Earth Notes: Low Carbon Family Holidays

Are you a social failure without 4 foreign holidays each year, or can you cut carbon and cost and still have fun?

Why No Fly?

Flying isn't bad itself: it's a pretty efficient way to shift a body wherever you're going per mile, and indeed a full-up small car is comparable. You just wouldn't dream of trying to drive to a holiday in Australia in a Mini even if it were possible, and most people wouldn't regard a road-trip across a continent with small children as much fun either. The enemy isn't the plane, it's the distance; the jumbo jet encourages us to take far longer trips than we otherwise would and thus have a much larger footprint than necessary. (Eg summer 2016 we went to the south of France by train, at reasonable lick.)

Your destination doesn't have to be foreign or far-flung to be fun...



So, if we're not demonising the mode of transport, just concentrate on staying closer to home! The ultimate 'staycation' is to have a relaxing break at home and not travel anywhere. But if you want a little more variety than that, a holiday within the UK or nearby in Europe, by public transport for still lower carbon, may be the way to go.

(Again, jamming youself into a small car may be as efficent per mile but still encourages you to haul around extra clobber that you won't really need.)


Though I have flown a lot in the past, partly on business, airport stress and a tiring flight is not something I'd wish upon my children (all made worse by lunatic security theatre: you won't see me going near the US again any time soon).

Beside the Seaside, Belay the C

We've been taking sun-sea-'n'-sand seaside holidays (by train) for the last few years (as of 2012) with our small children, starting from our home in London, and we're hoping to write up a few of our experiences and tips, including saving cash and hassle and shampoo(!) in case it is useful for ideas.

We do intend to take long-distance holidays in future, but as rare and special events rather than routine: there feels like little point in carefully conserving carbon at home all year only to blast it out several times over out the jet engine in a few hours!

Agde in France by train

In August 2016 we ventured to Agde in the south of France, by train, and a very good holiday it was too. We did check air travel prices, but they were far higher as it happens!

How-To Holiday Low-Carbon

Guest piece by Jean Ryder April 2012

Before having children we spent a lot of our holidays abroad, not thinking about how many flights we were taking or carbon emissions. Since having children I have gone back to my childhood and started holidaying every year in the UK (with one exception of taking the Eurostar to Lille). We don't own a car, so we can't go to totally remote places or places that are too far for two small children to travel to, but we have had very good holidays, and also visiting friends and relatives without one.

It can take a bit of planning for the longer journeys by train (we only hired a car a few times), to make sure you get your timings right and any connections you need. I normally have a look at first to get an idea of train times and how many changes and also the price. If you book in advance you can save a lot of money compared to paying on the day. I also have a family and friends rail card which can save 1/3 of the price of the tickets. Also booking in advance means you are more likely to get a reserved seat, which when you have children, means you are more likely to be sitting together.

So far for our main and self-catering holidays we have travelled to Torquay, Weymouth, Ivybridge, Hemsby in Norfolk, and the Isle of Wight.

So, how do we get all the things we need for holiday without a car by train? Well I first make a very detailed list of all the things we will need, organising it into people, bathroom, kitchen and other. I will then gather things together from when the holiday is booked so I am not rushing to get the things at the last moment. I used to buy everything new for holiday as I thought "Well why not it's holiday?" But I found that we did not use say all the shampoo up etc and had to bring it back. So now I will take bottles etc. when they are coming to the end and have enough for the holiday and means that I can recycle them there and not have to bring things back with us (more space for souvenirs!).

I also write a list of the things we will need to buy when we are there and as we don't have a car, make sure we have a shop/supermarket that is walking distance. And I find we only buy what we will use on holiday and not waste food (we do eat out for meals). Also we have been at places that have meters for gas/electricity so like at home it is possible to monitor how much we use on holiday too. So you can keep a record if you wish.

I have found space-saving bags that you don't need a vacuum cleaner to take the air out, so means that I can get all the clothes and towels into one suitcase for the four of us. I also now try to make sure that we have a washing machine or at least be near to a laundrette, so we can take far less clothes with us and wash there. So after choosing the clothes to take, I will then do a thorough going over saying "Do I really need to take all these t-shirts?" etc. Then you are more likely to use the things you take, by mixing a matching and does it really matter you where something twice before washing it? I will also try to have a washing-line rigged up if we are at a chalet park that does not have drying facilities and that will limit the use of a dryer (I love the smell of air dried clothes) and I also don't really want to pay for drying clothes if the sun can do it.

I am going to tell you a bit about the holidays we have been on without a car and will include places you can get to easily when you are there and also websites for further information. This is just my experience of travelling without a car or going on an aeroplane and hope it may help you. But one day we will take the children on an aeroplane or on the ferry to Europe as I do want them to experience being abroad, but as they are young a beach (and sometimes grandparents) are good for them.