As Flight Free 2021 draws to a close, we bring the whole team together to reflect on how the year has gone, how the pledge has been affected by things like Covid, and what travel adventures we’ve had.
What flight-free travels did you have in 2021?
I went to Cornwall, and also to the South of France for my birthday. We went on the Eurostar, and then down through France on the train. It’s a really nice way to travel – it’s so relaxing, because you can just sit there for hours and watch the countryside go by, and see the weather change. It was lovely, and I feel very lucky to have been able to do that this year.
There were a few Covid restrictions. We had to fill in a couple of forms to go into France, but no-one checked anything. We only needed to take a test on day two, and we didn’t have to isolate coming back from France. We had to do the Passenger Locator but it was fairly easy to come back to the UK, which was good.
"The train is a really nice way to travel – it’s so relaxing, because you can just sit there and watch the countryside go by."
We were near Bordeaux, in Bergerac. I tried to convince my brother to come on the train with us, but he insisted on driving. We stayed in the area and did long walks. It’s nice to do nothing and just be somewhere else.
I would definitely recommend the train, compared with flying. It just feels so smooth, and it’s less stressful. You don’t have to worry about checking any bags in and them getting lost. The trains in Europe are really good and the connections are usually pretty good. It really doesn’t take as long as you think it does. I think people just have this idea in their heads that it takes a long time, but it doesn't take that much longer than a flight.
I took the overnight coach to Cornwall. It wasn’t quite as nice as getting a train but it was comfortable enough. Travelling overnight, you don’t waste any time and when you get there in the morning, you feel fresh enough. It was a lovely week, the weather was really good, and when it’s like that there’s not really anywhere else I’d rather be.
"The weather in Cornwall was really good, and when it’s like that there’s not really anywhere else I’d rather be."
My tips for the coach: there’s no shame in making yourself as comfortable as possible! Take a pillow or a neck pillow, an eye mask and earplugs. Get there early to get a good seat. For me, that means the seat with the most leg room.
I would also recommend going with someone else: I did it on my own but I can imagine that would be a little bit more fun if you had someone to chat to. There are some really nice views down by Plymouth and through Cornwall as you arrive there in the morning.
This year I went up to Scotland for COP26. It was the first time I’d been to Glasgow. For the first two weeks I was working then I spent a few days after that as a tourist.
I booked my return train at the last minute: I was travelling on the Tuesday evening and I booked it on Sunday night. It was £40! Although overall I do agree train prices need to come down, low fares do exist.
"I booked my return train at the last minute. It was £40! Although overall train prices need to come down, low fares do exist."
I haven’t done very much travelling outside of Bristol. Although I did go to Brighton to stay with my boyfriend’s parents, and we all got the train into London. It was the Black Friday weekend, so it was very manic!
For our holiday in January, we are going to drive over to the west coast of Ireland for a week. This time last year I would have thought to just get a flight but after hearing everybody’s travel stories I’m going to drive and take the ferry.
"Usually you think, ‘I need to get away to go on holiday,’ but you can just enjoy the little things in the city where you live."
I’ve done a lot more stuff in and around Bristol city. I guess you usually think, ‘I need to get away to go on holiday,’ but you can just enjoy the little things in the city where you live.
I didn’t realise how many RSPB Reserves were close to me, so I went to visit them. We went to two heathland reserves near Farnham in Surrey. So much of London used to be heathland, and so many places have ‘heath’ in the name. It was really interesting to see what London used to be like.
My favourite trip of this year was on my birthday, when I went on a day trip to Bakewell in the Peak District. I went by bus. I love buses! The journey is so lovely because you start out in the city centre (the bus goes from Sheffield interchange), then you weave out through the suburbs, and you watch the landscape change from city to moorland as you get deep into the Peak District. I just love it, and it doesn’t take that long, and it’s quite affordable.
With bus travel, most people think of it as a way to get from A to B. But this trip highlights how spectacular some of those journeys can be.
"With bus travel, most people think of it as a way to get from A to B. But this highlights how spectacular some of those journeys can be."
We went to Pembrokeshire for a week – it’s the third time we’ve been. We stay in a cottage that’s not too far from the beach and I went swimming every morning before breakfast. It’s a very popular beach but if you go there early it’s pretty quiet. Some days there were waves with white horses, and other days it was so still you could lie on your back and just float and look at the sun.
In non-Covid times, people come from really far away to visit the Pembrokeshire coast but because it’s near at hand, people here take it for granted.
We also did some hyper-local travel. Early in the summer when we were still coming out of lockdown, we went to a place in Bristol called Blaise Hamlet. I thought it was crazy that I’d never been there. So one Sunday, we just walked there.
"We did some hyper-local travel. It was a really hot, sunny day and I felt exactly like I was in the South of France."
It was a really hot, sunny day and I felt exactly like I was on holiday in the South of France. We went through a little 18th century village, which I hadn’t realised existed, and into Blaise Hamlet which is a group of fabulously picturesque cottages that were built for old retainers of the Blaise estate to live in when they retired. They were gorgeous little gingerbread cottages with fruit trees and a village green. So that was a bit of an adventure!
What conversations have you had with those around us about travel and flying?
A couple of months ago my family and a few other people were discussing potential holidays for next year in Ireland. They were talking about how to get there and weighing up the benefits and costs of taking the ferry or flying. It was becoming clear that they weren’t that keen on taking the ferry! They were saying the usual things like, ‘flying is cheaper and quicker.’
I said, ‘Whatever you decide to do, I’ve taken a pledge to be flight free next year, so I’ll be taking the ferry. I don’t want to fly.’ The conversation sort of did a 180º spin. All of a sudden they were saying, ‘Oh well, the ferry’s not actually that long.’ I think it did really make them think about their choices and what they were going to do.
These conversations pop up sometimes, mostly for hypothetical holiday planning with my friends. They’ll talk about going somewhere hot and sunny and quick to get to. And I’ll mention that, for it to be feasible for me, I’ll need to be able to get there quickly without flying. You can see the cogs whirring amongst some of them, and they are definitely thinking about it.
"My friends know that I don’t fly and they are interested to hear about the campaign and the reasoning behind it."
My friends know that I don’t fly and they are interested to hear about the campaign and the reasoning behind it, and what it’s involved for me. It feels like quite an important thing to talk about.
When one person says, ‘I’ve made this pledge and I’m sticking to it,’ it does make people think. When I say I’m involved in the campaign people are interested to hear more about it and exactly what the pledge involves.
I’m still waiting for a breakthrough from my brother. When I first joined the campaign I told him about what I was doing and asked if he could pledge. He was very receptive, but said, ‘I can’t because we have a trip planned with the boys.’ He and some friends go away together as a group once a year.
We’ve spoken about it since, and he asks about the campaign, and he’s very supportive and stuff and he knows what I do. So I’m still on the edge of my seat waiting for his reply about whether he has actually come to a decision.
A real highlight for me was going to the Global Day of Action march in Bristol and speaking to some people about the campaign, because it’s the first time I’ve done anything like that.
The majority of people I spoke to already didn’t fly. I still encouraged them to take the pledge, but it’s just nice to hear people agreeing that not flying is something we can do and it’s really important in trying to reduce our emissions.
I asked my family if they would pledge. On a previous occasion, I had a row with my sister about being flight free. But this time she pledged, and not only did she pledge, she sent an email about the pledge to everyone in her beekeeping group, and suggested it to them as well. That was a very quick evolution from not signing, to signing, to being an advocate for the campaign!
I think she knows that concern about the climate is at an all-time high, so if you suggest it to people, it doesn’t fall on stony ground the way it might have done a few years ago. It falls on fertile ground. A lot of people are trying to think of things that they can do to help, and the Flight Free pledge is an excellent place to start.
What have been your favourite podcast episodes from the year?
I liked the one about Voluntourism, with Alan and Maggie interviewing the team at No White Saviors. It touched on different aspects of justice: climate justice, racial justice, and social justice. Alan was really honest about his experience, and what he thought back then compared to what he thinks now. It was just honest and rawI. If you haven’t already, definitely listen to it, it was great.
I really enjoyed the one that Sunita and Armelle did with Poppy Okotcha and Francisca Rockey from Black Geographers. That was really enjoyable. I loved the things that they shared about their backgrounds.
I also enjoyed the one we did about not flying to see family and friends because I thought there was important wisdom there about how people had kept in touch with families without seeing them that regularly.
I really enjoyed talking to Tori and Hemlata for our most recent episode about climate anxiety.
Thank you for listening to our podcasts in 2021. We will have more inspiring conversations for you next year!