No Car. No Bus. No Problem. How to Shop, Work and Live without a Car.
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.
Browse Metal Baskets
(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.
Browse Faux Wicker Baskets
Browse Garment Bag Panniers
(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
(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.
Browse Burley Cargo Trailers
(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.