Travelling the world while also trying to lead a sustainable lifestyle can often feel like one massive contradiction. You want to be the person that explores a destination through a locals lens, tasting your way through the flavours and family-run boutiques of local communities, but it's often difficult to shake off the guilt from having just hopped off a jet that floods our air with toxic emissions.
We're not about to suggest you start walking, swimming or skipping across oceans and borders to get to where you need to be, but there are plenty of healthier, small habits we can all make in order to protect our planet. Daydreaming about train, bike and ferry journeys, we thought we'd call in a professional to get the inside scoop on how we can join the slow-travel community. Enter, Cat Jones, the founder of the world's first flight-free-travel platform, Byway - a space that designs bespoke trips for savvy travellers looking to put enjoyment above speed.
Jones chats to us about must-have flight-free essentials, how to enter the slower travel world and her must-see recommendations for those planning a long weekend in the Spanish port city of Tarragona.
Slow-motion travel and Tarragona flair: Cat Jones's mission to spark a conversation on sustainability
Tell us about Byway; what sets you apart from other slow-travel platforms?
Byway is the world's first platform to offer flight-free holidays. Offering joyful journeys by train and boat, our own dynamic technology powers adventures that prioritise enjoyment over speed. Personalising routes based upon travellers' interests, availability and requirements, we create multi-stop, multi-modal unique holidays. Forget the hassle of sorting tickets and accommodation; we sort it for you. Oh, and the activities and nearby eateries? We're reachable through Whatsapp 24/7 to give you our inside advice.
We want to join the slow-travel community but don't know where to start... What do you suggest?
Focus on making your first slow-travel journey a relaxing escape; that way you'll be more likely to enjoy it. It's easy to feel like you don't have time to slow down, but you have to see the travel element as part of the holiday itself, then any issues will disappear.
As a society, we contribute to climate change, so, as an eco-conscious traveller, you should choose a flight-free getaway that best suits you. That way, you'll be more likely to both repeat and recommend your travels to friends. These steps are how we shift the focus from one-off individual actions to a collective, sustained cultural shift.
What should be on our checklist when planning a flight-free trip?
Make sure you're planning for enjoyment, not martyrdom. Take sensible steps to make your trip environmentally friendly, but also make sure you're planning a trip you'll love. I'd suggest taking advantage of flexible hop-on, hop-off transport tickets, so that if you pass a beautiful beach or delicious ice-cream shop, you can jump off. It's also worth looking into season/month/week passes, and considering Interrail if you're travelling in Europe, to help keep costs manageable.
Research the areas you're travelling to in order to avoid places already suffering from overtourism and make sure you're adhering to local responsible tourism practices like "leave no trace". Seek out family-run, sustainable, eco-friendly accommodations. As well as being the ethical choice, they often offer the best, most holistic experiences. My personal tip? Grab a copy of Europe by Rail by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries. Their knowledge is unmatched when it comes to slow-travel insights.
Any essentials we should think about packing?
Packing thin, light layers makes for easier and more comfortable transport connections. Consider packing items that will reduce your use of single-use plastics on your trip: a reusable water bottle, portable cutlery set, tote shopping bag, eco-friendly sunscreen.
How can we encourage our friends to travel flight-free?
Share itineraries and tips. I've been slow travelling the majority of my life and when I share photos, my friends always ask for itineraries. We have a referral programme to give friends a discount off their first Byway trip, and we also plant a tree for you with our rewilding partner, Mossy Earth.
What's next for Byway?
Our mission is to make slow travel mainstream. We've recently been certified as a B Corp organisation and have launched 100 per cent vegan flight-free holidays. Later this year, we'll be incorporating new rail routes and sleeper routes into our packages.
An Insider Guide to Tarragona, Spain, with Byway Founder Cat Jones
Where should we stay?
I love Hostal 977. Just a stone's throw from the beachfront, the minimal yet stylish interiors promise a quiet stay on a central street. Bedrooms are cosy and comfortable, with exposed brickwork, wooden beams and sleek bathrooms.
Where should we head for dinner?
And for a drink…
Locals flood Plaça de la Font most weekends, watching the burning sun plummet, a cold spirit to hand. I'm a fan of a quirky cocktail at the Red Lab, on Rambla Nova. It's no secret that the region of Tarragona is famous for vermouth, so think about heading out of the city toward Reus, where you'll find the Museum of Vermouth and the flagship Vermuts Rofes bar - a brand that's sold throughout Spain.
Tell us a secret spot only locals know about…
An hour's drive down the coast of Tarragona, the wetlands of the Ebro Delta are a haven for wildlife. I love to hire a bike and cycle around the coastal lagoons, rice paddies and dramatic dune landscapes, which offer a sense of off-grid wilderness.
Where should we go in Tarragona to feel inspired?
If you love being close to the water and look to nature for inspiration, you should make a beeline for the sands of Tarragona's Platja Llarga Beach. Backed by pine forests and the mountain peaks of the Bosque de la Marquesa National Park, it's my favourite place for basking my afternoon away.
One thing we shouldn't miss while we're there?
Tarragona is an ancient Roman town, so you should carve out time to cross the medieval Pont del Diable. The "Devil's Bridge" was once used to supply the city with water from the Francolí River. History buffs shouldn't miss the Roman amphitheatre, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The landmark was once used for gladiator fighting and was witness to some pretty gruesome public displays.