Yup, it’s a pretty big decision if you’re any sort of keen traveller, and it’s a pretty huge decision if you work as a travel blogger, but, in the end, the decision wasn’t really a choice!
I’ve felt passionately about the environment and the climate change issues our planet is facing even since I was a demonstrating student, and I’ve always done my best to keep my carbon footprint as low as possible – mostly through not having any children, adopting a vegetarian / vegan lifestyle, not owning a car or a house or buying into the fast fashion industry!
But there was one glaringly obvious way in which my carbon footprint was not as small as it could be and that was due, thanks to my work, to the amount of flights I regularly take.
Without getting into any sort of self flight-shaming ball of embarrassment, I took a hefty 28 flights in 2019 alone because, well when travel is your job, the numbers quickly start to rack up.
But I knew I had to do something about it, a knowledge that became increasingly pressing to the point where it no longer felt like a choice.
I knew I had to seriously cut down on the number of flights I take if I was to have any respectable notion that I care for the planet.
And so it is that I’ve set myself the challenge of all challenges.
And that is the challenge not to fly AT ALL in 2020!
- London to Paris by Bus
- Paris to Barcelona by Train or Bus
- Spain to Morocco by Ferry: All You Need to Know
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Some journeys were sponsored by Flixbus and FerryHopper but, as always, all views are my own.
Support for the Challenge
For someone who spent 10 out of 12 months on the road last year, this really is quite a feat, but I’m determined to do it and achieve it, because, quite frankly, I’m not sure I can afford not too any longer… if you know what I mean.
Honestly, one of the most amazing things about being a travel blogger is that you have a platform, albeit a small platform, to try and inspire others from and, I really feel that if I can show it’s possible to travel overland as a budget, solo female, travel blogger, then potentially I’m able to show a few people that it might be possible for them too.
And even though this year is just starting, and I’ve only just begun publicising the fact that this is my new challenge for 2020, I’ve already had so much support and great feedback from my Instagram and Facebook followers, as well as my email subscribers, that I’m even more excited about this challenge than ever before!
Long Live the Overland Adventure!
So thanks to everyone that’s going to back me on this important issue because, when you make your livelihood from travel, and you worry that might be jeopardising that, a no-flying commitment is quite a scary move to make!
However, I’m a big believer in the notion that when you do what you feel is the right thing and take the steps that are in your heart, the results are rarely bad… and so it is I begin 12 months of flight-free adventures.
And for those of you who might worry this will limit me to simply bumbling around Europe, or keep me from the crazy adventures I love so much, fear not – there’s plenty of those still to come!
Because first up, I’m going to be heading to North Africa, visiting Morocco, Algeria (if I can get a visa) and Tunisia via boat, bus and train from the UK down through France and Spain and back up through Italy.
Next, the plan is to head across to Moscow to pick up the TransSiberian Railway, which I’ll ride all the way to Kazakhstan!
And from here it will be back overland, through the Stans and the Caucasus region I loved visiting so much last year, into Turkey, Greece and then up through some of the parts of Eastern Europe I’m not familiar with all the way back to the UK!
So yes, no need to worry about a lack of adventures that’s for sure!
In fact, there might be even more adventures than usual as I hitch, rideshare, bike and bus around and through a helluva lot of countries!
The Preparation Begins…
I think this whole route will likely take me 6-7 months, which means I’ve got a few months now, holed up in London, to prep for this almighty undertaking.
Because when you travel without flying, there’s actually quite a lot of factors you need to consider, a major one of these being visas!
Often, when you cross borders by land, visa issues are more complicated than when you arrive at an airport and, when you travel overland, you also need to think about visas for all the countries you’ll pass through as well, not just those at the beginning and end of your journey!
Plus, the actual journey planning takes a bit longer too, not least because there’s less information online!
But I’m hoping to change all that, and of course will be bringing you as much info as I can as the year unfolds.
Indeed it will be interesting to see how much of the above plan has remained, and how much has changed, by the end of 2020 … but that’s all part of the fun right?!
So while I’m in the planning stages myself here, I want to kick off my first set of top tips… namely how you can start planning to travel without flying too.
So here we go….
#1 Research Your Route
Yes, the most important thing if you plan to travel without flying, either for a short or extended period of time, is to research your route.
And by this I mean decide where you are going to go and how you are going to get there.
After all, if it’s not as simple as jumping on a plane, you may need to study your world map a bit and see where you can get to!
It goes without saying that overland travel takes longer than air travel, so picking countries closer to home, or close to each other, becomes a much more efficient way to travel when you’re not flying.
And if you’re on an extended trip, and visiting a few countries that are closer to each other, then you also need to check whether you can actually cross between them i.e. whether the land borders are open.
As I’ve recently learnt during my research for overland travel to Morocco and Algeria, this isn’t a given!
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Then, once you’ve looked at the map and countries you want to / can visit and routes you can take, it’s also time to consider how to get between them.
And by this I mean physically how!
#2 Consider Transport Options
Because not only is it an issue to know that land borders between countries are open, it’s also important to know that transport, in particular, public transport, can get you across them.
Take the border between Turkey and Armenia for example, technically open – because you can fly from one country to the other – but not a possibility to cross the border by land!
So, a crucial step if you plan to travel without flying is to get online and start researching transport methods… asap!
Do trains run in the countries you plan to visit?
Are buses cheaper?
Do boats make the crossing?
A great resource I’ve started using as part of this process is Kiwi.com, a super website that covers train and bus travel across the world, making it super easy to get loads of info about, as well as book, all sorts of overland travel between different destinations.
These guys also pair, non-associated travel companies with their own connection / transfer guarantee, so you can craft trip itineraries that normally wouldn’t be available and are a lot cheaper as a result!
Because not only is it important to consider transport methods, but also the prices of each and the time journeys with them take.
After all, few of us have the luxury of an unlimited holiday on an unlimited budget!
#3 Be Clear About Your Timeframe
Yup, if we’ve acknowledged that unlimited holiday is not an option for you, then being clear about your timeframe, and trying not to cram too much in, is crucial if you plan to travel without flying.
There’s nothing worse than actually coming back from a trip more stressed than when you left, namely because you’ve tried to fit too much into your days and have spent most of your trip in the seat of a car, bus, boat or train!
While the journey is, and must be, a huge part of the adventure when you travel overland, it’s also nice to arrive somewhere, to reach your destination, and to have the time to relax and explore it!
Therefore, be clear about your timeframe when travelling without flying and plan your route accordingly, using transport method information from sites like Flixbus and Trainline to check if this is viable and to work out the costs.
FerryHopper is a great site I have discovered to book sea routes around the Mediterranean – I’m going to use them to travel between Europe and North Africa, including trips between Spain, Italy, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. As they compare different ferry routes, times and prices they are a great resource when trying to plan your overland journey and they promise the best prices with no hidden fees!
There’s no getting away from the fact overland travel takes longer than air travel, so factor this in too and remember you can break up the journey, moving every couple of days and allowing stops in between, rather than cramming a huge amount of km into 1 day!
#4 Prepare Visas
So I’ve already touched on this point, but one of the crucial things to research as early as possible when you plan to travel without flying is visas.
That’s because even countries which give tourist entry without visas via airport immigration may require visas for land borders.
And often these can’t be sorted out on the land borders themselves and need to be prepared in advance… and as far in advance as possible, because some can take a while.
Right now, for example, I’m in the midst of applying for my Algeria visa, which may take up to 5 weeks to process and after that I’ll be trying to get my Russian and Belarusian visa.
And don’t even get me started on the Turkmenistan one!
So yes, if you plan to travel on any sort of extended trip without flying, particularly beyond the boundaries of the EU, do make sure you research any visas you may need well in advance – and that applies not only to countries you’ll be spending any time in, but also to those you may be transiting through on a bus or in a train etc.
#5 Get Tech Ready
And last on my list of the 5 top tips to help you prepare for travel without flying is to get tech ready.
Because, let’s be honest, when you’re trying to navigate overland travel, the use of apps and internet resources becomes even more important than when you usually travel.
From timetable checking to booking tickets online, using Google translate at stations or even map apps to see if you’re at the right stop, there’s so many ways technology can help us… and often for free!
While some apps, like maps.me, work offline, many require internet access, so ensuring your phone is unlocked (meaning you can insert foreign SIM cards into the phone and it will still work) is crucial before any trip that doesn’t involve flying.
Also good to download are some apps and make sure you bookmark some important sites in advance too, so that they are ready at your fingertips AND you know how to use them!
Check out these top apps / sites, which will definitely help you travel without flying:
- Maps.me – maps app you can use offline / without data
- Google Maps – most sights / hotels / restaurants are marked
- Google Translate – very handy for overcoming language barriers
- TravelSpend – super spending tracker to keep you within your budget
- Currency XE – perfect for checking exchange rates and ensuring you don’t get ripped off
- Wise Card – easy way to spend abroad with real exchange rates, no markups and no sneaky transaction fees
- Kiwi.com – super way to book train and bus travel worldwide
- Flixbus – largest network of Europe-wide bus travel, perfect for those on a budget
- Trainline – overland travel app for buses and trains in Europe with live departure information
- Citymapper – best app for organising ground transport in London
- Uber – the king of ride-sharing apps!
- Rome2Rio – perfect website for planning overland routes
- Hostelworld – my go-to app for booking hostels worldwide
- Agoda – huge range of hotels / guesthouses worldwide at some of the best prices
- Youcamp – like Airbnb, but for camping in Australia!
- WorldPackers – the best site for finding volunteer opportunities across the planet and a great way to travel more for less. Get a discount off your membership with the exclusive promocode: BWSP20
And there you have it folks, the whole decision behind my campaign to travel without flying in 2020 and 5 top tips to help you do that same, either this year, this month or this week!
Hopefully I’ll be able to show you over the next 12 months how easy, affordable and fun overland travel can be and how we can all adventure with small pockets and a smaller carbon footprint to help the planet just that little bit more!
Would love to know your thoughts about this all, so please drop them into the comments box below…
6 thoughts on “How I Plan When Travelling Without Flying + 5 Top Tips to Help You Do the Same”
Good luck for the year ahead.
Looking forward to reading about your adventures.
Thanks Alfie 🙂
I am now 47 years old and I eat a vegan diet. I travel with my 12 year old disabled son that is in a wheelchair and my daughter. Last summer we went on train adventure using Euro Star and an Inter Rail Pass. I also bought train tickets to take us across Turkey and we got a visa to visit that country. We travelled as far as Georgia and Armenia. Back in 2013 we did a similar trip using train tickets. We managed to travel all the way to the Ukraine and Moldova. We used a number of night trains which I loved sleeping on.
This is an absolutely wonderful story Maxine. Huge credit to you and your family and many thanks for sharing details of your fab sounding train journeys. Wishing you all the best for your future adventures, Steph 🙂
Plane-free travel is a great idea if you’re living in Europe, but kind of impossible when you live in Australia.
That’s true D!