Travel & Transport

Moving forward from COVID: How I hope travel habits will change

One positive thing I hope will emanate from the COVID-19 pandemic is an increased propensity for people to travel conscientiously. I’ve written elsewhere about some of the benefits I see being generated by the situation, one of them being environmental improvements. It has been encouraging to see miraculous improvements in air quality, most strikingly northern India having a view of the Himalayas for the first time in decades. I kind of think there’s an element of nature knowing what it’s doing, and the pandemic being its way of accelerating some sorely needed societal changes in a bid to save the planet from itself.

Of course, travel and transport can’t and won’t remain restricted to current levels, and indeed that wouldn’t be desirable even to the most dedicated eco-warrior. However, it seems likely that global travel will take quite some time to get back to normal, and rightly so. I hope that for many people, having been under such constraints will add more meaning to the idea of freedom to move around the world; make people realise the value of this amazing privilege.

Travel is undeniably nourishing for the soul and good for our wellbeing. It expands our minds, connects us with nature, introduces us to amazing people ad cultures, gives us much-needed rest & recuperation time. But all this comes at such an enormous cost to the planet: each passenger on a plane from London to New York accounts for the carbon-emission equivalent of an average car-driver for a whole year. Multiply that by the number of people per flight and the number of flights going here, there and everywhere each day, and it’s easy to see we have a problem.

Exploring my local area and feeling like I’m on holiday!

It’s only in recent years that I’ve become aware of how lucky I am to be able to travel, and the impact that doing so has on the planet. It really is such a privilege, yet it’s so easy and often cheap these days that it’s naturally taken for granted. I’ve become a far more conscious traveller in the last couple of years, being careful not to fly often and creative about the other options I can take advantage of (more on this in a later post!).

A vital component of my greener travel philosophy is the train. Sadly, the services are under-resourced and over-priced here in the UK, and there has long been a tendency for people to fly short distances (say, London to Manchester or Edinburgh) ‘because it’s cheaper’. Incidentally, recent events have highlighted just how precarious that fact was: FlyBe going bust whilst the British rail service remains intact just goes to show it wasn’t cheaper; the operator simply wasn’t charging enough to build the required amount of resilience into the business. (I’m just a tad less inclined to complain so much about the prices of trains here now, though it still infuriates me that I pay more to commute by public transport than I would to go by car as a sole occupant).

Clearly the airline industry is going to need quite some recovery from the current situation, which may well mean that people have no choice but to fly less because of availability. People may be encouraged to ask themselves: ‘do I really need to fly?’, and perhaps be more inclined to choose alternatives or travel less frequently. Gone are the days, surely, where business jet people off for a day here, an overnight stop there, mindlessly booking flight after flight after flight without a thought for the effects. Companies have been forced to work smarter by the current situation, and I think they’re really waking up to the prospect that travel simply isn’t necessary in many instances. Not only that, but there are so many benefits to remote working: increased productivity, improved staff wellbeing, cost savings… the list goes on.

Train travel: the way forward in the new world?

Back to our holidaymakers, globe-trotters and travel enthusiasts. Will we see people making more conscious decisions about the way the get around? I hope so. Having something taken away helps us realise the value of it, and I think that’s what will happen here. This brings to mind something I often think about modern Western life: that we have too much of everything and, as a result, too little appreciation. I recall stories from my parents and grandparents about how, when they were younger, every little thing had to be saved for, planned in, worked towards. That is so different from the life I know where I could have whatever I want, whenever I want, in a world of online shopping and instant gratification. Much as I’m grateful to live so comfortably, I sometimes envy them: it’s all too easy and I yearn for that sense of reward that comes from really having to earn something. A simpler life, but one that makes you truly appreciate things.

So that’s what I can see happening with travel: the limitations we’re under right now, and will likely be for some time albeit to a lesser extent, will inevitably make people think harder about what they really want out of their travels. What will their priorities be? How could they enjoy adventures closer to home by more sustainable travel methods? Will they limit trips by plane to once a year, perhaps?

We’re entering a new world; we have to be. People talk longingly about ‘going back to normal’, but things will never be the same as they were. Daunting as that may seem to some, my own dream is for a better world, with the current darkness making way for a brighter dawn than before. The earth has given us a second chance to live in harmony with it, and I for one hope we all seize it with the utmost enthusiasm.

How do you think COVID-19 will affect people’s travel behaviour? Will you be making any changes yourself as a result of these times? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and be sure to follow me for more on my green travel stories.

Travel & Transport

How the e-cargo-bike as a second vehicle has transformed my life

From food shopping to date nights, here’s how the e-bike has changed my life forever…

I once heard of an argument between a couple of friends when one of them had bought an e-bike. A protagonist reprimanded the buyer for ‘cheating’ on the bike by having pedal assistance. This is a common critique of the e-bike concept, but completely misses the point. The e-biker in question was using it for a daily 34-mile round-trip to work. Considering the proportion of journeys less than 2 miles that are done by car, this is staggering and, in my view, pretty impressive. The e-bike in this case does not substitute a regular bike; it takes a car off the road, and for that should be hailed.

E-bike as car alternative

In a world where it seems that nearly every household has a car per person, my partner and I like to do things a little differently. We have a small, relatively economical car (which we barely use – more on this in a later post!) – and an e-cargo bike as our second vehicle. Technically the car is mine and the bike is his, but we essentially share them both to get best use out of each.

Jason has always been an active traveller and buying the e-bike – a Tern GSD – was an inevitable extension of this because he carries a lot of gear for work. It’s an amazing machine which carries up to 200 kilos, rides like a dream and turns heads everywhere it goes (not least because of the colour!). Whilst gaining access to the Tern was, for me, a mere by-product of Jason’s choices, I wouldn’t want to be without it now. Quite frankly, it’s changed my life.

For Jason, this bike is an extension of his personality and of the lifestyle he’s led for decades as a ‘utility cyclist’. For me, it’s a game-changing tool in my quest to live sustainably. And for both of us, it’s an absolute joy to ride.

GSD stands for Get Stuff Done. That’s a pretty apt strapline, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about some of the stuff we get done on the Tern (and where we might like to take it next!)

Shopping & deliveries

I used to despair over food shopping because I simply couldn’t carry everything on a regular bike (bulky items like loo roll soon fill up a bog-standard rucksack or pannier!), which forced me to drive to the supermarket more often than I’d like. Whilst my guilt was tempered by the fact that I barely used the car outside of this, it felt so wrong doing such a short trip by car.

The Tern has transformed my weekly routine into a much greener one.

With two huge panniers and a front rack, my days of being unable to carry a bulky food shop are over. Sometimes it takes a bit of careful arrangement to fit it all in securely – cue anecdote of the time I went over a bump causing several items to bounce out of the front and scatter across the road – but by and large the machine carries everything with ease. If I’m doing a big shop I’ll take a rucksack as backup, and have been known to transport wine in the bottle cage!

The e-bike has been especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic, when we’ve shopped less frequently and collected groceries for relatives occasionally. We were particularly pleased by how the box of Corona we picked up – which was on special price because of damaged packaging, not because of its connotation! – fit snuggly in the front crate on one such occasion! (We don’t actually drink that much; I promise!!)

E-bike date-nights

If we needed to, we could actually carry a massive crate on the back as well as the panniers. Such is the versatility of this machine though that it transports more than just cargo. Fitted with a comfy removable pad, the back of the bike doubles up as a people carrier! A GSD comfortably carries two kids (with the right configuration), or in our case one delighted, child-like adult (me!).

On these occasions we tend to stick to gender stereotypes, with Jason piloting and me riding on the back. (We tried it the other way round once when J needed a lift to the station with a chunky weekend bag. This was before the front rack had arrived and the bag wouldn’t fit in a pannier, so he had to hold it on his lap whilst riding. The movement of the bag as we travelled kept shifting the balance of the bike and making me wobbly. Not an experience I’d recommend!)

These ‘couple-trips’ – visits to the cinema and the like – are some of the most fun times on the bike, and by far the most head-turning. We literally watch people gawping at us, open-mouthed in astonishment, as we go by. Whilst I’m far from the type who seeks to be centre of attention, it does make us chuckle and we get a glimmer of satisfaction from being a bit out of the ordinary!

Wedding taxi!

My favourite example is the time we used the Tern as our taxi to and from a friend’s wedding reception! The ceremony and reception were 8 miles apart; not a distance I’d expect any wedding-goer to make by bike. Fortuitously, both venues were situated conveniently: the church nearby my parents’ house, where I happened to have stayed the previous night to cat-sit, and the reception just a couple of miles from my current abode. So, post-ceremony, we strolled back to my family home, hopped in the car and popped home to grab the GSD. We landed at the hotel just in time to see the bride & groom arrive, and didn’t have to stress about tackling a jam-packed car park. It was a beach location on a glorious day so the road was teeming. We enjoyed being waved and called at by car-dwellers edging their way towards the sand as we glided past on two wheels.  

Hopes & dreams

Having the GSD in my life has undoubtedly changed it for the better, but I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible with this ingenious machine. When the time is right I’d like to test its limits and see what more it can do for us. We’re particularly keen to see how it handles a weekend away or camping trip…

Watch this space for more on my e-bike adventures!