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No Car. No Bus. No Problem. How to Shop, Work and Live without a Car.

Updated on July 8, 2014

As a long-time biker and a never-ever car owner, I agree wholeheartedly with the physical and mental benefits of moving away from car-dependence.

But let's face it, despite their costs and environmental burden, cars are very convenient. You can go where you want, when you want and you don't have to rely on anyone else to get you there.

If you're thinking about getting rid of your car or even just switching to alternative transportation a few times a week, these three tips will make car-lessness a more palatable experience.

These tips will help you overcome initial hurdles, stick with it longer and convert you to a life-long proponent of the car free diet!


(1) Replace Your Car with its 2-wheeled Equivalent

If you're driving a Mercedes, you won't enjoy riding the 10-year old Huffy rusting under your front porch.

Invest in the Mercedes of bikes - a 2-wheeled vehicle that delivers the same elegance and social cache as the car you know and love.

Anything less than your usual comfort and class, and you'll abandon biking without giving it a fair try.

(2) Budget for Transportation

Giving up your car entirely gives you a pretty large budget surplus. You could spend it all at Starbucks, but a better alternative is to budget at least $500 a month for transportation.

That's a lot to budget for a bike! Yes, but sometimes you need more space, comfort, speed, etc than a bike can provide.

Giving up your car isn't the same as giving up the conveniences of a car. If your schedule allows you to bike to the grocery store every other day, and you don't need bulky household supplies like laundry detergent, and you never want to travel farther than you can bike, then no worries, you can comfortably sink all your car savings into a non-transportation budget.

For those of us who like some measure of convenience and comfort (including clean clothes), transportation of goods is a necessity that a bike alone can't cover.

Borrowing cars and bumming rides from friends are one solution - we'll cover that in Tip #4. But your own personal vehicle provided individual independence.

Here're a few ways you can regain that awesome feeling of freedom without the recurring costs.

  • Rent a car. Car rentals a great idea for a day of errands, a weekend trip or a weekend at work when regular commuting solutions aren't available. People who don't rent cars think they're really expensive, but no-car insiders know better. Organizations like AAA and USAA offer deep discounts for members, often less than $30 per weekend day. Insurance* packages usually double that cost, but $60 for one day or $180 for an entire weekend is still less than your monthly car costs.
  • Join a Car-Share. Car-sharing programs are springing up in urban areas and college towns across America. In most cases, you pay a yearly or monthly fee to be a part of the program, and an hourly rental rate when you rent the car. Gas and insurance are usually included, but the insurance plans usually have a hefty deductible, so read the fine print and have money in reserve to cover worst case scenarios.
  • Take a Taxi. Taxis cost money, but so do cars. Sometimes you have to suck up the cost and pull money from your transportation budget to get where you need to be in a timely fashion and in proper form (not sweaty or bedraggled).

*A note on insurance. This includes liability coverage that covers damage to other vehicles or property, as well as loss damage waiver coverage for damage to the rental vehicle. Car-free is much less cheap if you're an uninsured driver stuck with hundreds or thousands of dollars in collision-related expenses. Pay up front with car rental insurance, and you won't pay a dine out-of-pocket since you're already paying through the nose.

Find the gear you need in the style you want at a price you'll pay.

Then lock it to your bike so no one steals it.

(3) Equip your Bike to Carry Stuff

Equipping your bike isn't an inexpensive process, but investing in quality equipment you can trust is the best way to make your bike work for you.

The average bike is designed to carry you, a water bottle and not much else.

Where's the rest of your stuff supposed to go?

  • You could hang purses, groceries and other items from the handlebars, but that's a safety hazard, not to mention unkempt-looking and uncomfortable. Carrying groceries on a bike seems like a great idea until a plastic bag gets caught in the front wheel.
  • You could give up style and settle on a dependable backpack, but remember Tip #1. If you are not normally a backpack person, this is not a good idea.
  • You could go with Tip #2 and rent a car or car-share, but on a regular basis that's cost-prohibitive. Budgeting for alternative transportation is all well and good, but if you're renting a ZipCar to go grocery shopping every week, you'll erode any cost-savings very quickly.

The simple, cost-effective solution is to spend money equipping your bike to carry stuff. There are all sorts of different solutions depending on the size, shape and weight of what you're trying to carry.

In olden days, tracking down specialty stores that stocked these items was an incredible challenge. In the wonderful age of the Internet, online retailers carry a huge selection of specialized bike equipment, so you can find exactly the right gear at exactly the right price.

Not proper use of a handbasket, but it sure is fun! :-D
Not proper use of a handbasket, but it sure is fun! :-D | Source

(3.1) .:| Handlebar Baskets |:.

Handlebar baskets are an easy solution for small items like purses, murses or whatever it is males use to transport their stuff.

They're also a good solution for light groceries, or biking around town that turns into an impromptu shopping trip.

The first time you stumble upon the perfect whatever during an impromptu shopping trip, and realize you can't get it home, you could cry (like I did), or you could go online and equip your bike properly.

Perfect use of grocery bag panniers!
Perfect use of grocery bag panniers! | Source

(3.2) .:| Panniers |:.

Panniers are bike saddlebags. They come in all shapes and sizes, and may be customized for specific types of goods.

So if you're commuting to work, try a garment bag pannier that holds a full suit, shoes and toiletries without creasing or spills.

If you're going grocery shopping, try fold-out grocery baskets, perfectly sized for the brown paper bags no one uses anymore.

Panniers can be pricey, but remember - you don't necessarily need the best bike panniers. Affordable and functional may be more important.

The Burley Nomad in Action (without Cargo Rack)

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Great stuff gathered on a ride around town.   - Stack of clothes from a garage sale.   - Stack of books from the sidewalk. - Ikea twin bedframe labeled "Free to a Good Home"  \(^_^)/Fjellse pine bedframe taken apart and stowed in the cargo trailer. ($39.99)Super cute skirt from a Target designer line ($29.99)Books (not these) found on the side of the road and stashed in the bottom of the Nomad.
Great stuff gathered on a ride around town.   - Stack of clothes from a garage sale.   - Stack of books from the sidewalk. - Ikea twin bedframe labeled "Free to a Good Home"  \(^_^)/
Great stuff gathered on a ride around town. - Stack of clothes from a garage sale. - Stack of books from the sidewalk. - Ikea twin bedframe labeled "Free to a Good Home" \(^_^)/ | Source
Fjellse pine bedframe taken apart and stowed in the cargo trailer. ($39.99)
Fjellse pine bedframe taken apart and stowed in the cargo trailer. ($39.99) | Source
Super cute skirt from a Target designer line ($29.99)
Super cute skirt from a Target designer line ($29.99) | Source
Books (not these) found on the side of the road and stashed in the bottom of the Nomad.
Books (not these) found on the side of the road and stashed in the bottom of the Nomad. | Source

(3.3) .:| Cargo Trailers |:.

For everything else, invest in a bike trailer.

Heavy items like paint cans, air conditioners, printers, Costco tomato sauce and potting soil don't belong in baskets or panniers. Towing them behind the bike is the way to go. The Burley Nomad's one of the best bike trailers. The cost is an eyebrow-raiser, but given the alternative is renting a car, it pays for itself in no time at all.

A bike trailer lets you buy groceries for the month instead of the week. If you're worried about refrigeration, pack a cooler, pick up a bag of ice at the store, and transport your groceries in peace.

If you need more groceries than you can fit on your trailer, grow a garden and cut back on packaged goods. Healthier food choices is a wonderful side-effect of reduced luggage capacity.

Don't be that guy.
Don't be that guy. | Source

(4) Don't be a bummer

It's called "bumming a ride" for a reason. If you're getting rid of your car to save money, you can't expect to increase your friends' or family's car expenses to off-set your savings.

It's tempting to borrow a friend's car on a regular basis. After all, they're paying the car payment, insurance and maintenance regardless. If you pay for gas, you're covering your share, right?

this type of argument works well when the car owner is along for the ride. It's great for road trips, where you pay your share of the gas and put in a little extra for car costs. This also works for group activities where the car owner wants you along for company.

Exceptional circumstances aside, this does not work if you're borrowing a car to pick up run errands, pick up laundry or perform other everyday tasks that you should plan to accomplish using your own personal resources. Friends help you out when special circumstances arise - that's what friends are for. It's up to you to ensure that exceptions don't become the norm.


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    • justmesuzanne profile image


      6 years ago from Texas

      Very valuable information! Voted up and awesome! :)

    • toomuchmint profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks Natasha! There's definitely a sense of satisfactionand empowerment from biking and even more so from biking with bulky, heavy or unwieldy items that usually require a car. :-) Kudos to you!!

      And thanks for reading!

    • Natashalh profile image


      6 years ago from Hawaii

      Here's a great big "huzzah!" for the folks of the world that don't own a car by choice. I, too, rely on biking and other's cars to get where I need to go. Inconvenient? Sometimes. But I'm filled with immense pride every time I bike somewhere I could have easily driven. I know I just saved money on gas and car maintenance, and made myself a little bit healthier because of the exercise. I have two huge panniers and can carry way too much stuff on my bike. I even brought a cat litter box and jug of litter to a coworker in one of my panniers!

      Voted up, useful, inserting, and awesome!

    • toomuchmint profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Borsia, you make some good points. Living without a car can be challenging, and isn't for everyone. One tip for keeping your groceries from getting stolen is to put panniers in a shopping cart and wheel them with you as you shop. Most of them clip onto the bike and are easy to attach and detach. The Burley Nomad bike trailer is also great for in-store shopping. When detached from the bike, it tilts upwards and rests on two little feet. I'm not sure if it's designed for in-store shopping, but I usually plop a basket right in the trailer, wheel it around the store (it's smaller than a grocery cart), and reattach it to the bike after purchases.

      Thanks for commenting

    • toomuchmint profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      You're right, Nettlemere. They do make bike baskets for dogs. I just did a search and they're too cute for words. They even make trailers for larger pooches. Who knew?! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • toomuchmint profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks watergeek. It's easy to forget there's life beyond bikes and cars, but people have been walking for ages and it's still a great way to get around :) Car insurance for non-car owners is also a great suggestion. Collision insurance can cost upwards of $20 per rental day, and that's not including the Loss Damage Waiver for damage to the rental car! By spending a little more each month, frequent renters can save a bundle.

      Thanks for reading and commenting :-)

    • toomuchmint profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      I'm glad you enjoyed the article aethelryth. Those are great hub ideas. Hmmmm...Living with kids and without a car can be a challenge. It's more of an investment, because you need kid-friendly bike gear. It's also requires a more significant travel budget. Getting cranky or sick kids into a car can be a challenge. Getting them onto a bike can seem impossible. I'll put an article together. Thanks for reading and stopping by with such great suggestions!

    • toomuchmint profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Congrats whowas on giving up your car! Especially when you have a family. You're right about the cost savings from insurance and gas, and about the cargo trailer. It just goes to show that Anyone that families can go car free too - it's all about planning and initial investment.Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Highvoltagewriter profile image

      William Benner 

      6 years ago from Savannah GA.

      Just like you have stayed away from owning a car for awhile...Great Hub!

    • Borsia profile image


      6 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Being an expat and having lived in countries where driving is very difficult I have gone years without a car. Taxis aren't too expensive and busses or jeepneys are even cheaper.

      Now I live in the Philippines and, while I do have a car, I have gone what one might call the "middle route" I bought a motorcycle.

      If I were to return to the US to live I would get a motorcycle there as well and forgo a car. I get around 50 mpg and I'm not a shy rider when it comes to speed.

      That said I have to question your "savings math". When I lived in CA my car cost was $300 (car payment and insurance) + gas per month. After it was paid for my total expenses were about $300 including gas. My Toyota pickup got pretty good mileage, if I kept my foot under control, about 30 mpg.

      There wasn't any public transportation that ran even close to my schedule and work was 25 miles away.

      You also are leaving out the weather factor when walking, biking or relying on public transportation just doesn't work.

      There is also the problem that we live in a very imperfect world. In many places while you are in one store picking up things there will be someone taking what you left in your panniers or cart from the last store.

      A good hub and I do believe we should be more conservative in our carbon footprints but only really practical if you live in a city and don't need to cover many miles.

    • Nettlemere profile image


      6 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      You can get Bicycle baskets specially designed for dogs - I've been looking into getting one for my terrier. Good article and a sensible attitude to living without a car.

    • watergeek profile image


      6 years ago from Pasadena CA

      I've been four years without a car now, living in Pasadena CA. I don't have a bicycle either. I walk, take public transport, carpool, and rent. My insurance company has a cheap insurance they sell for people without cars, so i don't have to buy it when i rent. I found a place to live near where I like to grocery shop and I have a backpack (book bag, actually) to carry groceries home in - also a cloth bag that closes up small and zips. It all works. Gives me good exercise. Good and useful hub, toomuchmint!

    • aethelthryth profile image


      6 years ago from American Southwest

      Your article inspires me to try! When our second car was totaled, I wondered if we could live even a week in the Southwest US without a second car. It's been 9 years!

      I would be interested in further articles with tips on 1. how to handle no car with kids (ours only think they know how to bike), 2. how to handle biking in a city with good bike paths but most of them go east-west with the creeks, and most of our travel is north-south.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great hub and one very close to my heart as we just finally gave up the car about two weeks ago!

      We have found it no problem and looking at our new budget, we have some money saved by ditching the smelly ol' noise machine.

      I agree that it is worth investing in a good bike if you are serious and I also got a substantial, durable but lightweight cargo trailer and I love it.

      If you are seriously going to go no-car as a lifestyle, then a trailer is a small investment compared to how much money you won't be spending anymore on tax, insurance, gas, repairs etc. It is essential for the shopping and other things.

      We have a rail station just a couple of miles away so if we need to go further afield we just cycle to the station and hop on a train.

      The kids love it, too. I'd say get rid of the car to anyone. Great hub!

    • toomuchmint profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks logos! Once you try panniers, you'll wonder how you shopped without them. :).

      There was some sticker shock when I got my first set, but I was in need and they were available.

      Now I know what to look for, and I see a good number at yard sales and flea markets. Beat up bag or basket with weird hooks? Dirty? Probably a pannier or bike basket!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Logos831 profile image


      6 years ago from somewhere, ca

      Congrats on your hub nomination! I need to get one of those pannier things for my bike so I can go grocery shopping w/out my car...

    • toomuchmint profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks ripplemaker! A Hubnugget nomination is pretty darn cool :-)

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      When I didn't have a car, that was fine. When I was driving one, that was okay too. You are right one can save a lot if I didn't have to contend with car maintenance. But since I live far away from work, right now driving a car is better for me. :D

      Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination. Drive this way to this hub and read and vote Enjoy!

    • toomuchmint profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      You're right tipstoretireearly - and local trips add up fast. Some people think cars or bikes are an all-or-nothing deal. But it's really about balance.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • tipstoretireearly profile image


      6 years ago from New York

      Great hub. Investing in a good bike with storage capacity is very helpful. Not everyone lives in a location where its possible to go without a car, but almost everyone can at least ditch the car for some local trips.

    • toomuchmint profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Great tips 2patricias! The lock's the most important part of your bike. Without it, your bike quickly becomes someone else's. :).

      Scouting parking spots is also big help. There's nothing like riding in circles searching for a meter, street sign, bike rack, small tree...anything- so you can pop into the store for a soda.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • 2patricias profile image


      6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Interesting hub (voted up) with good use of photos.

      One tip for new bikers: invest in a lock, and scout out good places to park and lock your bike for your regular errands.

      Depending on where you live, it may be possible to make some of your regular trips on public transport.

    • toomuchmint profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      It is really adorable, patchofearth. He looks so happy, and his dog must be having a blast.

      Thanks for commenting!

    • patchofearth profile image

      Rebecca Long 

      6 years ago from somewhere in the appalachian foothills

      Great hub. I like the pic of the guy with the dog especially. I just saw a woman doing the same thing with her little dog.

    • toomuchmint profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      You're really lucky, Mhatter99! SanFran has one of the best public transportation systems in the States. Even with its huge hills, people still bike, walk and take public transit. It's definitely one of the areas we can learn from and emulate.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      I live in SF. You don't need a car

    • toomuchmint profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks bob! I actually own at least one of each carry gear. If you have any questions, please ask. Thanks for commenting!

    • Bob Zermop profile image

      Bob Zermop 

      6 years ago from California, USA

      Haha, this is a fantastic hub that I'll be referring to again. Great ideas! Voted up, interesting, awesome, and useful.


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