires three different trains, so Langridge opted for the overnight bus instead.
“It was painful, but it saves time and money,” he says.
Langridge chose to purchase a seven-day Interrail pass for the journey, which he said was both “easy to use and a nightmare.”
“French bookings were a breeze, but Spain and Portugal bookings were less fun. These required calling up stations and long waits on the phone.”
Is it cheaper to take the train than fly?
Unfortunately, the elevated costs of rail travel mean taking the train is still not a universally accessible option.
Langridge’s Interrail pass saved him money, costing £300 (€348), but some trains required reservations which were an extra £150 (€174).
The Eurostar was an additional £40 (€46) and the bus from Madrid to Lisbon cost £50 (€58). As the journey required overnight stops, he also spent £150 (€174) on rental accommodation.
However, he considers it a price worth paying. “100 per cent I would rather have less cash, but a clearer conscience,” he says. “It's also a far richer experience in my view.”