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‘I am an avid slow-traveller - I will choose the bus, train or ferry over a plane’

Tipperary woman Phoebe Moore asks why, at a time of extreme eco-crisis, is the decision to take a ferry or a train so difficult – surely it should be rewarded?

I jump off the bus and sprint blindly. I don’t have time to check my Google maps, so am forced to rely on my non-existent sense of direction. I look up, delighted to see a road sign affirm that I am correct.

It says: Station 200 metres.

Panting, I draw up and gasp at an attendant who points to a platform, and I’m running again. Over the bridge on to the platform and, phew, I’m on the train. A second later, the doors have closed behind me and we’re moving. Collapsing on to the closest seat in heavy relief, I inwardly congratulate myself and turn to see a couple look on in amusement.

They know. I know.


We are finally en route to the Holyhead ferry terminal. Easy conversation ensues and, before we know it, we’re partners in the mission of “making it to the ferry”. Part A, get on the train, has been accomplished. Storm Babet ensured an appropriate level of precariousness for this task by wreaking havoc on train lines through epic floods. But Part B of “make it to the ferry with less than 15 minutes to spare” is touch and go.

* * *

I sit looking out across a calm blue sea. A book is open in front of me and the sunlight is casting shadows across its pages. Behind me, I can hear the murmur of laughter and chat. One table over, a father and son play a game of cards. Further over, a group of teenagers prolong a joke – it’s getting great mileage.

As I sip on my drink, I alternate between reading and people-watching. It is a perfect pastime, and as I stretch out my legs in front of me, the thought that this beats budget airline travel floats into my mind like a fluffy white cloud.

* * *

I am an avid “slow-traveller”. Often, to friends’ dismay, I will choose the bus, train or ferry over the speed of a plane.

I have cycled through France, taken a 10-hour bus and ferry journey from London to Paris, and journeyed the same length between London and Edinburgh. My holy grail, however, is the trusty sail and rail between London and Dublin, before going onward to Tipperary (it really is a long way…).

The above moments of panic and peace take place on this regular pilgrimage between my own Emerald Isle and London, where I now live. Some of these trips have been dreamy, many have been “memorable” and, depending on your perspective, this latter description may be seen as a very Irish euphemism.

Amid a worsening environmental crisis, eschewing planes is the least impactful way to travel. A quick internet search for the term “slow travel” tells me it “isn’t complicated”, that it’s about emphasising “connection” and forging an “emotional impact, in the present moment and for the future”. It’s a “trend”, much like cold-water swimming (which used to just be called “swimming”), which may or may not convince you.

Despite its newfound fame, it is slow (pun intended) to catch on. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why this is. Ryanair flights between London and Dublin, if booked in advance without the bells and whistles of added baggage, will set you back little more than €15 to €20. My trusty sail and rail bundle price on the other hand is approximately €50 (no matter when you book), and with about six extra hours of travel. The Eurostar to Paris costs a pretty penny, while a flight is half the price. Shockingly and entirely unsurprisingly, it seems that the incentives are clearly stacked in favour of oil lobby groups.

My tales of misadventures on these journeys are often met by phrases such as: “Is it not about time to throw in the towel and get on a plane?” It is, in the circumstances, an entirely appropriate reaction. It is what I would expect from any sane person.

The issue is, why is this negative response so fitting? Why, at a time of extreme eco-crisis – 2023 was a record-breaking year for global carbon emissions – is the decision to take a ferry or a train so difficult? Call me idealistic, but surely this behaviour should be rewarded?

I wish to ponder on the fact that the choice to ‘slow travel’ seems to say more about your privilege than your environmentalism

Employers: throw us a bone and give us that extra bit of time so we can avoid the jumbo jet. There is a precedent after all – Climate Perks is an employer benefits scheme offering staff extra annual leave if they opt for slower travel. Also, and this is just a hunch, but perhaps the aviation industry should start to pay fuel tax.

Far from trying to brag about my eco-credentials – and I wouldn’t get very far anyway – I wish to ponder the fact that the choice to “slow travel” seems to say more about your privilege than your environmentalism. It is a choice that, quite often, can be made only by those with cash in their pockets and time on their hands. When will this change? Could there be a time when the phrase “fresh off the boat” again rolls off the tongue more willingly than such a phrase as “Ryanair has a great deal”?

Rome certainly wasn’t built in a day – and neither were cheaper and more plentiful low-carbon travel options. But if those people that can take these options do so, then airline revenues will fall, less flights will be put in the sky and alternatives will be created.

It’s not called blue-sky thinking for nothing.

Until then, if you can, join me on the train. It’s great craic, I promise. If it turns out not to be, sure you’ll have a story to tell, won’t you?

  • Phoebe Moore is from Tipperary and lives in London, where she works as a theatre practitioner and youth arts facilitator. She is also an actor and writer.
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