“Going into a club and coming out a few hours later on the other side of the world makes no sense to me. One of Insa Lyon’s students, Jules, 23, rode his bike to an Erasmus exchange last year. While the beneficiaries of the Erasmus+ program have never been more numerous, some are opting for sobriety by avoiding the plane. Ecological beliefs mix with a spirit of adventure and a desire to rethink travel.
1700 km by bike to Lisbon
From Puy-en-Velay to Lisbon, Jules covered almost 1700 km. “I left at the end of August to arrive in time for the start of the school year on September 17th. My goal was to get as close as possible to CO2-free mobility. However, he did not have “a great ecological conscience” before he studied at the engineering school.
“Being exposed to factual and quantified data based on IPCC reports allowed me to see the magnitudes of CO2 emissions. When it came to choosing the route to his new hometown, the idea of cycling quickly came to the outdoor sports enthusiast’s mind. “We think it’s crazy, but in the end 100 kilometers a day isn’t that exhausting. The body quickly adapts to the position and to sleeping in the tent. »
Since this experience, which he shared on Instagram, other students have asked him to organize bike trips. This summer he even accompanied a friend to Bari (Italy). “On the way we met German students who did the same, we feel that the European youth is beginning to take hold of the topic.”
Others than him are looking for alternative solutions to get around. Lorine, 20, a student at BTS Tourism, at IMS Nantes, is also convinced that the era of all airplanes is over. “I grew up hearing about climate change all the time, so I don’t feel like it clicked. The plane, she only took it twice in her life, for school trips for which she had no other choice.
In everyday life, she only rides her bike and public transport and “walks a lot”. When she was preparing for her internship in Barcelona in the summer of 2022, it seemed logical to choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport. “It was the train, but leaving home was complicated: it wasn’t direct, and it forced me to spend a night on the road, but my means are not expandable. So she decided to take the bus. 14 hour night drive.
For the student, it wasn’t “exhaustion” and she never had the impression that she was “limiting herself” by not getting on the plane. However, upon returning to Nantes, she discovered that she was the only one in her class to have traveled other than by air. “Even the teacher was surprised. In fact, most had never even considered the possibility of doing things differently! »
“The 900 kilometers at the end were long”
Paradoxically, the alternatives to flying often require a higher financial outlay: the train is usually more expensive, and if you travel for several days, you have to sleep somewhere. The Erasmus+ program has introduced a scholarship grant of 50 to 100 euros to encourage people to use environmentally responsible modes of transport and the duration of the scholarship has been extended to cover additional travel time.
Some schools run programs to promote eco-mobility and reduce their carbon emissions. The Polytech network of engineering schools has created Polytech Green, which allows students to calculate the carbon cost of their mobility and offer them a less polluting alternative. You can also benefit from a grant for mobility related to the ecological transition.
“Between 2021 and 2022, we spontaneously identified a 20% reduction in emissions related to mobility, without implementing any binding measures,” specifies Eric Anglaret, teacher-researcher at Polytech Montpellier and director of the Polytech Green program.
Anyone who opts for soft mobility is willing to accept the constraints, especially the financial ones. Gaspard, a student at Essec, used his bike ride from Paris to Madrid “to see family or friends and sometimes to stay in a youth hostel”. To go, he had to equip himself completely: bike, saddlebags, helmet, shoes… a total investment of almost 1,000 euros.
A competition organized by his school enabled him to fund part of it. “I am very athletic and love a challenge. When I saw that one of my friends had cycled to Helsinki, I dreamed of doing the same.” However, the course will not be easy. First of all athletic, between 6 and 8 hours of cycling for 15 days and 135km a day, “wasn’t that obvious”. Shortly after half he broke his thumb. “The 900 kilometers at the end were long, and then I didn’t do any sport for a month! »
But this trip has brought him further: “I used to not deal with ecology at all, the plane was easy”. Henceforth, Gaspard is a believer in “slow travel” and takes the time to enjoy his journey, which is as much a part of the journey as the destination of arrival.
Nice-Madrid by bike, return by hitchhiking boat
In addition to the first trip without a plane, discovering other countries also encourages you to rethink your everyday habits. Erasmus+, which pushes for mobility for all, nevertheless declares that it is committed to the green transition by allowing students to learn from their destination country and then importing best practices back to their country of origin.
Pierre-Baptiste, a 23-year-old trainee coordinator and shoemaker at Compagnons du Devoir, discovered the cycling paradise in Germany. This regular on Paris cycle paths saw a practice in Friborg “much less stressful and safer. ‘ Back in Paris, he recalled: ‘Here’s the bike, the catamaran! “. “In France, soft mobility is not yet clear to us, and that’s a pity. »
At the European level, traveling by different modes of transport remains complicated, although France is fairly well equipped with rail transport. For the train return from Barcelona, Gaspard had to resort to regional trains because the bike can only be transported in certain TGVs, folded or disassembled and covered, which limits the possibilities.
Also a hitchhiker, Aurèle, student at Insa Lyon, set off from Nice to Madrid along this route in March 2022 and returned “hitchhiking by boat”. “There are specialized sites from people looking for staff on the boat. I met a family who were leaving La Coruña (Spain) to return to Brittany and needed someone to help keep watch. »
When choosing his means of transport, several criteria play a role. If the ecological impact is important, the spirit of adventure is just as important. After hitchhiking nearly 15,000 km on various excursions, Aurèle sees the journey not as getting from A to B, but as a human experience that impacts her environment. To the point where he even wonders about his reasons for traveling. He originally intended to go to South America for a gap year.
“I’m a photographer, I love to travel and it’s very hard to convince us that we can’t do it the way we used to. But on this trip, I was wondering if I was doing this for myself or to show that I’m a great backpacker who travels by boat. Aurèle is aware that “it is very difficult to get out of the system in which we grew up”. But for him today it is the only way to really act for ecology.