This Slow Travel Company Specializes in Flight-Free Holidays

Byway Travel has replaced airplanes with boats, bikes, buses, and trains.

Jacobite Train
The Jacobite Train in Scotland.

Byway Travel

The travel industry has taken an unprecedented beating over the past year, with country borders closed and flights grounded all across the world. Despite these challenges, an entrepreneurial woman from the United Kingdom, Cat Jones, figured it was a good time to open a travel business—but not just any kind of travel business. This one would focus exclusively on flight-free holidays.

Jones believed the time was ripe for such a business model. Prior to the pandemic, many people were expressing an interest in flight-free travel, some adhering to the Scandinavian flygskam movement ("flight-shaming" in Swedish) that swears off flying for environmental reasons. Now the idea of avoiding planes is more appealing than ever, both for health and environmental reasons. 

Byway Travel was set up in March 2020, right after Jones quit her job with an investment company. "Everyone thought it was a crazy thing to do," she tells Treehugger in a Zoom interview. "I had a lot of perplexed friends who said, 'You just had a great job and you've founded a travel job during a global pandemic?'" 

Cat Jones
Cat Jones, founder.

Byway Travel

The company specializes in designing holidays that use boats, trains, buses, and bicycles to get around. While this may be a foreign concept to some, Jones has lived this way for 20 years, never owning a car.

"I've had Byway in my blood for a while. That's how I get around and I love it," says Jones. "I love the unexpectedness of it and the way you're going through and stopping off. There's a lot of joy in that kind of travel for me. But it's hard to do." 

Byway wants to make it easy for others to travel this way. It's ideal for people who are time-poor or don't have the resources to do all their own research. "We take the legwork out, make it straightforward, and they can have this joyful journey," Jones explains.

Prospective travelers can either ask for a tailor-made tour, based on a survey of their own interests or peruse the destinations page, which shows some of Byway's favorite trips. Tours are based on places that the team knows and loves personally.

"We are very conscious of finding the gorgeous things that are off the beaten track, under the radar, away from the crowds. A whole lot of local knowledge is needed to make that work," Jones explains, which is why Byway sometimes partners with tourist boards that have a deep, intimate knowledge of their own regions.

Once selected, travelers purchase the package (fully covered for COVID-induced cancellations), receive an itinerary and detailed list of "the little gems and nuggets that we really like in a particular place," an invitation to a private WhatsApp group that provides live texting support from Byway, and embark on their journey. There is no tour guide that accompanies them.

Byway by bicycle
Travel by bicycle.

Byway Travel

This model has been tremendously successful thus far, despite the challenges of squeezing trips in between lockdowns. Jones says she expected to spend far more time educating people about the benefits of slow travel, but that hasn't been the case. She explains: "There are a lot more people coming to us, saying, 'I can't holiday as I normally would, but I still want a trip that's exciting, different romantic.' Once they've tried it, they're hooked." 

Jones attributes this partly to a mental shift triggered by lockdown. People have gotten to know their local areas better. They've become aware of how vulnerable independent businesses are and more interested in developing a sense of community. "That's part of slow travel, too, and all of that is a shift that's here to stay," she says.

The WhatsApp feature is an interesting one that Jones said has been quite enjoyable for the team: "It's that little bit of assistance if they need us or want us. Some prefer to be left totally alone." For many first-time solo travelers, "it's been just the right amount of support, someone to share the trip with, to help and bounce ideas off." The team loves receiving pictures from travelers that they post to Instagram.

Byway's hope is to make this type of travel the norm. It wants everybody to travel flight-free a lot of the time, rather than cater to a small set of people who always and only ever travel flight-free. 

Jones points there are lots of people who don't yet know how rewarding it is to travel like this: "There's that paradigm of 'get on a plane, fly to B, do your stuff at B, fly back to A, and that's how a holiday works in lots of people's minds." But we're in a moment when more people are actually open to doing it differently.

The current atmosphere is exciting and full of energy. After being around for years as a concept, the slow travel movement is booming. "There was a 300% increase in business in February compared to January, then again in March," says Jones. "It feels like the moment has finally come for slow travel."