Have you been thinking a lot about your carbon footprint lately but wondering how to get where you need to go without a car? There are more ways to do it than you might think, and it doesn’t involve walking everywhere all the time or begging your neighbor or roommate to drive you places.
What’s Within Walking Distance?
Are you in the habit of going to one big store that has everything you want under one roof? It’s easy to fall into that habit of convenience, but depending on where you live, it may be almost as easy to get most of what you need a little closer to home.
Take some time to see what stores are within walking distance of your home or workplace. Think about what you could buy there. Make a mental note or jot down some notes for yourself on a notepad. Could you, for example, buy a new toothbrush at the corner drugstore and pick up some coconut oil there, too? (Check the pharmacy section for coconut oil. You may be surprised to find it there and nowhere near the small grocery section a lot of drugstores have.) Set aside some time to browse through the stores near you, just so you know for sure what they have.
It’ll take some time to reprogram those old habits of hopping in the car to drive 20 minutes to a store that has way more than you need at the time, but it can become second nature. Also, if you’re the type of person who goes into a store for one thing and comes out with a whole cart full of things you just happened to see and “need” while you were there, you’ll probably save more money.
If walking’s not an option for you, you could ride a bike. This comes in handy when you have distances longer than just a couple of miles to go, and there’s nothing quite like the breeze through your hair as you speed along on your bicycle in the sun.
Carrying items can be tricky because they can throw off your balance and you need your hands to steer. A cute basket can help you manage. City Girl Rides has a roundup of cute and functional bike baskets to consider.
What About Moving?
Obviously, you can’t take everything on foot or on a bike when you’re moving, but it’s cheaper and more environmentally-friendly to just rent a truck only when you need one for big jobs like this. You can rent a large moving truck if you have a lot of furniture and boxes of possessions, but if you’re a college student or like to practice minimalism, you might be able to get by with borrowing a friend’s car or truck to move. Either option is more economical and eco-friendly than having a car you drive all the time.
Share a Car
What if there’s no possible way for you to get where you’re going on foot or bike? Say the trip’s too long, your workplace is nowhere near where you live, or the weather’s so horrible it’s not only uncomfortable, but unsafe to use the best green transportation methods.
Ask your co-workers where they live and see if you can get a carpooling group together (even if it’s just the two of you!). You can offer to bring healthy lunches to work, pay for gas, etc—whatever works for the two of you. If no one you know lives near you, apps like Trees for Cars can help you arrange carpools with others who live and work in the same area. It also reports how much CO2 you’re saving each time you share a ride with someone else.
You can share cars with other people when you really need a set of four wheels to get you where you’re going. For example, Zipcar allows you to pay to drive a car (van, sedan, hybrid, etc) for just a few hours or a day, depending on your needs.
You can find more helpful carsharing and carpooling apps at Mother Nature Network.
Would-Be Road Trips
If you’re an explorer and you love to travel, continuing without a car or giving up the one you have may not sound too attractive, but there are ways to handle wanderlust without using a car.
- Amtrak has 30 routes in the United States. There are over 500 destinations spread across 46 states, so there’s a good chance you can get almost anywhere you want to go—or at least close—by using Amtrak. You can see the train routes here. They offer all kinds of deals, like half off for kids or 10% off for military. There are even vacation packages.
- It’s a given that you can take the bus in almost any city when you’re wondering how to get around without a car, but you can use the bus to take longer trips, too. For example, Greyhound can take you as far as Canada or Mexico. Just like Amtrak, Greyhound offers deals and discounts, like 20% off for veterans and students, and discounted rates on up to two tickets with the full-price purchase of one.
The Ins and Outs of Public Transportation
You can usually find route information online for each area’s public transportation options, so you can study up ahead of time and determine when you should leave, which stops you need to use, and which train, bus, or subway will get you where you’re going. For example, Transit Time NYC has a map that shows you how long you should expect it to get from one place to another.
Google Maps Transit is another option that goes beyond New York City. Put in where you want to go, where you’ll be leaving from, transit mode of choice, and any other preferences you may have (like fewer transfers). You’ll get directions on which bus to use, route information, and an estimated time it will take to get there.
When you decide to take public transportation and plan your route, remember to factor in any walking time from the station to your specific location. You may find that you need to take an earlier bus, train, or subway in order to make it in time. If you use the Google site for transit information, it should be easy to calculate.
- When you’re using public transportation, stay alert. Pay attention to your surroundings, just as you would in a parking lot.
- If you can access your city’s maps online, plan your route ahead of time so you know where you need to wait and when you should be there (so you’re not standing around for too much extra time). This will also keep you from becoming so absorbed by the map that you can’t pay attention to what’s going on around you.
- If you’re waiting for a train, there’s usually a line near the tracks that you shouldn’t cross. Be sure to locate it and stay in the appropriate area.
- Keep valuables hidden as much as possible (stones on rings turned in toward the palm, wallet in front pocket, for example) and keep your purse close to your body.
- Wait in well-lit areas.
Grocery hauls will be short and quick because you’ll have to carry it all home. Fresh foods won’t go bad if you have a long walk home or have to wait for a bus, but processed frozen foods may thaw and dairy may go bad. Fresher foods start to look a lot more tempting, if they weren’t already.
You won’t be able to stock up for a month’s worth of groceries and carry it all home. Knowing you’ll have to go back to the grocery store in a few days makes it less tempting to buy those things that keep forever.
Perks of Going Without a Car
- You eat fresher, healthier foods. Would you rather have an armload of bags full of lettuce or canned soups? Lettuce is lighter, right? Canned soups and freezer meals lose even more appeal when you have to carry them home in your hands rather than a trunk.
- It’s cheaper. You’re not making a car payment, paying for insurance, or buying gas every week or even a few times every week. Use that money on natural, organic food or something that enriches you as a person (now’s the time to sign up for a yoga class, learn to draw, or anything else you’ve always said you didn’t have the money to do).
- You get exercise built right into your day. You don’t have to schedule a gym visit if you just walked or rode your bike a mile or more to the store and back. If you’re lucky enough to work close enough to home to walk there, there’s more exercise.
- No rush hour traffic. If you live in a really congested city, this alone is enough of a reason to walk as much as you can. Have you ever sat in traffic and thought, “I could walk home faster than this!”? Try it. You can probably move faster on foot during certain times of day.
- If you’re carpooling or taking public transportation to work or anywhere else on a regular basis, you’ll open yourself up to new connections and friendships that you may have never had the opportunity to find before. All that time stuck in a car with someone else or on the bus with strangers will allow you to build your relationships.
- You’re not polluting the air when you walk or ride a bike, and you’re cutting down on pollution when you choose public transportation over driving your own car.
What do you think? Are you ready to sell your car (or dedicate your savings account to a new goal)? Green transportation is more doable than you may have thought, and it’s a beautiful way to get some exercise, help save the planet, and meet new friends. Going without a car may sound restrictive, but you may just find it freeing.