“Oh, are you still doing that? I’d presumed you’d stopped!”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard this remark, delivered casually, from a colleague or acquaintance. The person in question is well-meaning – there’s nothing judgemental or accusatory behind the words – but it’s a tad frustrating nonetheless.
They’re referring to my decision to give up flying, first taken as a fairly radical New Year’s resolution in 2020, and one which I’ve committed to every subsequent year since. Including this one, 2023.
The presumption – that it was a one-off, fleeting fad of a thing – irks me because, well, nothing has really changed. The need for us all to take fewer flights, for there to be fewer planes in the sky year-on-year if we’re to have any hope of hitting Net Zero by that hallowed date of 2050, has not magically disappeared.
I am, admittedly, being something of a hypocrite. After all, my original plan was to take the Flight Free UK pledge – which challenges Brits to swear off flying for one year – in 2020, and 2020 only. It would be a cool thing for a travel editor to do, I thought.
I could inspire people with all my exciting slow travel tales; I could educate myself on the reality of aviation emissions and how harmful they really were amid the mounting talk of the climate crisis. But, I naively imagined, I’d be hopping back on a jetplane the minute the clock struck 12.01 on 1 January 2021.
Two things forced me to deviate from this plan: 1) the Covid pandemic; and 2) I decided to write a book about flight-free travel. Entitled Zero Altitude: How I learned to Fly Less and Travel More, it was to be a mix of anecdotal, travelogue-style chapters about my journeys swapping planes for trains, ferries, bicycles and my own two legs. These would be interspersed by research-based chapters exploring the climate science behind needing to cut down on flying; policy and legislation; offsetting; tourism; and future aviation tech.
The first of these unexpected happenings – the small matter of a global pandemic – meant that overseas travel by any mode of transport was off limits for the majority of 2020. I managed to squeeze in one overland trip to Rijeka in Croatia, but not much else. As that hardly made me the radical exception –…