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Flight Free for 2020: Sophia Cheng

We hear from our pledgers about why they've chosen to be #flightfree in 2020

FlightFree UK
28 Jun 2019 4 min read

A piece of paper with the Flight Free 2020 pledge on it is resting on a copy table next to a mug. In the blurred background stand two women drinking coffee and chatting.

Thank you for signing up to be Flight Free in 2020, Sophia! Can you sum up what motivated you to sign the pledge?

I’ve been trying to cut down on flying for the last couple of years, and knowing I could join a growing political and cultural statement was the added incentive I needed. I took my last flight on June 20th 2019, I am challenging myself to not fly until the end of 2020, so that’s 18 months without flying.

I expand more on why in this blog post: Embedding Deep Adaptation

How long have you been aware of climate issues?

I’ve been aware for a long time but it’s taken too long for me to really embed what it means. Digesting the IPCC report released in October 2018 and Jem Bendall’s Deep Adaptation paper forced the issue home for me. I finally felt the climate crisis.

"Knowing I could join a growing political and cultural statement was the added incentive I needed."

I have been supporting indigenous activists for the last four years in my work for If Not Us Then Who? They have been fighting all their lives for their survival, often with fatal consequences. With the climate crisis we are facing, it was time I at least attempted to follow their lead.

How often have you flown in the past?

A lot. Exploring the world has been a central theme in my life ever since I was young. My mum took me and my younger brother with her to far off places. I checked with my mum, I took my first flight aged 3 and a half and since then I have never gone 18 months without flying. I’m 32 now. 🤔

After graduating I slipped out of the UK as soon as I could, for 10 months around the world. Even while working in London I would go on short city breaks to different cities. After 5 years working in the city, I wanted to challenge the status quo so I set up my own remote business to be a #digitalnomad.

Full disclaimer: I have taken 71 flights since I started With Many Roots and began a remote lifestyle back in 2014.

I acknowledge, I have a huge carbon debt.

Only around 50% of the UK population actually flies, but most of the flights we do take are for leisure. What do you think would be the most effective thing in reducing them?

I think this is very difficult to answer: stressful jobs, artificially cheap flights and highlight filtered photos on social media have culminated in a culture where we feel entitled to fly somewhere to take a break.

"Filtered photos on social media have culminated in a culture where we feel entitled to fly somewhere to take a break."

Being one of those very frequent UK fliers I don’t feel I can suggest what would be effective in encouraging people to reduce flying. I do however think a tax could be a way of halting a lot of additional flights.

Really it’s going to need a cultural shift in what we value in our society. Or draconian top-down measures.

How will being flight-free next year affect your life? Do you have any plans for holidays or travel?

It’s a big change of pace for our lifestyle; we have lived an international nomadic lifestyle for 3+ years. We are still nomadic and arguably will be for the foreseeable future as we explore the UK, identifying communities that will nourish us and weighing up all the practical considerations like rent and public transport. Having moved so much we are now clear on what we want and what we won’t settle for. For now, we are trying out housesitting – staying in places I never would normally and meeting people outside of my echo chamber.

I am curious to discover gems closer to home, with a trip to Guernsey coming up and multi-day hikes in the calendar. I’ve always loved trains and so once again I’ll be prioritising the journey over the destination.

Is it daunting or exciting to have taken the pledge?

Initially daunting but now it’s a balance of ready to travel less and excited to travel more creatively when I do. I want to apply my nomadic lens more locally and stay curious in my own country, and explore my own Celtic roots.

"I’ve always loved trains and so once again I’ll be prioritising the journey over the destination."

NB: I acknowledge my good fortune participating in this challenge; for example, I will not be fired by my boss for making this decision, and I do not have relatives living in far flung places.

What reaction do your friends and family have to you going flight free?

In no way is my flight free pledge supposed to shame others into following suit. Yes, I have been offsetting, but my flight shame is my own and I am acting on it. It’s time to start repaying, or at least not adding to my huge carbon debt.

What might you do to influence others to go flight free in 2020?

I’m going to talk about it. Anyone who knows me knows that I love to travel, explore, and see the world. I value experiences over stuff. When I tell people I am no longer flying, and I have returned back to the UK because of the climate and ecological crisis, it can help bring home the urgency of this situation.

Thank you!

You can find more from Sophia at, and read her moving blog about giving up flying here.

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