Train, car or plane?

Our choice of transport mode for a holiday trip is crucial in terms of the emissions it generates. This section contains comprehensive information on the climate footprint of traveling by train, car, bus, flight and ferry. You can read more about how we have calculated on the Transport calculations page.

Going on holiday by train is a good choice if you want to reduce your carbon footprint since most passenger trains in Europe are powered by electricity. Train travel in the Nordic countries stands out in this aspect since the carbon emissions from electricity production in the Nordic countries are lower than the European average.
All high-speed trains and night trains in Europe are electric, and although the emissions from electricity production in Europe are higher than in the Nordic countries, the train has a significantly lower climate impact than flying. Electric trains are significantly better for the climate than diesel locomotives. If you know that a particular train line is powered by diesel, you can change this in the calculator.
Between many cities in Europe you can travel by night train. Traveling and sleeping at the same time is an efficient and convenient way to travel.

A holiday by car with 3-4 people in the car is a relatively low-carbon transport option in relation to flying. If you are driving an electric car or using renewable fuel the climate impact is even lower. Another advantage is that it is flexible, and taking a spontaneous detour or spending a night in some cozy little village along the way is a way to avoid driving very long distances.
A longer drive can sometimes also be shortened by taking a ferry for part of the trip. If it is a ferry that operates overnight, it can be quite convenient. However normal ferries cause significantly greater emissions per passenger kilometre compared to driving a car the whole way. High-speed ferries are a particularly bad choice from a climate point of view. Read more about the climate footprint of ferries further down on this page.

In many instances, buses or coaches are relatively good options from a climate point of view. Sometimes even in comparison with trains – e.g. in countries where CO2 emissions from electricity production are relatively high, and in comparison with diesel trains. The emissions from a bus or coach trip depend largely on the fuel used, but also on the occupancy rate and fuel consumption. It’s a good idea to ask the bus or coach company which fuel they use, which is also a way of having an impact. You can change the type of fuel in the calculator if you know that the bus runs on a renewable fuel, in which case the emissions are estimated to be only a quarter compared to diesel.

For many rich counties, emissions from flights are causing large emissions. Extensive flying reduces our chances of achieving our climate goals. Flights taken by, for example, Swedish residents are, during a normal year, responsible for about the same quantity of greenhouse gas emissions as all car driving put together. For Swedes, around 80 per cent of the flying (measured in km) are for private purposes, while 20 per cent are for business purposes.
You might occasionally hear the argument that aviation accounts for ‘only’ 3-4 per cent of global climate impact, and that there is too much talk about flight shame and that we should not fly. Internationally, researchers estimate that only about 3 per cent of the world’s population take flights in a year, while 97 per cent stay on the ground
(Gössling, Humpe 2020). Consequently, very few people are responsible for all the emissions from air travel, and most of them come from wealthy countries. For example, aviation emissions from an average Swedish resident are 5 times higher than for the average world citizen (source).

If the minority who account for the majority of all emissions from air travel were to limit their flying to once per year, or once every two years, the emissions from air travel would reduce drastically.
In fact, a flight does not cause more emissions per kilometre than a person driving alone in a diesel car, but a significant difference is that it is possible to travel much further in a short time on a flight. For example, not many people drive alone 2000 km for a weekend, while this is fairly common when flying.

The main advantage of ferries is that they offer shortcuts between destinations. Overnight ferry services are also an efficient way to travel.
Unfortunately, ferries generate high emissions – almost twice as high per passenger kilometre than flights. Almost all passenger ferries run on fossil fuels. One important factor for their emissions is the speed of the ferry. A high-speed ferry generates much higher emissions than a regular ferry. Other factors such as fuel type and fuel consumption and capacity utilisation also influence the emissions. It’s a good idea to ask the ferry company how much emissions they are causing and when they will start using electric ferries or ferries using renewable fuels. This will give them an additional signal that their passengers care about this.