Sustainable travel without a plane - from Berlin to Mongolia and then to Flegessen
On April 1st we welcomed a new member into to our AHO family. Chantal will support us in our work for four months. She would never have thought that she would live with us now. She is a student and was on her way to China for a year abroad. Since she tries to live as sustainably as possible herself, she decided against a flight and hours in a cars, bus or train. In the following blog post, Chantal explains exactly how it all went.
Motivation and Idea behind it all
When I found myself with a fellow student at a stop near Poland on January 21st -thumb outstretched, waiting for a ride- , I would never have imagined that I would find myself in a small village near Hameln.
China was the big goal. We had been intensively preparing for our trip at university: Mandarin and 'Chinese culture' had been on the curriculum as subjects which would equip us for a one-year stay abroad.
Shaped by my own desire to lead a sustainable lifestyle; a desire intensified by my course director Henning Austmann (a man committed to sustainability through post-growth economy as well as permaculture), I made the following decision: I want to go to China, but not by plane.
To China.. with no plane...?
But how do you travel such a long distance without getting on a plane? And more to the point - why?
Well, the answer is obvious if we take a close look at the emission-balance of a flight. The route from Berlin to Cologne and back, for example, creates 27.6 kilograms of CO2 per capita on a German ICE train. The same journey by plane, in contrast, creates 298 kilograms of CO2 per person. That is more than ten times the output. I cannot reconcile this with my conscience when I know that there are other options.
My fellow student and I therefore decided to use a mix of several other means of transport - hitchhiking (“hitchhiking”), bus and the Trans-Siberian Railway (also known as the Trans-Mongolian Railway once you cross into Mongolia), to get to the Forbidden City in Beijing . Hitchhiking and couch surfing allowed us to be very cost effective.
Free accommodation and vegan food
Couchsurfing is an App, which enables people from all over the world to find each other and sich host each other for free out of an interest in cultures, different languages and the desire for an exchange. In addition to the free accommodation, you save money on eating: instead of going to an expensive hotel restaurant, you can simply cook in your “own” kitchen. Especially since the hosts were always happy about to have plant-based dishes. Another important point: to accommodate yourself with someone is in principle much more sustainable than any hotel, hostel or AirBnB. The living space is is constant use and doesn't have to be permitted by a huge hotel-team first. By cooking for yourself, you are also in control of what goes into your body and can create wonderful community atmospheres by sharing and creating healthy, local and of course vegan dishes.
Hitchhiking, bus, and trans-Siberian railroad
We visited Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia before we made it to Russia. That's Europe to Asia without ever taking to the skies. Lot's of people warned us against hitchhiking; they said it would be dangerous and unreliable. We can't say we had that experience- we always reached our destination safely, all it took was a little route-planning. Look at your starting point and the end destination on a map and see how long it will take if this route is covered directly. Of course, hitchhiking from A to B takes a little longer, as you may not be taken directly and depending on the route you have to “change” more often.
Travelling this way means taking a little more time. It means really exploring the places you pass along the way. In this way, the path that is otherwise left unseen becomes a destination in and of itself. It not only increases the list of countries you visit, but also also the number of fond memories you create.
Thus one noisy train journey becomes a series of vivid adventures through lands that you would otherwise have only seen whizzing past your window.
Corona – Flegessen instead of China
As we continued our journey, we were in constant contact with our professor because of the new virus which was spreading in China. Just two weeks after the start of the trip, it was clear that we couldn't follow through with our trip to China due to COVID-19. Together with the other students, we looked for alternative solutions in this unprecedented situation. As soon as we reached Irkutsk, a large city near Lake Baikal, we began to apply for various internships. That was the new plan - use an internship to bridge the time.
That's why I couldn't be more grateful to Henning Austmann who referred me over to AHO.BIO GmbH. That's the long and short of how I ended up in Flegessen rather than Mongolia. Instead of being surrounded by the 10 million inhabitants of Hangzhou, I was now among a team of around 2 thousand people in the small village community. A new journey began for me; without a plane, without the Trans-Siberian train, although there was a lot of cycling and a whole load of delicious raw food crackers involved!