The Rise of Non-Flight Itineraries

6 min

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Cat Jones has a bold vision for the future of travel.

The founder of the U.K.-based travel start-up Byway wants to change the way people get to—and around—the destinations they visit.

“We have this vision for the world, where it’s really normal to be traveling off the beaten path and to be traveling flight free. Where you think about getting on a train to travel, as easily as you think about using a car or a plane for your holiday,” says Jones. “We want this vibrant travel ecosystem and blossoming away from the beaten path and away from airport hubs.”

To help realize that vision, Byway specializes in creating immersive, flight-free itineraries—in other words, journeys that rely on trains, buses, bikes, and ferries to get around and that deliberately eschew CO2-intensive plane travel in the face of worsening climate change. The trailblazing start-up uses its proprietary technology to coordinate these types of journeys for travelers, which are built around Jones’ philosophy that traveling through the world is better than flying over it.

If the response Jones has received from the public since launching Byway in 2020 is any indication, her vision for the future is spot on. The company’s grown by 700 percent each of the past two years.

“We thought we would have a real education curve to get over. Because it’s quite an alien concept for lots of people to think about ‘Let me vacation by train and boat and bus,’” Jones explains. “We thought we’d have to do more education, but people didn’t require that at all. The minute we had a website up that said you can get on a waitlist for this travel after (COVID-19) lockdown ends, we had people signing up right away.”

The inspiration behind a groundbreaking travel business

Jones is a lifelong slow traveler—meaning someone dedicated to spending more time in a single destination than rapidly hopping from one place to the next. This approach to seeing the world, which is far more eco-friendly, also involves connecting more deeply to people and places. And in Jones’ case, using alternative forms of transportation.

When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged and the world was locked-down, Jones had an ah-ha moment. She realized travel as we all knew it would surely undergo a radical transformation once the pandemic subsided. “The lockdown was the catalyst to start my business…to say ‘Wow, travel is going to go into free fall and it’s probably not going to look the same,’” Jones recalled. “I felt like COVID was going to give us a sustained set of shocks and a sustained period of changes that we were going to have to deal with.”

She further surmised that some of those changes would impact the way people explored and what their goals were as travelers.

“I felt like if travel is going to have this complete reset, the landscape will look very different on the other side of lockdown,” she continues. “People would be more connected with their local areas and they’re going to have to discover new ways to connect with the world around them and to sort of slow down and explore more deeply.”

All of which aligned with the form of slow travel that Jones has been practicing throughout her life. Particularly when it came to viewing the transportation portion of the journey as a part of the overall experience, rather than merely a means to an end.

Young female traveler waits for the train (photo via anyaberkut/Getty Images)

The Byway technology that delivers non-flight journeys

Planning a trip that does not include the ease of flying from one place to another is no simple task. There can be any number of logistical challenges and uncertainties for travelers who have never attempted to get from place to place via train or bus, or some combination of both.

“It’s really difficult to plan and book a multi-stop, multi-modal holiday. You have to think about things like ‘Where can I even go when I’m traveling overland?’” explains Jones. “And then if you’ve figured out where you want to go and which places you would like to see on your journey, you then have to next figure out which trains and boats and busses connect with each other…and if that train is late, what kind of ticket do I need for the ferry, if there even is a ferry.”

In other words, planning your own DIY flight-free itinerary can be daunting. But Byway was created to make flight-free travel effortless. Jones describes her business as really a tech company at heart—one focused on managing the logistics of overland travel and arranging memorable, eco-friendly journeys.

“We’ve built the dynamic packaging technology that allows us to put trains, boats, buses, bikes and accommodation together, with backdrop options and put that all in one place for a customer to click once and say ‘Yes that looks lovely, let me book it,’” explains Jones. “And then in the background, Byway goes out and buys all of the tickets and books all of the accommodations.”

Bike, Copenhagen, Denmark, City
Riding Bikes in Copenhagen. (Photo via Getty Images)

Is Byway just the beginning?

While Byway is certainly unique, Jones is not the only one thinking about the importance of traveling differently in order to protect the planet. There are a few other up-and-coming names in the flight-free space, including Stay Grounded, which describes itself as a “people-oriented, science-based, and action-oriented network” focused on reducing air traffic and building a climate-just transport system.

The Stay Grounded network supports local struggles against airport expansion and fosters alternative forms of travel, including train travel.

“Currently, flying is still the most climate-damaging form of transport and it will remain so in the decades to come. There is no other option than reducing it, especially in countries of the global north where people have been flying most,” says Magdalena Heuwieser, co-founder and spokesperson of Stay Grounded.

Even with the success of companies like Byway, Heuwieser says convincing people to give up the ease of flying, especially when it’s cheap and fast, can be challenging. She says it’s incumbent on governments to do their part too via infrastructure developments. “Behavior changes need to be accompanied by structural changes: better railway, bus, and ferry options, bans of short-haul flights, a kerosene tax, a stop of incentives to fly like , more online options to avoid business travel,” says Heuweiser.

And until that happens, Heuwiser advocates people flying sparingly, perhaps once every five years, for special occasions. Or at least think critically about whether a flight is necessary, or whether it’s the only possible option for getting where you need to go. Taking that line of thought even further, Heuweiser also suggests thinking critically about whether the trip itself is even necessary.

“It makes a lot of sense to think before every possible flight: Do I really need to go there or can I make holidays closer by?” She explains. “Can the work meeting be shifted to online? Can I travel to the place by grounded transport?”

She also suggests travelers consider whether it is possible to take longer holidays so that they have time for a different mode of transport other than a plane. Amid all of this, it’s also important to acknowledge that for some, flying might simply be more necessary than for others. “For example if a person has their family living on another continent,” says Heuweiser.

road, sustainable, sustainability, green, future, ecotourism, eco-friendly
The road that leads to a sustainable future. (photo via iStock/Getty Images Plus/smshoot)

The future of non-flight travel

The individuals behind the creation of Byway and Stay Grounded aren’t the only ones promoting non-flight travel.

Yugen Earthside, another fledgling travel company that was incorporated in 2021, is also focused on this topic. The company founder, Hillary Matson, describes her company as a sustainable travel booking platform and advisory service. “We connect mindful travelers to responsible trips and provide sustainable travel consultations to our clients,” explains Matson.

And yes, those responsible trips may often include a focus on alternative or green forms of transportation. Matson says she doesn’t think it’s fair to tell travelers they shouldn’t or can’t travel by plane at all, but once at a destination, she helps her clients focus on as much eco-friendly transportation as possible. “Whether it’s walking or trekking, or getting to destinations by steam teams, these things can be part of the adventure,” says Matson.

Matson, Jones, and Heuweiser all have the somewhat common aim of trying to help travelers think differently, and then begin to explore the world differently.

The message travelers need to hear is that not only are there viable alternatives in many parts of the world to planes and CO2-intensive modes of transportation but those alternatives can provide a far more valuable and memorable travel experience.

“The alternatives to flying are these really beautiful overland journeys that are joyful on their own, but that’s not something that’s well known,” says Jones, of Byway. “And that’s a large part of our mission—to make a lot of noise about how wonderful and accessible this type of travel is.”

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Source: TravelPulse

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