“Travel through, don’t fly over” – that’s the tagline of Byway, the world’s first platform for planning flight-free holidays. We talk to its founder Cat Jones about rethinking how we holiday, and why the global pandemic has helped flight-free travel to take off.
What inspired you to launch a flight-free travel platform?
I never owned a car myself, so the way I have been traveling for holidays has always been via train, boat or bus. I have always loved it and I still do it with my children. But it’s often a real pain to organise this kind of trip, especially when you go off the usual places that people already know. It’s hard to find out what you would do, and once you do, it’s hard to work out how you would fit all the various timetables.
These holidays are amazing once you are on them, it’s just difficult to organise them. But every time I’d come back home, I’d tell my friends about it and they would be like, “How amazing! We’ll copy it, can you just give me your holidays? We’ll go on it”. So that they wouldn’t have to do the research and planning themselves. It felt like more people would love to do this, if it wasn’t so difficult.
Byway is a travel company on a mission to make slow travel mainstream. They organise tailored holidays in the UK and Europe, exclusively using trains, bikes, buses and ferries. Book your flight-free trip now at byway.travel
“People are ready for someone to come and make flight-free travel easier”
Before I started Byway I was working in a firm that invests in travel companies and spent a lot of time watching market trends. I was stoked to see the trends around flight-free travelling, and people getting more mindful, more connected and more sustainably conscious.
As I was sitting all alone, I thought, “You know what? Now is actually the time where a much higher proportion of people are ready for someone to come and make slow travel and flight-free travel easier.”
Shortly after, the Prime Minister went on television and announced that we were all going on lockdown. And that was really the catalyst for me, where I felt that travel as we knew it was going into freefall. I handed in my notice at work.
Everyone thought I was mad for leaving my job to create a travel business at the beginning of a global pandemic. But actually, it worked out really well because we had more time to improve our initial technology, get to know customers, talk to them, and from there we managed to send the first people off in July 2020. This year we’ve experienced huge growth.
What’s the impact you hope to make in the world?
Ultimately we want to make slow travel mainstream. It’s still very uncommon for people to holiday in a way that involves travelling through countries, and embracing the opportunities that come from travelling this way rather than flying over everything.
It’s more difficult and it doesn’t occur to people to do it. Typically, you leave A, you go to B, you have your holiday, you come back to A. Maybe you do that by plane, maybe by car, but the idea still is that you have to travel to get to your holiday, then have your holiday and then go back home.
“We’d like more people to think that the whole journey is part of the holiday”
We are changing that paradigm. We’d like more people to think that the whole journey is part of your holiday. If we can do that, it means fewer people will fly, and of course we want people to fly less, but we also want people to experience the joy that comes with travelling differently and more slowly.
What makes you most proud?
The support we’ve got for what we are building, has just blown me away. We just had the most incredible surge of enthusiasm from everyone.
We’ve had amazing people come and say, “We want to be part of the team.” Even customers have come to us saying, “We want to help you build this.” It’s such a vibrant community of people that want to slow travel more and want to help us build the brand.
What advice would you give to inspire others who want to make a positive impact?
Become a B Corp early. That’s something that we did. The first thing was incorporating the company and the second was starting the B Corp certification process.
For us, the discipline of thinking not just about the commercial entity but also thinking about your values, what you are trying to be in the world, how will you look after your team, your customers, the community that you operate in, how will you include your social and environmental goals in the articles of association of your company, and how will you build accountability around those goals.
And once you are certified, the community around it is just amazing: vibrant, collaborative and helpful. Being part of the B Corp movement since very early has been hugely important for us and also helped us hire amazing colleagues that really believe in our mission.
Who do you want to pass a High 5 on to and why?
One person that has always inspired me is my sister Claire – she’s the chief commercial officer at What3words, which is a system that encodes geographic coordinates into three fixed words, so anyone can describe any location by just remembering three words. I really admire the work that she does and the way that she inspires people when she talks about how they are building a new way of mapping the world.