slow travel train

“In 2019, I took 19 flights. This year, I am going flight-free.”

After a few years of intense travel, Stylist’s picture editor Alessia Armenise decides to give up flying to limit her CO₂ production and embrace the slow travel movement. 

Having turned 30 in December, I wanted this year to start in the best way possible: travelling. I wanted to say goodbye to the decade with some of the people I love, in a familiar place, and start the new roaring 20s visiting one of the many destinations on my bucket list. All was going well until I woke up one morning to be bombarded by pictures of Australia on fire, and my eco-anxiety started to kick in.

After what felt like a mini panic attack, I started to look back at 2019 to understand how much of an impact my travelling actually had on the planet. I started the year with a five-day trip to Cambodia in January – that flight alone produced 3.4 tonnes of CO₂. I didn’t have the guts to check my yearly impact yet, but that was enough to decide I couldn’t go on with that lifestyle without letting guilt embrace me completely. 

Flights are one of the major factors responsible for climate change. If a few years ago travelling was a luxury – a treat that the average person could afford no more than once or twice a year – it’s now a big part of the over-consumption problem that is leading the planet to its decline. As the prices of flights go down and trains stay ever so expensive (at least in the UK), people are ditching holidays on the English coast or on the Scottish highlands for a cheaper weekend in Ibiza or a city break to Istanbul. Exactly like meat consumption and fast fashion, it’s not travel in itself that is dangerous for the planet (any more than being an omnivore or liking clothes is) but the abuse of it.

Thanks to vocal activists such as Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, the world is waking up to the fact that it’s time to act. In Sweden, the flygskam movement – literally translated as ‘flight shame’ – has been running for a few years and has resulted in a spike in train travel and a subsequent drop in air travel. In 2020, the United Kingdom seems to be ready to follow suit. Based on the model of the Swedish flygskam, Flight Free UK is trying to convince 100,000 Brits to give up their holidays abroad as a pledge to save the earth. 

Greta Thunberg's best Twitter moments

Greta Thunberg

A report from IPCC highlights that annual CO₂ emission should decrease to 3 tonnes per person by 2030 to stop – and hopefully start reversing – climate change. As I said above, I produces 3.4 tonnes in five days in 2019 – there is a lot of work to be done in this decade.

Society, as it is, does make taking time to travel slowly very difficult. We have less and less time (and money) and social media such as Instagram bombards us daily with images of idyllic places far away from home, pushing us to travel further and more frequently without thinking about it. When we do take the time to think, we often realise that to have a nice time, we don’t really have to go far from home. Of all the travelling I have done in the last couple of years, the one I cherish the most is a weekend away with my husband in a treehouse in Devon, surrounded by the forest and a 10-minute walk away from the beach. Thinking about it, my long hauls aren’t even in my top-five holidays.

Of course, not everybody flies frequently and some people have to fly for work, but if you do decide to fly there are ways to help level out your carbon emissions. Some airlines, such as KLM and Air Canada have a carbon-offset scheme or you could make other changes in your life that would help limit your carbon footprint, including eating less meat or choosing second-hand clothes over fast fashion.

As I cancel all my plans for the year – including an almost fully organised honeymoon – I find myself quite excited for the travel adventures that await. Unlearning our habits – such as visiting Skyscanner daily – are difficult but I am thrilled to become a slow traveller and to finally enjoy the journey as much as the destination – with a lighter heart. 

Pictures: Getty Images