Sustainable holidays: How to fly less and travel more

Sustainable holidays: How to fly less and travel more
Watch back The Independent’s panel with Man in Seat 61’s Mark Smith, Flight Free UK’s Anna Hughes and Zero Altitude author Helen Coffey

A connection to place; a more authentic, adventurous experience; being treated like a human being; getting to sleep in a bed and eat in a restaurant; and “you can take your own champagne!”.

These are just a few of the reasons slow travel beats flying when it comes to enjoying yourself, according to a panel of experts assembled for The Independent’s latest virtual event.

Scroll down to watch a video of the event

The Independent’s travel editor and author of newly released flight-free memoir, Zero Altitude: How I learned to fly less and travel more, Helen Coffey, was joined by a cracking pair of sustainability and travel aficionados to discuss swapping plane for train and why we need to start putting the brakes on aviation.

Mark Smith – better known as the Man in Seat 61 – was on hand to give his unparalleled expertise on traversing the globe by rail and boat, while Anna Hughes – director of the Flight Free UK campaign that encourages Brits to give up flights for one year – shared all the latest stats on why frequent flying just isn’t compatible with our carbon targets in the face of the climate crisis.

The team shared their top tips for staying grounded while still roaming far and wide, from making good use of sleeper trains to save time, to looking closer to home and embracing domestic breaks.

“You have to make the journey part of the holiday,” was a common refrain, too, along with Mark’s advice to book in advance and go midweek to get the best deal on trains.

Tackling many viewers’ questions about why flying so often beats rail travel in terms of price, he highlighted the difficulty of making trains competitive when you’re “daisy-chaining” – getting multiple train legs to reach a destination – as opposed to being able to fly direct; Anna highlighted the easy ride that aviation gets, with no VAT or tax on kerosene (jet fuel).

Meanwhile, when asked what could be done about the price discrepancy, Helen highlighted the push for an incremental frequent flyer tax, which would see the wealthiest have to pay more the more they fly – and would naturally see them reduce the number of flights they take as a result.

The panel also gave their recommendations for weekend travel and short breaks, including the Scottish Highlands on the Caledonian Sleeper, the Netherlands by overnight ferry, and even Milan, Turin or Barcelona, all accessible by train within a day.

Ending on a positive note, one viewer commented that they had recently enjoyed a trip to Sicily by rail and loved it, thanking Mark for his website,, whose advice they followed “to a T”.

Zero Altitude: How to fly less and travel more

As Anna said early on: “If we are going to get people to change for the sake of the planet, it’s the experience that’s going to drive it.” It seems plenty of viewers have already discovered the joys of swapping the middle seat for the open road.

You can watch back the full recording of the virtual event in the video above

‘Zero Altitude: How I learned to Fly Less and Travel More’ by Helen Coffey is published by Flint (; £16.99 hardback).