'Much of my travel time was spent usefully'

Caspar, policy officer at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance, travelled by train to a conference in Barcelona in September. Casper: "From Utrecht, I only had to change trains twice."

For Caspar de Bok, his decision to travel by train was primarily a case of 'practice what you preach'. "In my work, I deal with internationalisation. With colleagues, I regularly discuss how we can motivate students to travel more sustainably when they go abroad for their internship or exchange. But I think we should also look at ourselves." He is pleased that Utrecht University has officially committed to increasing international travel by train.

As a policy officer, Caspar is closely involved in the European Association for International Education (EAIE): an international network of higher education professionals. Last September, he co-organised the annual EAIE congress, which was hosted in Barcelona. "Barcelona is easy to reach by train, which made the choice easy for me. Especially since sustainability was one of the themes at this conference."

Undisturbed working time 
Caspar does not call himself an experienced train traveler: this was one of the first times he travelled for a longer international business trip by train. "To get to Barcelona, I only had to change trains twice, in Rotterdam and Paris. The journey was extremely comfortable. I could work, look outside, or read a book whilst listening to music. In between my work and activities, I walked to the bar to get a cup of coffee... All in all, it was much more relaxing than flying."

Among colleagues, Caspar sometimes hears the complaint that a train journey takes too much time. “But I don't think that's a good argument. Yes, the journey takes a bit longer, but on the way, you have plenty of time to do all sorts of things! Most long-distance trains have power sockets and Wi-Fi. I left Utrecht at 9 o'clock in the morning, and between 9 and 10 in the evening I arrived in Barcelona. Much of that time was spent usefully - and enjoyably.”

The experience was very different when he travelled to Barcelona by plane for two days in spring to prepare for the conference. "That trip also took me 7 hours door-to-door, and during  that time I could hardly work. After all, you have to go through customs, past the security check, then wait in a different place each time... It's much more restless. On the train, you sit in the same, more spacious place for several hours and are not disturbed."

Booking early
In the run-up to this conference, Caspar stirred up a campaign among colleagues: who will travel by train? He mailed train schedules around, to save others the work and to make the idea more appealing for his coworkers. "People often have the image that travelling by train is 'hassle'. But it is much easier than many people think. The only small challenge is that the booking can be a bit more puzzling. There is no website like Skyscanner for train travel yet. Although, I actually enjoyed the process of planning my trip myself." 

In the end, his plea proved successful: a significant number of the Dutch delegation also ended up travelling to Barcelona by train. At the conference, participants who came by train could even pin a special button on their clothes. "In this way, the organisation could make attendees more aware of sustainable travel and initiate a conversation about it."

Caspar's tips? "Book your trip early, it saves on costs. For some major routes, 'booking early' can mean up to 3 months in advance, so keep that in mind. Furthermore, make sure you bring something to do to entertain or occupy yourself along the way."

There is no doubt that Caspar would recommend this way of travelling. "I enjoyed it. It almost felt like a holiday, even though I was able to do a lot of work along the way. Seeing the landscape change slowly around you, I found it very soothing. Even the transfer within Paris, from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon went smoothly. I simply followed the signs to the metro and within 10 minutes I was at the other station. Besides, when travelling by plane, you also sometimes have to make transfers to another terminal."

For Caspar, there is a clear conclusion from his experience: whenever possible, he will  travel by train from now on. “I have no desire to arrive somewhere in the middle of the night. So it is important that the travel times work for me and that I don’t have to change trains too often. Fortunately, most conferences are in big cities like Berlin, London, Barcelona or Marseille. Those destinations can almost always be reached by long-distance trains. If you don't know how to arrange it, feel free to email me or ask around at the UU. By now, quite a few colleagues have experience with train travel."

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