As It Happens

B.C. man embarks on 2-month trek by train and cargo ship to reduce carbon footprint

Will Vibert tells As It Happens host Carol Off about the lengths he went to to avoid air travel, in an effort to reduce his carbon footprint.

'I wanted to prove to people that it was possible to still travel the world, but not do it by plane'

Will Vibert took a cargo ship from Hamburg to Halifax as part of his effort to avoid air travel. (Submitted by Will Vibert)
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Like many people, Will Vibert had to make a transatlantic journey to get home for Christmas. But instead of hopping on a plane, the British Columbian made alternative travel plans in an effort to reduce his carbon footprint.

Vibert left Milan, where has been living, on Oct. 26, and made his way to Hamburg by bus, stopping in Lyon, France, and Bern, Switzerland, to visit friends. He boarded a cargo ship in Hamburg on Nov. 18 and arrived in Halifax a couple weeks later. From there, he took trains across the country, arriving in B.C, on Dec. 15. 

He documented the experience in the Guardian.

In an interview with As It Happens host Carol Off, Vibert called the trip an "amazing experience," and said he would recommend it to others — if they have the time. Here's part of that conversation.

Most people would have just hopped a plane. Why did you decide to do it this way? 

I realized that as much as I tried to be environmentally conscious at home, that's kind of this huge blind spot.

It was the fact that I was taking flights all over the world, and that cancels out kind of any steps I try to take at home to reduce my carbon footprint. 

I wanted to prove to people that it was possible to still travel the world, but not do it by plane.

As long as you have time to do it. 

Exactly. That's kind of the crucial thing. So I know most people don't, and I'm never going to shame them for that.

How did you arrange to cross the Atlantic on a cargo boat? 

Basically, the shipping companies, they will sell surplus cabin space through various travel agencies. ... Luckily, there was something that worked for me. 

What was the routing? 

It left Hamburg and we stopped in Antwerp and stopped in Liverpool en route to Halifax.

So you spent, what, two weeks onboard? 

It was 15 days. 

Vibert took this photo of the cargo ship while he was boarding in Hamburg, Germany. (Submitted by Will Vibert)

Most people crossing the Atlantic [are] on a very nice cruise ship with all kinds of shuffleboard and swimming pools and nice restaurants and stuff. So you were onboard with a bunch of, I guess, burly sailors. Did you have much social life? 

Yeah, I actually did. It was remarkably, remarkably fun and time went by really fast. There were two other passengers with me as well, and they were great. 

We had dart tournaments and played board games, watched movies. We were kind of just left on our own to do whatever we wanted. 

Vibert, right, and another cargo ship passenger play a game of chess. (Submitted by Will Vibert)

What kind of accommodations did you have on board? 

Every passenger gets their own cabin and it's actually extremely, extremely comfortable. Nothing fancy, but you know, I had my own bed, my own desk, my own private bathroom. 

And the food? 

The food was nothing amazing, but it was certainly fine.

There's a lot of meat, which I don't really eat much of. But other than that, I can't really complain when you're getting three hot meals a day and the crew is so nice. 

Vibert's cabin on the cargo ship. (Submitted by Will Vibert)

How much did that cost to cross the Atlantic on that boat? 

It was a little under 1,500 € ($2,179.38 Cdn). That's including food and everything. 

It seemed like a lot, but once I kind of had the experience of being on board I realized, actually, this is something that's very special ... [and] it no longer felt like that much money to pay for the experience.

Vibert snapped this photo while he was on the train near Jasper National Park in Alberta. (Submitted by Will Vibert)

What was your total carbon emissions at the end of your trip? 

The total was just about 260 kilos of CO2 emissions, and most of that was just coming from the train. 

How much would it have been if you'd flown from Germany to Vancouver?  

The one-way flight would have been 1.3 tonnes.

Do you recommend this to people? 

I do. I know it's not feasible for many people, but if someone is looking for, you know, a different kind of adventure — one that has a low carbon footprint — I really could not recommend it more.

It was really an amazing experience.


Written by Katie Geleff. Interview produced by Kevin Ball. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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