Green is for go

You want to hit the road - but you've got a conscience. It's not easy but it is possible. Sean O'Grady offers a few sensible alternatives

The only truly environmentally friendly vacation, let us be honest, is one that is taken entirely on foot or by bicycle. That, however, is somewhat limiting, and doesn't widen your horizons very much even if you include a journey by (non-air) public transport.

In other words, it pretty much takes you back to the original Thomas Cook era of holidaymaking. His first excursions, if you recall, were from Leicester to elsewhere in Leicestershire. Unless you really dig Loughborough (and I do, as it happens) you'll have to make some compromises with your conscience. The good news is that there are ways that you can genuinely become kinder and gentler to the planet when taking time out on the road.

What should you drive? If you don't already own a car (full marks for greenness) and need to hire one, then you ought to go for one of the more efficient, smaller diesel models, which return excellent fuel economy and lower carbon dioxide emissions. The Citroën C2 is especially good, if you can find one. If you've got a large family, then much the same applies to your hired people-carrier (maybe not such good marks for greenness). Always go for the one that has the lowest CO 2 emissions, details of which you can find in the car magazines or on the manufacturers' websites.

Generally speaking, if you can find a car that dumps less than 130g of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every kilometre it travels, you're not doing too badly.

If you already own a car then you might still consider hiring a greener one - if only to see what it's like. Small diesel hatchbacks now have as much room, performance and versatility as a large family saloon of a decade ago. Better still, run your little diesel on Biodiesel fuel, if you can find it (although it is plentiful in Scandinavia). I am leaving aside motorbikes here, perhaps unfairly.

Why not embrace truly green technology? You could get yourself an electric car, but they tend to have a limited range and only make much sense as urban transport. LPG and natural gas-powered cars are compromised by a lack of filling stations. The most practical proposition is one of the new hybrid vehicles. These combine a petrol engine with an electric motor and store the power that is normally wasted by an internal combustion engine (when braking, for example), to use later on.

Models such as the Honda Civic IMA and Toyota Prius offer good economy as well, although they are more expensive to buy than their nearest equivalents. They are on a few hire fleets. Avis will let you have one if you happen to be in Portugal, and Enterprise has a few Priuses in the UK. Avis offers a scheme whereby customers can offset their carbon emissions by taking part in green projects. Hertz doesn't offer much that's green.

Where should you go? Not that far away. If the choice is between taking a flight or driving round Britain or Europe (getting there by ferry) it's a no-brainer. Your jet will have expended far more fuel than you could manage even with the most exuberant driving. According to Friends of the Earth, even if you fly only once a year you can generate a significant amount of greenhouse pollution - a passenger taking a long-haul return flight from the UK to the US can produce as much carbon dioxide as a motorist driving in the UK for a year (one heck of a touring holiday!).

For a typical journey of less than 500km, air travel comes off worst: the amount of CO 2 produced per passenger is 0.17kg/km for air travel; 0.14kg/km for travel by car; 0.052kg/km for rail; and 0.047kg/km by boat (ferry). If you're one of those people who hates cars but can't resist a cheap flight, those stats ought to make you examine your holiday plans.

The other points concerning driving destinations are fairly obvious; avoid congested places such as the Lake District, Cornwall, London and Oxford - and please don't go off-road, even where you're allowed to. Those SUVs and trail bikes have made a terrible mess of some bits of our countryside.

The last question is the one that is least asked: how to drive? Slowly - you want to enjoy the view. Simply stick to speed limits, avoid sharp acceleration and braking, turn off the air-conditioning and use the cruise control, if you have one. Plan your journey and buy a sat-nav device that might stop you wasting time and fuel getting lost.

Alternatively, you could just go by train or coach and plug your PlayStation 2 loaded with a Gran Turismo 4 game into the TV in your room. That way you can enjoy all the thrills of the rally or race circuit and save the planet.

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