An Environmentally Friendly Adventure

While flying may be the fastest and most comfortable way to travel from London to Singapore, we have decided to take up a much more challenging, much less comfortable, much slower, but definitely a lot more exciting, interesting and meaningful method - going overland.

The idea for this expedition arose from our desire for an unusual adventure, and concerns about the problems associated with long distance air travel, such as the impact on the environment and adverse effects on our physical and mental health.

Aviation is the fastest growing contributor to global warming.² With this expedition we want to demonstrate that there exists a more sustainable way of travelling half way around the world. Therefore one of the main objectives of this expedition is to carry out a comparative study on how long distance rail travel compares to air travel in terms of its harmful effect on our global climate. Studies suggest that compared to air travel taking the train only produces about one third of the carbon dioxide per passenger per kilometer.³ Our goal is to quantify the actual CO2 saving for our trip using information that can only be obtained by actually completing this journey. This includes the occupancy of the trains and the type and efficiency of the locomotives. The Climate Study section will give you more details.

We find that long distance flying can also create undesirable effects in us humans. Our Singaporean team member, Yehui, is a frequent flyer between London and Singapore. She has found that being so used to flying has caused her to forget what actually lies between London's Heathrow Airport and Singapore's Changi Airport. She also has to deal with jet-lag and adjusting her body to the drastic climate differences. This expedition will have her and the rest of the team experience the countries that lie between London and Singapore and see the gradual changes in climate, timezones, and culture.

To get from London to Singapore overland we will cover a distance of more than 13,000 kilometers, travel in 14 countries, and spend more than 2 weeks on trains. So wish us luck while we reject the free alcohol and free movies on the aeroplane and embrace the beautiful sights and gastronomic delights on our adventure!



The Team

We are a group of 5 friends studying at the University College London. Read our profiles to get to know us a little better.

Jacek Chodzko

Age: 21
Nationality: Polish
Course: Economics with East European Studies (2nd Year)
Interests: Politics, Economics, Cinema
Role in team: Russian speaker
Most looking forward to for this expedition: Cultural discovery, taking photographs of interesting places
Plan on how to kill time during the long journeys: Reading, Exploring cultural differences


Tom Gibbs

Age: 19
Nationality: British
Course: Naval Architecture (2nd Year)
Interests: Rugby, Rockclimbing, Mountainbiking, Eating
Role in team: Outdoor navigation, Emission Research Coordinator
Most looking forward to for this expedition: Eating every nice food from every different country
Plan on how to kill time during the long journeys: Trying to beat Yehui at Sudoku.


Melis Ozer

Course: Mathematics with Economics (2nd Year)
Interests: Travelling, Cinema, Swimming, Fashion
Role in team:Accomodation Planning
Most looking forward to for this expedition: Discovering every country's culture and food
Plan on how to kill time during the long journeys:Reading, Sleeping, Talking


Martin Pfeiffer - Expedition Leader

Age: 19
Nationality: German
Course: Engineering with Business Finance (2nd Year)
Interests: Juggling, Photography, Travelling, Snowboarding, Trekking
Role in team: General Coordination and Route Planning, First Aid
Most looking forward to for this expedition: Experiencing the vastness of this planet. Discovering Asia.
Plan on how to kill time during the long journeys: Reading; Catching up on all the sleep that I've been missing out on during term time; Deciphering the meaning of foreign signs and warnings in train compartments.


Yehui Wu - Assistant Expedition Leader

Age: 21
Nationality: Singaporean
Course: Engineering with Business Finance (2nd Year)
Interests: Wakeboarding, Shopping, Cooking, Fashion designing
Role in team: Chinese Speaker, Medical Officer
Most looking forward to for this expedition: Getting home and feasting on Asian food!
Plan on how to kill time during the long journeys: Proving to Tom that I am better than him at sudoku.




Our projected departure date from London is the 31st of May 2006. After many many train hours we will finally change mode of transport from Hanoi to Vientiane (Bus). From there we will continue on by train all the way to Singapore.

On our way we will be stopping in the following places:

  • Berlin, Germany
  • Warsaw, Poland
  • Moscow, Russia
  • Almaty, Kazakhstan
  • Urumqi, China
  • Turpan, China
  • Jiayuguan, China
  • Xi'an, China
  • Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Vientiane, Laos
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Butterworth, Malaysia
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Singapore, Singapore

To experience as much as possible in the limited time we've got, we have planned a variety of cultural, recreational, and culinary activities for each location. We will, however, keep our eyes and ears open and are willing to alter our plans if other interesting opportunities arise.

We are planning to arrive in Singapore approximately 4 weeks after our departure.



Climate Study

Travel around the world has been revolutionised in the past few decades with the introduction of commercial passenger aircraft. These aircraft burn kerosene, which is highly damaging to the environment; they emit many greenhouse gases such as CO2, and ozone form NOx. These gasses contribute significantly to global warming.

Trains can be much more efficient than aircraft, as most trains are electrically driven the power is generated in large efficient power plants rather than in local engines (like on a plane).

On the trip we will try to analyse the emissions of the transport systems we take, we will do this by finding the emission rates per passenger mile for each method of transport.

We will note capacity of the trains, the power source for each train, the number of carriages, the distance travelled on each train, and the trains’ speed. With empirical approximations for train drag and information on efficiencies of the national electricity grids, the overall efficiency of the train, the overall power required to drive the train can be found.
With information on the specific nations power grid generation composition (i.e. what percentage of the grid is comprised of coal power plants, gas plants etc), power plant efficiencies and the emission rates of these fuels the total emission rates for the journey can be found and emissions per passenger mile found.
The aircraft emission calculation is much simpler, simply the great circle distance that a plane flies can be found, and with jet engine efficiencies, aircraft drag and aircraft capacity, the fuel burnt per passenger mile can be found, and therefore emissions per passenger mile.

The aim of this calculation being to determine whether taking an overland route (albeit longer in distance and in time) is better for the environment than taking a plane.

It should be noted that we are aware that simply concentrating on the environmental cost of travel, ignoring other practicalities like monetary cost and time, is very simplistic. So although we will mainly try to gauge the environmental damage done we will take into account the other aspects involved in travelling long distances, and try to suggest realistic recommendations to the problem of global warming due to aviation.




Please contact Martin Pfeiffer for any queries, suggestions, or remarks:




University College London
We thank the UCL Expedition and Travel Committee for their financial and organisational support.




²New Commission strategy to improve environmental performance in aviation sector,

³Energy and emissions profiles of aircraft and other modes of transport over European Distances, Centre for Energy Conservation and Environmental Technology, Delft, Netherlands, 1997