I did London to Sydney without flying. Here's how

| 16th April 2010
Ewan in front of a coach
Ewan. Still King of Bus.
Our well-grounded Kiwi reflects on his six month (almost flightless) odyssey from London to New Zealand, and answers all the usual questions on travel without wings

Followers of my blog will have known for a while, that, from London, I got as far as Sydney with my feet never leaving the surface of the globe. Having rested, and re-started my course of study, I’m now answering the most common questions…


Hitch-hiking to a Buddhist monastery/shamanic energy centre near the Trans-Mongolian line through the Gobi, eating pig's ear at a roadside diner in Chinese heartland, watching the sunset over the Sumatran archipelago from the back deck of a ferry.

How green was it?

As far as positives go, I learnt swags about geography, culture, history, and politics. All crucial topics for a true environmentalist. The main impact of the trip was in CO2 emissions from transport. But the figures speak for themselves:

Overland route (coach where possible, trains, ferries, yachts):
27,727Km - 1.45 tonnes CO2

Flying direct long haul (+10% routing addition):
16,983Km - 3.75 tonnes CO2 equivalent

If you’re interested in a breakdown of how I figured these out, check my previous blog posts. (For geeks – the RFI I’ve used for the flights here is 2)

Even with my circuitous route, I'd be responsible for emissions at least two and a half times as large if I had flown from London to Sydney.

How much is 1.45 tonnes of CO2 really?

Currently UK emissions are over 9 tonnes of CO2 per capita annually. To get to even a modest goal like 450 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 the global per capita average needs to be around 1.25 tonnes per person per year. So yes, 1.45 tonnes is considerable, but another impact of choosing to travel overland is that it binds a sense of personal gravity to the decision to go that matches the emissions costs - something that’s just not the case with clicking on a cheap flight. Tempting as it is, I’m going to repeat this trip every year.   

How long did it take?

Er... six months. But that was only around 40 days of travel, including a week on a yacht – too easy. One can travel London – Beijing in around 10 days without flying.

How did you get over the sea?

Getting across big bits of water can be hard. Indonesia still relies on passenger ferries, but there are none to Australia. I got lucky leaving Indo, finding a yachtie there who was game enough to sail close to cyclone season. Some cargo ships offer possibilities but berths can be infrequent and, like most niche products, expensive.


Not too hard for a UK citizen, at least. I needed to get Russian and Chinese ones before I left the UK, and Mongolian in advance, but at time of writing none of these countries (unlike Iran or Pakistan on the southern route) needed to see a ticket out. Other countries issued visas freely (EU countries, Thailand, Malaysia) or for a small fee on arrival (Laos, Indonesia).


For the tickets alone, getting to Bali overland was pretty comparable to flying – around £600. Of course, then there was another £240 or so for visas, and an average of about £10 a day for food and accommodation, depending on one’s sense of comfort and/or love of adventure. Bali – Sydney was another £450 for travel alone – Australia and the Indian Ocean are not generally cheap places to cross. So, in short, going overland is comparable to flying when heading to East Asian locations, but a more expensive way to get to the antipodes.

I want to do this but I don't have 6 months to spare. Any thoughts?

Follow the Man in Seat 61’s advice (but try the odd bus, too, please) That will get you to Singapore in under a month. Then head to Batam and grab the twice-weekly Pelni ferry to Jakarta, spend a couple of days in Bali, fly to Darwin and you're laughing. You could also take a cargo ship directly from England to... well, pretty much anywhere.

I want to do this, but I want to take the southern route instead. Is it possible?

As I mentioned, visas might not be too easy, however, there's also a suite of group tours that do this trip by truck.

Was it one of the most exciting, life-affirming, inspiring and just plain fun 6 months of your life?

Yes, yes, yes, yes!

Useful links

I failed. I caught a plane
Thousands of miles by train, coach, bus, boat and foot and, at the last hurdle, Ewan finds that there's no way to cross the Tasman Sea except on metal wings...
Bali to Australia by catamaran
Though it was slow, choppy, wet and tiring, Ewan looks back on his wind-powered crossing to Australia as an experience worth every minute
Are you an overland traveller?
Ewan discovers that 'overland traveller' has become something of a category, but one into which he's happy to fit
No plane, no problem in South East Asia...
Ewan travels south through Laos and Thailand, discovering a landscape that speaks of the awkward throes of industrialisation...
Train travel: the return of the journey
Rail travel is the cheaper, greener, more comfortable way to go, so ditch your flight plan in favour of a fast train to the world. Rail aficionado 'the Man in Seat 61' explains why

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