Byway’s founders hope to capitalize on the growing demand for no-fly vacations and promote the virtues of slow travel.
“I don’t think I’ve seen that many raised eyebrows.” Cat Jones reflects on her decision to quit a steady job and launch a travel agency in November 2020, midway through the UK’s second shutdown, when the peak of most people’s travel ambitions was a trip to the Park.
It was a curious decision, regardless of Covid. Travel agents were struggling before the pandemic, as Skyscanner and other travel sites democratized vacation booking. Border closures marked the final nail in the coffin of stalwarts like STA Travel.
Undeterred, Jones decided to reboot the travel agency concept. The idea was to change the way we travel and make the post-Covid sector more sustainable. The result is Byway, offering custom, ready-to-use itineraries with free flights.
“We hold to the principle that traveling the world is better than flying over it,” says Jones. “There is so much romance and joy in the journeys they go through.”
In addition to reviving a bygone way of seeing the world, Jones hopes to capitalize on the modern movement to reduce flights to save the planet (as exemplified by the Swedish ‘flight shame’ movement and the Free flight UK Bell). Its release comes as Europe revives old sleeper trains to provide a more sustainable alternative to flying.
Six months later, do you still think it was a good idea? “Surprisingly, yes,” says Jones, who is hiring due to growing demand. “The reserves have been flying.”
“We support the principle that traveling the world is better than flying over it,” Jones said. Image: Jp Valery
Most of the people who book through Byway are sustainably motivated, Jones said, but some are not – they just want to go on an overland vacation and have someone book it for them.
“There are a lot of people who are up and running for these kinds of trips and they just needed someone to make things easier for them, which is really what we’re trying to do,” says Jones.
Most of the Byway itineraries are in the UK. He has some trips in Europe this summer that will depend on the travel restrictions being lifted. After the pandemic, there are plans to offer trips further afield.
“We believe the time to slow travel is now,” says Jones.
Main image: The Jacobite steam train crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland. Credit: Adam Gavlak