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  • Writer's pictureEveline Vouillemin

Byway - The travel company creating personalised flight-free trips

We spoke to Harriet Matthews from Byway and learnt about the flight free movement and how to travel more sustainably.

The slow travel movement is gaining in popularity across the UK and the rest of the world. Travelers are becoming increasingly conscious of the impact of their travel behaviours on the environment and are determined to find ways to explore the world that are more sustainable.

A number of interesting companies who offer flight-free itineraries are popping up in response to demand:

  • Byway - a slow travel planner for flight-free trips, launched in 2020. Each trip is “personalised for the holidaymaker, and optimised for quality of experience instead of speed”.

  • No Fly Travel Club - offer “sustainable rail trips for adventurous souls”. They believe that stopping flying doesn’t have to mean an end to travelling and that train journeys can be an exciting, atmospheric and pleasurable way to travel.

  • Travelling Whale - an online travel agency committed to creating positive change in the travel industry by creating sustainable adventures around the world that use travel as a force for good.

Last year, I took a pledge to take a flight free year with Flight Free UK, a charity inspired by the Swedish "Flygfritt" (flight-free) movement, whose mission is to inform people of the climate impact of aviation and to encourage people to sign an annual pledge to remain flight-free for a year.

Taking the pledge made me feel empowered, it didn't mean compromising on adventure and it made me appreciate all the beautiful views I saw that I would have missed by flying.

Someone who knows a lot about slow and sustainable travel and choosing to stay grounded is Harriet Matthews from Byway. She works to create bespoke flight-free trips and to show all the wonderful possibilities that come from not flying.

We spoke to Harriet about the flight free travel movement, reducing your impact on the environment when you travel and her most memorable trip...

Can you give us an overview of Byway and tell us about what you do there?

Byway is the world's first dynamic slow travel packaging technology, offering flight-free travel across the UK, Europe and beyond. By taking into consideration customers’ inputs (interests, dates, regions, dietary requirements etc), our trip builder plans a route based on the accommodation and transport available, creating fully bespoke itineraries optimised for beauty, not speed.

I work in the product content team here at Byway. My role is geared around researching, writing and editing all the content that goes into our tech to make sure that our itineraries help give customers a great flavour of all the places and journeys they can experience. As part of my role, I also have my finger on the pulse for any new places we should be including in our offering, to help more people reach more places without stepping onto a plane.

What sort of trips do Byways provide? And what is the most popular trip on offer?

All our trips are 100% flight-free, and we specialise in slow travel holidays. Our slow travel approach is all about taking the time to get to know a place - its food, its landscapes, its people, its histories - and enjoying the freedom and unexpectedness of travelling overland.

Many of our most popular trips contain some of the most spectacular train journeys you can take, for example, our trip to Switzerland featuring the Glacier and Bernina Express or, closer to home, The Highlands & Hogwarts route via sleeper train.

What do you love most about working for Byway?

I love that I get to work for a company whose mission I so strongly believe in, and doing a role that fits my interests (both travel and writing/editing) is pretty amazing. I also can’t not mention the amazing team; there’s something really special about working with people who have such different backgrounds and life experiences coming together over a cause that they are passionate about.

When did you become conscious of the flight free travel movement?

For as long as I can remember, I have always had a strong concern over how we look after the planet, but, like a lot of people, it took me a while to realise where travel fitted into that.

During Covid, I came across the work of Flight Free UK, and basically just did a lot of reading about flight-free travel. As well as becoming more aware of the carbon impact of flying, I became inspired by people who were travelling in a different way, and how this seemed to offer them a more authentic, gentle and connected way to travel. This kickstarted my own venture into flight-free travel, and I am pretty addicted!

What encouragement would you give to people who love to travel but want to reduce

their impact on the environment?

Start by swapping out a flight for a train journey, and allow yourself to take things slow and appreciate the journey as an integral part of your holiday.

Rather than rushing to Milan by plane, for example, taking the train will allow you to stop off for an evening in Paris, and perhaps Turin, a beautiful and too-often overlooked Italian city. You’ll get to enjoy scenic overland journeys and arrive right into the heart of the city ready to explore.

Are there any top tips you can give people who want to travel more responsibly?

Rail travel must be cheaper (we’re always looking for ways to push for this through policy and legislation), but there are things you can do to keep costs down like booking well in advance and opting for off-peak times.

As tempting as it can be, try not to overly compare the time and financial cost to a cheap flight, because it’s not comparing like-for-like. A flight is a means to an end, and slow travel is an end in itself.

What is your most memorable travel experience and why?

Travelling round Switzerland by train. I did the epic Bernina Express (which did not disappoint) but quite honestly, every single train journey I took in Switzerland had me gawping out of the window; the railway lines cut right through some of the most spectacular mountain landscapes I’ve ever seen.

If you had to sum up what makes a great holiday experience in a sentence, what

would you say?

Authentic connection to the places and people you encounter along the way, with time to wander away from the beaten path and discover corners of a place that feel small, personal and serendipitous!

By Eveline Vouillemin ©

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