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A Simpler Life – Ed Gillespie: The Flightless Traveller

Ever tried to live a greener lifestyle? Buy fewer clothes? Use less plastic? Fly less often? Now, how about giving those things up completely? Impossible! I hear you cry.

But we’ve got news for you: it’s achievable, exciting and you might even enjoy it. In our ‘A Simpler Life’ mini series, we are speaking to people who pledged to make a major change to reduce their environmental footprint, and their experiences of adapting to a new way of life. This time, we’re catching up with Ed Gillespie, Co-Founder of Futerra.

What did you pledge to do and why?

I decided to not fly on holiday – and it’s been 11 years now since I have. For me, it was about being able to travel and see the world but without creating a planet-stewing sea of carbon emissions in the process.

The biggest single part of your carbon footprint that’s discretionary is flying. You can be very eco and go back to basics in your domestic life, but as soon as you get on a plane you drive a coach and horses through your carbon footprint.

What was the moment of realisation that you needed to do this?

It was a creeping thing – I felt like a hypocrite, basically – I’d been working on climate change, I knew all the facts about carbon, so I found it very hard to justify getting on a plane and going on holiday. My desire to go and tan my pale botty on a Spanish beach might not really warrant a ton of carbon.

What were the challenges?

It has created strain in relationships. I’ve had girlfriends say to me “You won’t get on a fucking plane so we can go on holiday, you asshole.”

But giving up flying isn’t about giving something up; it’s about rediscovering the world of overland travel adventure. It reconnects you to the world in a different way.  It’s changing the mindset of what travel really is – is it an experience in itself or is it just transit? 

Do you miss flying just a tiny bit?

On the very few occasions that I get to fly, I do get stupidly excited about takeoff. I would say flying is like a deep-fried mars bar, you can have one very, very occasionally – but not very often.

I always joke that on a plane it’s infantalisation – sit there, strap yourself in, eat that and keep out of mischief – whereas on the train, you can misbehave wildly.

What’s been the best part of the experience?

It celebrates what connects us; when you travel through the world rather than over it, you have the gradual transition of landscape, culture, people, language, cuisines… it celebrates what we all have in common – whereas flying can end up emphasizing difference.

If you travel overland to India, you’ll feel relatively adjusted by the time you get there. Whereas if you fly straight from London to Mumbai it’s like, “BOOM! This is mental” – although, arriving in Mumbai will always be mental.

Have you managed to get more people doing it?

We brought in the ‘slow travel policy’ at my company Futerra, and lots of people have done overland adventures as a result. If they travel on holiday in Europe and take the train rather than the plane, we give them an extra day’s leave.

So, after trying out every mode of transport, what’s your favourite?

The camel, obviously.