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

My generation remembers ferry travel with a shudder. But the experience has changed

Cheap flights had truly squeezed the joy of the journey out of travel even before the pandemic. The exhausting dash and dawdle involved in cramming on to the metal tube now comes with added wondering about what is contained in the soupy recirculating air. If there ever was a golden age of air travel, it’s now firmly in the rear view mirror.

Air travel is sold to us as a routine part of modern life. But frequent flying is still a rarefied habit of high-income individuals. In 2018 just over one in 10 of the world’s population took a short-haul flight. And fewer than four out of every 100 individuals on the planet flew internationally.

The carbon cost of flying is far from cheap, and the world’s poorest people (who fly least) are paying the highest price. Carbon inequality tips into mind-boggling levels of unfairness when it comes to air travel. Less than 1 per cent of the world’s population causes 50 per cent of carbon emissions from aviation.

I come from a generation that remembers ferry travel with a shudder. The school trip to France in a sideways tilting world with the churning sensation of walking uphill until the “hill” disappeared out from under you. But ferries have changed. Stabilisers keep the ships level as they plough through all but the highest seas, and that has meant that our family trips abroad have involved a car ferry rather than an airport for a number of years now.

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

Last month I took a mid-term trip with a teenager whose school trip had been kiboshed by Covid, and we decided to try the sail and rail. We set off from Dublin port into a calm blue sea with the sun rising in front of us. Even with three train changes, the journey never felt arduous.

On the last leg we sat in the luxury of a high-speed train. At one point it ran alongside a motorway, travelling so much faster and more smoothly than anything on the road. We had a voyage, saw canal boats, fields of solar panels, many sheep, a hand-painted sign giving the miles to London and the miles to Holyhead.

Although the journey took longer, the distance felt oddly shorter. We travelled at a speed that didn’t leave our heads spinning. We returned home with a joyful sense that the relations we visited are now closer than before.

Catherine Cleary is co-founder of Pocket Forests