My Year Of Flight-Free Travel

By Guest Writer

4 months ago

How to travel with the planet in mind


Looking to transform your travel tendencies and go flight-free? Whether you hop on a train or take a road trip, there’s plenty of ways to holiday without the need for jet-setting. Emma Cripwell reflects on her own year of flight-free travel, sharing everything she learnt along the way.

How To Go Flight-Free For A Year

After months of toying with the idea of taking holidays without being airborne, I embarked on my year of no flying. To enforce my commitment, I signed a Flight Free declaration through campaigners flightfree.co.uk. A bit like running the marathon, once you’ve committed and told all your friends, it’s hard to back out.

First up, a trip to Edinburgh with a friend to see one of my twins who’s studying there. We boarded the 3.15 from King’s Cross, which would land us into the Athens of the North in time for supper. My friend and I already knew each other well, but a glorious five-hour train journey, fuelled by crisps, tea and then gin, strengthened our bond.

Pair of legs wearing red Converse trainers and resting on top of a suitcase on a train.

We arrived in central Edinburgh feeling fresh, skin unravaged by air cabin pressure, ready for a silent disco around the city (the kids’ idea), hosting a prosecco and pringles party for 30 impoverished students (sorry Airbnb host), dancing to live music in legendary club Stramash and climbing Arthur’s Seat to blow away tender heads. We felt like students, behaved like students and were high on life.

Our other twin studies at Trinity College Dublin, so my husband and I naturally had to visit, choosing the car-ferry option. We sped through the Cambrian Mountain range and Snowdonia national park, where the views blew us away.  If someone had planted me there and asked where I was in the world, I’d have guessed Mongolia. Or Bhutan. Not Wales. But this is God’s own country.  

Just before arriving in Holyhead for our Dublin-bound ferry, my classic car obsessed husband found the ultimate hidden gem. 300 classic cars housed by The Real Car Company. Forget our wedding or the birth of our twins, I’ve never seen this man look so euphoric.

We ditched the car at Holyhead (it’s so much cheaper being foot passengers) and boarded the ferry to Dublin’s fair city.  Welcoming staff, no security, zero stress.  The comparison to the airport experience was so stark that we couldn’t let it pass.  I’m prone to repeat myself but this time it felt justified.  This was so much nicer than the airport.  And you arrive straight into Dublin port, just a short uber / bus ride from wherever you need to get to.

We watched Ireland v Wales in the pub with our daughter and her friends.  We could hear the roar from the Aviva stadium whenever Ireland scored.  We listened to live music in bars, watched our daughter busk on Grafton Street and sipped on nourishing, unbeatable Guinness.

Bridge in Amsterdam with cyclists riding along it and a boat passing underneath.

To May, and a female-strong, multi-gen trip to Amsterdam with granny (known by all her grandchildren as Gogo).  Five of us whiled away the four-hour Eurostar journey playing cards, talking, snoozing, eating and drinking. We arrived into central Amsterdam and meandered our way along canal-lined streets to our Airbnb.  Lived like locals, sampling friendly restaurants like Mamas & Tapas, the perfect setting for three generations of excitable travellers. 

The Rijksmuseum and Rembrandt’s atmospheric home more than satisfied our different cultural desires. A slow boat ride down the web of canals showed us the city from the water and gave us endless wafts of Amsterdam’s famous cafe culture.  The red light district?  Gogo was keen but as her protectors, we felt that it wasn’t right for a septuagenarian to see hordes of Brits on stag nights gawping at skimpily clad ladies.  

We returned home feeling nourished by each other’s company and bonded by our shared experience. Carving out meaningful time to chat is hard in this fast-paced world, but the train invites you to step into a slower, less harried lane. 

June, and my first ever road trip. But this was no ordinary road trip.  We were a cavalcade of four classic cars: in the beauty stakes, our humble Caterham 7 trailed behind an Austin Healey, an E-type Jag and a 1926 Vauxhall, that invited attention worthy of a rock star. 

Classic cars parked in a row in a car park in France.

We took the Portsmouth-St Malo ferry, packed with excited holiday goers, and gorged on a delicious three course dinner, sloshed down with fine French wines.

After a comfy night in a cabin, we were on sun-kissed French soil by the morning. We meandered south along back roads to our first digs for the night, near Château de Chenonceau.  Piano playing into the small hours brought us much merriment, but our bleary-eyed fellow guests didn’t look overly happy to see us at breakfast.

We broke down, we didn’t care. A car got a puncture, so what? The petrol-heads knew how to fix these things, and the rest of us could always find a good coffee house or catch up on Wordle. When it rained, we hid under raincoats and bin-bags because car hoods were deemed unnecessary. Our days in the French farmhouse to break up the road trip were glorious, but the stories and memories were made on the road.

And finally, to Italy in July. Tom and I drove from the UK to a rented farmhouse in Chianti where our girls and their friends were joining us.  Tom hooned it through France, driving through the night over the Alps, delivering me (full of Covid) to our farmhouse by breakfast the next day. We relaxed, played games, sang songs after dinner, went to a Paulo Nuttini concert in achingly beautiful Pistoia and devoured Italian classics with gusto. 

This year of flight-free travel? More memorable than any other year of holidays.  The holiday starts when you leave home, rather than when you’ve decompressed from your flight. We felt free. Free of rules and regulations. Free to take whichever route we wanted. Free to chat to each other as we travelled, and to chat to our fellow travellers. Putting eco-conscious sensibilities aside, I will remember this year forever and fully intend to continue to take the high road, or the low.


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