Post lockdown travel – How flexible will you be?

transport modes

Lockdown has put the brakes on all but essential travel and there’s no doubt the environment has benefitted. As the streets emptied of traffic in London almost a year ago, levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and particulates fell to their lowest since records began in 2000, according to the London Air Quality Network. However, as what once passed as normal travel patterns threaten to return, how flexible will you be about the way you travel? What mode of transport will you choose for a trip to the local shops? The commute to work? A holiday in France? An expedition to Senegal?

For example, the appetite for large cars is as keen as ever. However, while these cars are sold on the promise of adventure, how often do they venture away from tarmac, and does a two-ton car make the best adventure vehicle anyway?

| ‘The perception that cars, or even bicycles, need be heavy to tackle off-road terrain is a triumph of marketing over reality’

In 1980, the Range Rover was still considered a work vehicle, fitted as it was with utilitarian, pressed-steel wheels and vinyl seats designed to be washed down with a hose. It had yet to become the £80,000 luxury vehicle it is today.

At a time when the Range Rover was still more tractor than limousine, an off-road vehicle had to earn its credentials – whatever its size. In the same year, two riders completed the gruelling Paris Dakar having ridden their Vespa scooters across 7 countries and 10,000 km of brutal terrain. The perception that cars, motorcycles or even bicycles need to be big and heavy to tackle off-road terrain is a triumph of marketing over reality.

vespa electric scooter

In contrast with many 4×4 cars, the humble Vespa is capable of far more than its image suggests

Going back further still, designers at Citroen after the war were asked to design from scratch a car capable of carrying four farm workers (and a tray of fresh eggs) across a muddy field carrying. So was born the 2CV.2cv

Versatile: The engine crank handle on a 1948 2CV could also be used to operate the car’s jack and remove the wheel nuts.As far as its off-road credentials were concerned , the 2CV more than surpassed the original brief. In 1958, two young Frenchmen left Paris in a 2CV and headed south to traverse the African continent before crossing America and finally returning home via Yokohama. They used a little over 1,000 gallons of fuel and 9 sets of tyres to complete the 100,000-kilometre trip.

The standard car works remarkably well off road, but can be further improved by adding drive to the rear wheels. A 2CV modified in this way appeared on television in the late 1990s and went head to head with a Land Rover Defender – an off-road vehicle used by armed forces around the world. The 2CV won.

| ‘The bikes were unremarkable in every respect – it was the riders that showed extraordinary endurance and skill’

A fashion for over-engineered SUVs could be said to apply as much to bicycles as it does to cars. Bikes with sturdy frames, heavy suspended forks and balloon tyres are popular with leisure cyclists and commuters alike. However, the pioneer adventure cyclists of the 1890s took to the snowy wilds of northern Canada 80 years before the advent of mountain bikes. The bikes they used were unremarkable in every respect – it was the riders that showed extraordinary endurance and skill.

cyclist winter circa 1900

Hardy soul: The cover of Terrence Cole’s account of Alaskan cycling at the turn of the twentieth century, Wheels on Ice.

Making rationale choices over how and when to travel is vital if we are to safeguard the environment. But even if image is a deciding factor, when you open your newspaper this Sunday to be greeted by an ad for the latest gleaming SUV, consider for a moment the vehicles that truly define the spirit of adventure; the plucky little Vespas that conquered the Paris Dakar, the continent-conquering Citroen 2CV and the arctic cycling pioneers of the 1890s who thought nothing of setting off across the Canadian arctic on a bog-standard bicycle.

Get on your bike with ETA cycle insurance

For over 30 years the ETA has been working hard to encourage healthy and sustainable ways to travel. It’s the reason we developed ETA cycle insurance. In contrast with other providers, we offer a sympathetic policy on storage. As long as a shed door is locked, the bicycles stored within do not require any further security. In addition, the policy covers stolen quick-release components and for added peace of mind, claims are handled in-house. Furthermore, bikes are never devalued, no matter their age. Hardly surprising The Good Shopping Guide rates us Britain’s most ethical provider.

Post-lockdown travel

Omio packs Europe’s diverse and complex transport system into a simple app that compares European flights with coach and rail prices for the same journey. Results can be filtered to show the cheapest and fastest options, while a third filter takes into account price, duration and departure time.

The app draws on data from more than 150 companies to allow you to plan a trip search from anywhere to anywhere in Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. It will be of particular interest to those wishing to reduce the environmental impact of their travel. Pre-lockdown, the average person in Britain travelled 10,400 km each year (not including flights abroad). Rail and coach travel produces less damaging emissions than flying, but it can be complicated to compare different modes of transport alongside one another.

rail travel

Mile-for-mile, air travel is the most environmentally damaging form of transport there is  – so the simplest way to travel in a green way is to avoid it altogether.  Taking the train may be slower, but you’ll travel guilt-free and have a rich travel experience before you even arrive at your destination (not to mention getting an early start on that holiday reading).

The much-loved InterRail scheme takes the concept of train travel itself as an adventure to the next level, allowing near-unlimited rail travel across 30 European countries across a set number of days. Adults can get passes for 10 days (under 25s travel at a reduced rate) and embrace the freedom to go where they please on an unforgettable transcontinental adventure.

rail travel in Europe

For those of us who prefer a more rewarding, low-stress alternative to flying, which brings us closer to the world we live in and reduces our contribution to climate change, there is The Man in Seat Sixty-One, a site explaining how to travel comfortably & affordably by train or ferry.

Finally, travel provider Bike Express makes European cycle touring holidays a breeze. Their coach-and-trailer set up whisks you and your bike to a variety of departure points on the continent.



  1. Mike Croker


    Paris-Dakar in high heels – cool! 😆

  2. Tony Williams


    Yes, fifty years ago I had a Renault 4L which performed very effectively on dirt roads in Zambia.

    One reason for the greater size of most types of car these days is the pressure to make them safer. A recent edition of the magazine Which? even discusses the likely disappearance of the group of small vehicles known as City Cars because of the difficulty of meeting each new safety standard within their small dimensions. It’s an interesting situation to think about.

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