See The World, Save The Planet

How do you get from A to B without wreaking havoc on the environment? Choose your mode of transport with care, says Andrew Spooner. You'll be surprised at just how far you can travel
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The Independent Travel

1. Take the train

Eco-credentials: according to Friends of the Earth, rail travel can have up to 90 per cent less impact on climate change per passenger compared with flying. And while the budget airlines might be able to fly to a couple of hundred destinations in Europe, the train can take you directly to more than 10,000 towns, villages and city centres. Furthermore, there are no seasonal fare hikes and in terms of comfort rail beats flying, hands down.

How and where: for travel in Europe, Rail Europe (0870-584 8848; raileurope.co.uk) sells tickets for all the major train networks on the Continent, including journeys from station to station and rail passes. It also sells tickets for the joint French-Spanish Elipsos train hotel (elipsos.com) a high-quality regular sleeper service connecting Paris, Zurich, Barcelona, Madrid and Milan. For long-haul, the Trans-Siberian can take you directly from Europe to Beijing - one of the planet's epic rail journeys. China has excellent land connections to Vietnam, Hong Kong and on to Thailand. Travelmood (0870-066 4555; travelmood.com/adventures) offers Moscow-Beijing from £1,085 each way.

2. Go low-impact

Eco-credentials: touring doesn't have to involve dreary hotels or crowded campsites. If you adhere to good practice - take all rubbish with you, be careful where and how you go to the toilet, move camp regularly - wild camping can be a very low-impact endeavour. Without the facilities offered by campsites, you'll also raise your awareness about the resources, such as water, that you actually use.

How and where: the Scandinavian countries Sweden, Norway and Finland all have rights to wild camp enshrined in law. You must adhere to certain rules - don't camp near homes, or in fields or gardens that are evidently used for domestic or agricultural purposes - but you can pitch your tent almost anywhere else. Many other countries will also tolerate wild camping if you keep a low profile. And last year, Scotland introduced the Land Reform (Scotland) Act which guarantees a statutory right to wild camp. This means, by following a set of guidelines contained within the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (outdooraccess-scotland. com), Scotland has now become one giant campsite. If you want to develop your wild camping skills further, try reading How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art by Kathleen Meyer (price £6.99).

3. Get on your bike

Eco-credentials: apart from the pollution created when your bicycle is manufactured, cycling is zero-emission. Bicycles also combine brilliantly with the train - most rail companies carry them for free. Both mainland Europe and the UK now have excellent long-distance cycle lanes/paths. An added bonus is that riding a bicycle is an excellent way to stay fit.

How and where: if you want to do it alone, the European Cycling Federation (ecf.com) runs an excellent website that is packed with information about cycling across Europe and in the UK. You'll find pre-planned routes and maps that will guide you from Cadiz to Moscow and from the North Cape to Athens, as well as links to every major cycling organisation in Europe. If you need a helping hand, then Exodus (0870-240 5550; exodus.co.uk) offers flight-free cycling holidays through the Dordogne that include accommodation, luggage transfer and Eurostar tickets, from £725. London-based Red Spokes (020-7502 7252; redspokes.co.uk) organises trips through the South Downs, Yorkshire Dales and Wales. They are also planning excursions that will begin and start in the capital.

4. Set sail

Eco-credentials: with the wind in your hair and a course set over shimmering seas, sailing is a time-honoured mode of transport. It is also, when there's a good breeze, one that's zero-emissions.

How and where: unfortunately, most sailing holidays begin in far-flung destinations that are only reached by environmentally unfriendly flights. Wilderness Scotland (0131-625 6635; wildernessscotland.com), which was recently nominated for Best Tour Operator in the Responsible Tourism awards, starts all its sailing holidays from UK destinations reached by train. Each of its boats also comes with a fully qualified Royal Yachting Association (RYA) instructor, should you want to begin to learn the ropes yourself. Most Wilderness Scotland trips are along the rugged coastlines of western Scotland and start from £350. If you're a more serious beginner and want to set out under your own steam, then contact the RYA direct (02380 604100; rya.org.uk) in order to find out all about its sailing courses.

5. Take a hike

Eco-credentials: try a zero-emission form of transport with the best all-terrain vehicle on the planet: your own feet. All you need is a stout pair of boots, thick socks and some blister plasters. And don't forget that you'll shed pounds and feel absolutely great - walking is one of the best forms of exercise.

How and where: Head to the Scottish Highlands where there are many excellent walking routes. The 73-mile Great Glen Way (greatglenway.org) from Fort William to Inverness is good for beginners, while the West Highland Way (west-highland-way.co.uk) starts in the outer suburbs of Glasgow and leads more experienced walkers 95 miles across the Trossachs and Rannoch Moor back to Fort William. Both routes are well established and have accommodation scattered along their lengths. Contact Visit Scotland (0845-225 5121; visitscotland.com) for further details. If you want to head to Europe, then Responsible Travel offers various flight-free walking holidays, including a 35-night European tour (responsibletravel.com/Trip/Trip900236.htm) from £1,965. The European Ramblers Association (era-ewv-ferp.com) also hosts an informative website which includes maps to numerous routes across the Continent.

6. Hire an eco-car

Eco-credentials: renting an environmentally friendly car while you're on holiday is an obvious way to reduce emissions. However, the great drawback at present is that very few car hire companies offer any real kind of ecological alternative to a typical gas-guzzler.

How and where: one of the biggest car hire companies, Avis (0844-581 0147; avis.co.uk), offers a series of environmentally conscious options. When you book your car, Avis will give you the opportunity to offset your carbon footprint for a small fee. In addition, it has also planted a tree for each car in its rental fleet. In particular, if you are planning to travel to New Zealand, Avis has just added a number of fuel-efficient, low-emission Toyota Prius cars to its fleets at Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland airports.

7. Hop a freighter

Eco-credentials: sailing on a container ship is not glamorous, but it is emission-efficient. Most freighter cruises are excellent value, with fantastic facilities, no single supplements and a choice of great stop-off points, such as the Caribbean, Indonesia and New York.

How and where: Travel by freighter has something of a cult following: many seem to love it, describing the experience as having your own, giant, private yacht. Itineraries vary from eight to 124 days, can take in destinations as diverse as New Orleans, Vanuatu and Yokohama, although, on the longer trips, passengers must also be prepared for diversions - remember these are working boats. Fares start from about £70 a day, which will include full board, and you usually get to eat with the captain and officers. If you pick your boat carefully, you're also likely to find that you have access to better facilities than you'd get on a cruise ship. Go to: The Cruise People (020-7723 2450; members.aol.com/ CruiseAZ/freighters.htm).

8. If you must fly...

Eco-credentials: none. A typical return flight to Australia will produce three tonnes of CO2 per person. But if you must fly, then try a carbon-offsetting programme to make your journey "carbon neutral". In short, carbon offsetting is the latest trend in eco-travel. It involves paying a small fee to a company that specialises in reducing your carbon footprint - about £30 for a long-haul return to Australia - so that the emissions you produce during your flight are neutralised by additional environmentally friendly activity. It's not a real eco-alternative to flying, but does have some beneficial effects and placates a guilty conscience.

How and where: Climate Care (climatecare.org) offers an easy-to-use flight off-setter on its website. It claims to be a not-for-profit trust and says that most of its fees are used to help support eco-friendly programmes in the developing world. CO2 Balance (co2balance.com) provides a similar service and can help set up carbon-neutral programmes for small and large businesses. Another option is Carbon Footprint (carbonfootprint.com), which gives the option of what offsetting you'd like your money to go towards - tree planting, CO2 credits, donations to companies that are creating sustainable energy sources, or support for developing-world programmes.

The best places to hitch: Stick out that thumb

If you're adventurous, hitchhiking is a good way to improve energy efficiency and lower emissions. It's also cheap and you meet the locals. Rare in the UK, hitchhiking is still viable in many European countries. In Germany, hitchhiking is a fast way of getting around the autobahn system. In other countries you can wait hours for a lift. Safer are online lift-sharing schemes. Seeliftshare.org (UK-wide) and europe.bugride.com (Europe network).

The best easy-rider trips: Keep your motor running

With a recent DoT report highlighting the motorbike's eco-cred in reducing congestion and emissions, rugged bikes like BMW's famous GS range, are flying out of the showrooms. Several companies will organise full itineraries - some even arrange bike hire. Ride With Us (01582 840621; ridewithus.info) offers a range of European tours from £700, while World of BMW (0800-013 1282; worldofbmw.com) can take you to Morocco and the Baltic states from £850.

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