Travel blog: Interrail & Post-Growth-inspired Research Trips

By Anne Sophie Daffertshofer (PhD Candidate, School of Art History, University of St Andrews).

Published on: 14 September 2023.

More than 50 years ago, the Club of Rome called for a limit to economic growth. The vision of limitless growth, they argued, ignored the reality of living on a planet with finite resources. Since then, our dependence on fossil fuels and other natural resources has increased significantly. They are necessary to power the kind of high-carbon lifestyles that Western societies have presented as aspirational. Now, more than ever, post-growth proponents argue that the vision of endless growth and economic prosperity clashes with the growing urgency of effective environmental action in the face of climate change and widespread loss of biodiversity. In recent years, post-growth imaginaries tentatively entered the environmental debate, slowly embedding themselves on the fringes of mainstream thinking. However, de, or post-growth is a contentious topic. Critics often point, for example, to de-growth leading to rising unemployment or the question of how to fund public services. Such concerns are legitimate. However, they should not detract from the potential of post-growth as an intellectual provocation, through which equally legitimate concerns about the sustainability of the neoliberal status quo can be considered. Frederic Jameson famously stated that ‘it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism’. Yet, post-growth imaginaries are attempting to do just that. While the solution may not be to leap from one extreme to the other, it is worth exploring the sacred space in between. In other words, while we may never fully implement degrowth strategies, we can still find value in aspects and fragments of them. This endeavour aligns with the conceptual approach taken by philosopher Kate Soper in her book Post-Growth Living.

When I read Soper’s book for my PhD, I was struck by her chapter on postgrowth travel. Rather than arguing for an end to all travel, Soper encourages her readers to make mindful choices when travelling, and where possible, to opt for longer trips rather than short ones. This, Soper argues, makes it easier to rely on public transport and maximises its value by allowing a deeper experience of the places you visit. I think this needs to be incorporated more into academic research. While the travel restrictions imposed by global efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic have shown the value of face-to-face meetings and experiences, they have also demonstrated the benefits of virtual participation, for example by increasing accessibility. Instead of vowing to avoid all high-carbon travel, it might be worth making conscious choices between online and in-person participation to strike a balance.

My doctoral research explores the term ‘Anthropocene Mobilities’ to address the intersection of travel, mobility and ecological crises in and through contemporary art. For reasons of integrity, I decided to avoid high carbon modes of transport like air travel wherever possible – a challenging task being based in Fife, far away from artworks that are relevant to my research. As the international art world is structured around a number of prestigious institutions, collections and events including an ever-increasing number of biennales and the like, it is dependent on the constant transport of people and artworks. For art professionals and artists, the ability to travel to exhibitions and events to build professional networks is crucial. Inspired by Kate Soper’s vision of post-growth travel, I decided to dedicate two months each summer to an extended research trip on the European continent. During these trips, I used an unlimited Interrail ticket which allowed me to travel almost anywhere in Europe by train, generously financed by a number of travel grants that supported my endeavour, and my equally generous friends and friends of friends who provided free accommodation.

There are many advantages to using Interrail for longer research trips. An obvious one is the high degree of flexibility and spontaneity that Interrail travel allows, as you can take almost any train. Once I got used to the rhythm of getting on and off the train, I also found that I could work very well while travelling. To my surprise, longer journeys with several changes of train went by more quickly. And with an Interrail ticket, you do not have the familiar fear of missing a connection, as you can just catch the next train.

Here are some tips to make the most of your Interrail experience:

Book in Spring
When I booked my two research trips (2022/2023), Interrail offered a spring sale discount of 10% on their tickets. You have to buy the ticket at the time to get the discount, but you can use it at a later date.  Make sure you sign up to their newsletter to be aware of any future offers.

Seat Reservations
While there are many countries where you can hop on any train, some require seat reservations. This includes popular routes such as the Eurostar, the TGV to Paris, and most connections from Germany to Denmark or Poland. Check the rules and regulations of the country you plan to visit. You can find more information on the Interrail website and discussion forums.

Alternative Routes
If you miss your connecting train or are delayed, you don’t have to stick to your original route – check the Interrail app for alternatives. This way you can take the fastest connection from whatever station you are at.

Download Local Rail Apps
The Interrail app does not currently include real-time information about platforms or delays – so make sure you also use local rail apps. In Germany, that would be DB (Deutsche Bahn), for example. You can find more information on the Interrail website.

Keep all your essentials in a belt bag worn close to your body. I find it most convenient to travel with a carry-on suitcase and a weekend bag that can be placed on top of the carry-on when walking. This makes it easy to navigate busy train stations and get on and off trains quickly. Large backpacks, or big suitcases can be bothersome due to the risk of sweaty back scenarios and reduced manoeuvrability when trying to get from A to B quickly, especially if there are a lot of stairs.

Public Transport
When booking public transport tickets to supplement your Interrail pass, find out about other popular modes of transport in the country you are visiting. Check for any special offers. In Germany and Spain, public transport has been heavily subsidised since 2022, resulting in cheap, nation-wide offers. In countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, you could explore renting a bike instead of relying on buses and trams. Experiencing the differences in infrastructure and transport has been one of the most unexpectedly inspiring aspects of my trip – and hopefully Scotland will soon follow these European examples.

Photography: Anne Sophie Daffertshofer

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