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Feb. 1, 2024

Travalysters: meet Cat Jones, founder of Byway

Feb. 1, 2024
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How a slow-travel platform is bringing flight-free travel into the mainstream.

Cat Jones’s own flight-free family holidays inspired her to launch Byway in 2020, which offers holidays by train, bus and ferry, with a unique online tool to organise a trip from start to finish. Here, she tells us why slow travel is the best way to have a sustainable, fuss-free family holiday…

Q

Why did you start Byway?

A

I’ve never owned a car and always travelled by train, bus and bike. We’d have these wonderful holidays, and I’d come back and tell my friends about them, but while they loved how they sounded, they were put off by how much research was involved in flight-free travel. Byway came from that frustration – that flight-free travel is such a gorgeous way to go on holiday but people still have this huge hump to get over.

Q

And why launch during a global pandemic?

A

Covid was a huge catalyst. Research was showing us that there was a rise in mindfulness, in slow food, and in connecting with local areas and supporting local businesses. I felt that the world was now ready for this kind of travel. More people wanted access to slow travel but it needed to be easier, and we now had the opportunity to build the tech that would make it easy for people.

Q

What would you say is Byway’s purpose?

A

We have two. Firstly, we shine a light on this kind of travel, showing how
gorgeous these journeys are and encouraging people to travel by train – not because they should, but because they are wonderful. Our second purpose was to build the tech to make it happen and connect up this very fragmented landscape of trains, boats, buses and rural accommodation. We won two Government Innovate UK Smart Grants and created a platform that dynamically packages flight-free travel, so there’s one button, one price, it’s easy and it’s all ABTA protected, plus there’s WhatsApp support throughout your trip. We now have 98% five-star reviews on our site.

Q

Has demand for rail travel increased?

A

Yes! The demand has been much higher than expected and the increase has been much faster. We’ve been getting a lot of press, and that mission – to bring slow travel into the mainstream – has worked. We’ve found that more of those mainstream travellers that usually fly now come to us, and once they’ve tried it, they come back and do it again. So we’re seeing a longer term shift in behaviour, and each client becomes a snowball advocate.

Q

Why is rail travel so good for families?

A

I have a five-year-old and a seven-year-old and rail travel is perfect for families. Sleeper trains, for example, are fantastic. Trains are very relaxed, there’s no rushing or stressful check ins, and our trips include advice on where to leave luggage, what to see en route, where to eat. The kids have room to move about, they can do lots of activities on board, and the journey is part of the holiday. As parents, we’re building a connection with our kids and with the places we’re going through.

Q

Do you work with other tour operators?

A

We work with Exodus, Intrepid and Kuoni who also sell our holidays alongside their other offerings. With Exodus, for example, we replace the flight, so you can book an Exodus tour and we’ll arrange the lovely meander down and the journey home. And clients know that their carbon impact is tiny compared to what it would have been.

Cat Jones’s top 5 tips for flight-free family summer holidays:

  • Try to incorporate a sleeper train. It’s a wonderful way to travel, kids love it, and you’ll be saving on a night’s accommodation.
  • Plan just a little every day, don’t squeeze in too much and be flexible. Travelling slower is a great way to cultivate a sense of adventure. So perhaps plan one highlight a day and focus on that, leaving the rest of the time for exploration and spontaneity.
  • Be well prepared. Make sure you pack lots of little activities and deploy different things at different times – colouring books, audio books, snacks, drinks.
  • Get off the beaten path. Don’t just stick to places you’ve heard of. It’s often the smaller, less well-known destinations that will create that holiday magic.
  • Stay in locally-owned places and try to make sure you’re supporting businesses where the money will stay in the community you’re visiting. Look out for ways to connect with local hosts and take the time to make that local connection.
  • Prioritise special journeys, even if they take a bit longer. For example, that ferry might take a detour but has incredible views, or the local hop-on hop-off train is a better choice than rushing through a landscape on a TGV.
  • Find out more about Byway’s flight-free holidays.