Sailing, hitchhiking and cycling: the ES guide to enjoying a flight-free summer

The latest lifestyle, fashion and travel trends

The latest lifestyle, fashion and travel trends

The sailors My voyage from Cape Town to Rotterdam on cargo ship MV Green Mountain was driven by a desire for carbon neutral travel. Not that a freighter is carbon neutral, far from it, but my being aboard made no difference to its emissions.

I’ve done a lot of flying in the past and seen what climate change is doing to the world so when our daughter was posted to South Africa I wanted to find a green way of visiting.  After a few false starts I was booked on a ship leaving Cape Town “sometime in mid-February”. Flexibility and self-sufficiency are necessities for freighter travel and with little idea what to expect I finally boarded and found I was the only passenger, the only woman and the only non-Pole, bar the Filipino electrician, Rommel, who I bonded with.

The voyage took three weeks with stops in Namibia and Spain and I loved almost every minute. I read, sewed, listened to music, watched DVDs, played table tennis with Rommel and gazed at the sea and passing birds and dolphins — total relaxation. I had no obligations apart from turning up for delicious meals three times a day, eaten with the officers.

Disembarking in  Rotterdam was a wrench and I still wistfully track Green Mountain as she steams up and down the West African coast. Rowena Quantrill

(John Alcantara)

Last summer I sailed to Sicily from Gibraltar. It took about a week.

When you’re 500 miles into the sea and the weather is getting worse, you start to wonder if you’ve made the right decision. But you see amazing things like whales and the light from erupting volcanoes. Greta Thunberg has fired up people’s imaginations and made them consider transport they wouldn’t usually think of.

If it’s your first sailing holiday you can go in a flotilla, with a professional skipper. I usually take packed food for the first three days because you don’t want to be cooking while you’re getting used to the motion of the boat. You sleep in shifts — four hours on, four off — while someone keeps watch, but you are so knackered that you drift right off.

All yachts are eco-friendly as they are wind-powered, although made of plastic.  John Alcantara, Boatshed Gibraltar

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To dispel any romantic or exclusive preconceptions around sailing, yachts are, in my experience, perpetually malfunctioning floating caravans. But if you can cope with (or even enjoy) the occasional crisis, sailing makes travel tangible and memorable again when most modes of transport separate us from the world and rush it past us.

There is no better place to test your sea legs than the Solent.  Further afield, there’s the lure of an oceanic passage, but sailing in a straight line for a month is a different challenge to navigating Greek islands in search of a taverna. Alex Lacy A lifetime ambition has been to visit the Isles of Scilly.

Plans to get there by ferry or airplane can be thwarted by the weather, so I decided to try sailing there from Chichester. That way, the journey, as well as the destination, would be fun… and it was! Hops along the coast past the Isle of Wight, Lulworth Cove, Salcombe, Fowey, Mevagissy and Falmouth are determined by wind and tide rather than the arbitrary timetable of Great Western Railways.

Arrival times were no less punctual, but that was already factored in, so caused no stress. My crew changed four times along the way thankfully planned, not the result of mutiny and was a great way to spend time with old friends, creating fresh memories as well as reminiscing about old ones. Sailing combines time of intense activity and periods of calm serenity.

Like the tide, conversation ebbed and flowed. In the end the weather prevented me from realising my ambition, but, if the holiday was intended to achieve relaxation, enjoyment and reinforce the bonds of friendship with good friends, that mission was accomplished. Also, I have the perfect reason to do it again. Charles Strick 

The hitchhiker

Am I the only hitchhiker left on the planet?

I routinely thumb lifts, which is the least damaging form of motorised transport there is (because it creates no sense of future demand, unlike buses and trains). Mostly it is within the UK, with Anglo-Scottish trips the most common: this summer Inverness to Skye to Glasgow. You meet a self-selecting bunch of friendly and always interesting people, while you enjoy chauffeur-driven transport through some of the finest landscapes in Europe.

Simon Calder

The train spotters

If I could roll back time, I’d pick 1980 and head to Victoria station to catch one of the last Art Deco night ferry sleeper trains to Paris. It was a favourite of the Duke of Windsor and Noel Coward. 

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Eurostar doesn’t have the same romance but I’ve used it to get all over Europe. Try the morning link to the South of France which goes in summer, change at Lyon and hop on a high-speed train that gets to Spain in time for pre-dinner drinks.

I’ve done Italy by joining the (admittedly shoddy) sleeper from Paris to Florence. Best journey of all? Moscow to Nice on the direct Russian train which runs each week.

The only other person in our carriage was a spy.  Julian Glover Taking the train to Singapore from London just felt like the right thing to do.

I hate flying. A plane jolts you from one culture to the next. Taking the train lets the changes — language, mannerisms — slowly break through.

Protestant spires gave way to Orthodox domes, which turned into Buddhist temples. The food changed each time I got off the train: platform vendors sold snacks each a touch spicier than the last. It got more humid, And when I finally stepped off the (27th?) train at Singapore’s border after two months (it can be done in three weeks but there were delays), my body swayed like I had sea legs for about a week. 

Eleanor Ross

The multi-tasker

“Getting there is half the fun” raved the Cunard ads of the Thirties, and they have a point. Right now I’m on the Queen Mary 2 with my family, halfway through a seven-night, 3,500-mile Atlantic crossing from Southampton to New York. From the Big Apple we’ll take an Amtrak train along the Hudson River valley to Toronto, then make a 3,000-mile four-night train journey across Canada through the Rockies.

A bus and ferry later we’ll reach the Empress Hotel in Victoria in time for afternoon tea.  I dislike commercial flying and the stress of airports, it sucks the interest and romance out of a trip. I never fly within Europe or the UK, though it’s harder to avoid flying long-haul.

But it can be done. Getting there really is half the fun.  The Man in Seat 61

The free-wheelers

I cycled from London to Budapest and down the Dalmatian coast.

It’s the best way to see a country as you have time to enjoy the scenery and you meet more people. In Germany I was trying to see the map on my phone and cycled into a lamppost and destroyed my bike. The only shop that stocked the right parts was in rural Bavaria so I spent a day at the village beer festival, something I would never have done if I was following the normal tourist routes.

Robin Veale

Gemma Griffiths on her tandem (Gemma Griffiths)

To start our one-year sabbatical (forward-slash long honeymoon) we cycled our rebuilt 1948 Hobbs tandem from Kars in Turkey to Baku in Azerbaijan. We travelled about 1,500 miles, went up to one of Europe’s highest permanently populated settlements at 2,700m, drank a lot of wine, met fun people, got into trouble with some dubious police and ended up on Azerbaijan TV. The usual tourist highlights often disappoint, purely because they don’t have many surprises to offer.

For us, how you travel is more important than where you travel, which is why we took the tandem. In tourist towns the locals tend to be either bored or jaded by tourism. They don’t offer you moonshine and give you a lift on the back of their truck.

Dan Shone and Gemma Griffiths My family fall into the accidental eco-warrior camp. My mother is too scared to fly, nor does she have the sea legs for a ferry, but there’s one mode of transport she can’t get enough of: cycling (we lovingly call her a cyclepath).

After my first year of uni, all my new pals jetted off to Thailand I spent ten reluctant saddle-sore days peddling to Land’s End from our home in Hampshire. It turns out Devon and Cornwall don’t have much flat land, but the challenge made Penzance’s golden sands even dreamier when we made it. Since then, cycling to our destination has become a family tradition: Amsterdam in 2014; John O Groats in 2015 (starting in Land’s End, naturally); Budapest in 2016.

My friends have even coined us our own hashtag: #StricklyComeCycling. Of course, swapping the plane for the pedals has its ups (the bragging rights) and downs (the chafing), but it teaches you some important holiday lessons you (quickly) learn pack light, not to take clothes that crumple easily, and to appreciate all the dinners out, especially when the parents are paying. The best bit?

You can save the planet while you’re at it. Bring on Sydney 2020. Katie Strick

The driver

This summer we decided to drive to our holiday home in the Dordogne.

This was not out of a high-minded desire to reduce our carbon footprint but to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. We planned our route to avoid motorway tolls and allow for sightseeing. Stopping off to visit castles and lunching in modest cafes made me think nostalgically of my childhood holidays, while making a detour to see friends in Brittany and Burgundy was something I’d wanted to do for ages.

And as if that weren’t enough, we filled the boot with lots of delicious inexpensive local wine. 

Katie Law

More about: | Travel 2019 | Trip ideas | Travel ideas | Zero Carbon | Sustainable travel

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