Labour mobilities

August 2021 was not a regular summer month. My new job in Spain meant that I had the pleasure of moving from Rotterdam to Barcelona. In this day and age, traveling (far) is no longer an everyday task, but requires careful consideration of its environmental and health effects.

This is a re-post of a Linked-In story (September 2021)
Gare du Nord, Paris (author’s image)

We took the train

I will save you the details of how we got to the point of this move, and how we solved the logistical puzzle of concurrently vacating a flat and finding a new one in another country during COVID. We did it before, and yes it’s complicated. But there’s one thing we hadn’t done before. A new experience. And hopefully a glimpse into the new future of intra-continental travel. We took the train.


The estimated CO2 emissions from a one-way trip by plane from Amsterdam to Barcelona are around 190 kgs per person. By train, the amount is 19 kgs. Let that sink in for a second.

If all 1.5 million people flying between Amsterdam and Barcelona (in a pre-pandemic year) were to take the train, it would save a staggering 510 million kg of CO2-emissions. I.e. the yearly emissions of 20,000+ households. Let that sink in again.

With that knowledge, it would be impossible not to take the train. In the face of the climate emergency, it would be foolish to fly right? But is it realistic? Doesn’t the train take too long? Isn’t it uncomfortable?

Define travel time

First: the collective benefit of the decision to take the train is undeniable. You don’t shove the effects of climate change to future generations, or make use of the unjust competitive (tax) advantages for airline operators.

Second: let me share my experience of the personal benefit. Rotterdam > Paris > Barcelona took 11 hours. A lot? Let’s look at the (unsustainable) alternatives. To cover those 1470 kms by car would take you 15 hours. Add resting stops, petrol and toll costs, the car itself, and it seems a slightly mad undertaking in terms of time and costs. 15+ hours of driving likely means an overnight stay, too. The plane then. The flight is just two hours, right? Well really, Rotterdam > Schiphol > checks and waiting > flight > El Prat > Barcelona centre takes at least six hours, maybe more with check-in luggage.

But what really made the difference is what we did during those 11 hours. This is won time! I read a book, sat comfortable, texted friends about our move, got fresh coffee, saw the landscape, chatted to fellow passengers, and had lunch with an old friend on a Paris terrace. Bonus: our pet could easily travel with us.

Where now?

There’s probably a lot of academic and policy knowledge that fits this story, and there’s equally a lot to say about our apparent need to be hyper-mobile. One should always remain self-critical. We did take a plane when we went looking for housing, as we only had 4 days away from work. Plus, trains aren’t entirely CO2-neutral and cut through natural and built-up areas. But for now, this experience has shown us the road ahead when work, family, and social life are scattered around the continent. 

+2 for the critical mass!

Speeding past my hometown Dordrecht

PS. Many authors are way better at this and give actual examples of how to do and book these journeys. For example, take a look at the Man in Seat 61, the corporate travel policy of Erasmus University Rotterdam, or the train operator with a not-too-bad booking page.

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