Combine networking with travel? Yes, please!

Woman outdoor in a snowy park. A statue in the shape of a clothespin. Photo.
Ylva van Meeningen in front of Skin 4, alias ’Klädnypan’ in Umeå, northern Sweden

Written by:
Ylva van Meeningen, Research Coordinator, Lund University Agenda 2030 Graduate School and Sustainability Forum

It was not a conscious decision to stop flying. Not in the beginning. As a PhD student, I flew to conferences, on scientific exchanges or to participate in different courses. But life happens, as it does. I started to have a family and suddenly more than six years have passed without a single flight. And if you haven’t flown for six years, why start again? Besides, I have always liked travelling by train. To see how the landscapes changes in the comfort of a warm cozy seat and (hopefully) not too crowded coach. And the notion that all the passengers on this train are all going somewhere, to visit friends, to work, to get away or to go home. And that this train, for a small period of time, brings us all together.

Combining travel and networking

In the end of February 2024, I went to Umeå in northern Sweden to participate in a symposium on sustainable development teaching in higher education. It suited me well as I work with the Agenda 2030 Graduate School at Lund University to meet colleagues from all over Europe to discuss and exchange ideas. Travelling by train was a perfect fit for me. By taking the night train, I could work a full day and help putting my kids to bed before embarking on this exciting journey of mine.

But did I go all the way in one sweep? No. I wanted to take full advantage of travelling by train instead of taking a plane. Because one good advantage is that you have the possibility to network along the way. It both creates a bit of space to handle potential train delays and gives the opportunity to meet this person x or organization y that you have always thought you should get in touch with. So this is what I did. I made a stop in Uppsala of approximately 6 hours to do some networking with the people who happened to be free that particular day. There is something that happens when you meet someone face to face and I got some great new insights and ideas for future projects from the people I met on this planned stop.

The rest of the trip went well. I enjoyed stunning views of the Nordic landscape, met new colleagues who were as passionate about teaching sustainability as I am, and will for sure have new collaborations for future activities.

Hands, table, paper and cups. Photo.
Networking in Uppsala on the way to Umeå.

What to keep in mind when travelling in Sweden

If you are going to travel by train within Sweden, here is some friendly advice from someone who grew up in this country and takes the customs we have here for granted and something that is completely normal (even though you might think otherwise).

Nr. 1: Even though you travel first class, do not expect any special treatment. On my night trains up and down from Umeå, I did have my own room and my own small bathroom. But that is basically it. You do not necessarily get any food (neither dinner nor breakfast), you do not get any wake up calls and you will not find special goodies hidden beneath your bed. 1st class in many ways can be much more affordable than in other countries, but that comes with a price. I was myself annoyed that it was written on my ticket that you get breakfast after 06:30, but my train arrived at 05:50. What was the point with that?

Nr 2: Be aware of changing timetables. The Swedish railroad can be fickle sometimes. There might be train delays due to the weather, due to delayed maintenance of some of the coaches, due to a shortage of staff etc. And sometimes it might look like you are going to be staying at the station for a while, with constantly changing times. But do not let that fool you. It is fine to go into the waiting hall if you are cold, but try to stay close by. Sometimes the trains just happen to be arriving earlier than expected and you do not want to get stranded in the middle of nowhere (unless you are up for an adventure of course).

Nr 3: Rather ask for help than expect people to help you. In Umeå, there are two stations which the train stopped at. One called Umeå Ö and Umeå C. A couple of americans were travelling to Umeå and they almost jumped off the wrong station. They asked to themselves ‘Is this the end station?’, but did not ask the other passengers. I thought to myself ‘no it is not’ and I assume many other passengers did too. In Sweden, most of us do not bother one another more than what is necessary. We would rather than tell you directly if you have been walking around with a clothes hanger stuck to your back, let you be embarrassed in the comfort of your own home. But if you are ever uncertain if it is the right station or not, just ask the person sitting next to you. Most of us are good English speakers and will be polite enough to tell you whether you should go off or not.

Nr 4: Enjoy the scenery! It is a great way to travel and experience the scenery of Sweden (in my humble opinion). So sit back, relax, do not just stare blindly into a screen but rather soak in the landscape that swishes by.

A snow-covered landscape from a train window. Photo.
A train window view of a beautiful sunset in northern Sweden.
Woman outdoor in a snowy landscape. Photo.
Towards Umeå University on a snow-covered road.

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One comment

  1. Maria Gedoz Tieppo

    Great idea and useful tips!

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