It seems like the latest lifestyle trends all seem to center around a few common themes: frugality, health, and conservation. People are moving into smaller houses to save money, taking more walks, and driving more fuel-efficient vehicles…or driving no vehicles at all.
Strange as it sounds, getting around without a car is becoming more popular, especially in dense urban areas where additional expenses like parking or tolls can make owning a car a hassle. If you’re the kind of person who likes a lot of flexibility in your life (link to the blog: The Modern Hobo Wears a Necktie) not owning a car can help you untie those bonds that are keeping you from exploring the world.
So, where do you start? If you’re ready to ditch four wheels and see the world under your own power, what’s the best way to do it? Several of us here at Haydash (including myself) have lived car-free lifestyles at some point in our lives, and between our own experiences and a bit of research, we’ve got a game plan for you.
The car-free movement really first started becoming popular amongst bike commuters in urban areas. Realizing they could use their two-wheeled conveyance to do all the things their car could do, they ditched engines for their own leg muscles and never looked back.
It’s worth noting that a decent bike has a lot more going for it than what you’re going to find on the shelves at a big-box retailer. Good bikes are lighter, more reliable, and honestly, just more fun to ride. In addition, while there is plenty to say on the subject of choosing a commuter bike (and not enough room to say it here), the first, and most important thing you need to do is measure yourself (link: https://www.competitivecyclist.com/Store/catalog/fitCalculatorBike.jsp).
Decent bikes come in different sizes because so do the people who ride them. The most important measurement will be the length of the seat tube, and you can find which bikes fit you by measuring your inseam and doing a few calculations. Afterward, you will be able to find a plethora of bikes, both new and used, to fit your needs. Sit on a few at a local bike shop to get an idea of what feels comfortable, and don’t be afraid to get in a few test-rides.
You’ll likely also need a few essentials, like a flat kit, a good lock, and something to carry your stuff in. There’s always your trusty backpack or a trendy messenger bag, but if you’re planning on doing your day-to-day commuting on a bike, look into a decent set of panniers. Your shoulders will thank you.
Let’s face it, even if you’re the most hardcore of cyclists, the bike isn’t always practical. You might be averse to riding in bad weather, or maybe you work further away than you’re willing to ride. A good car-free lifestyle takes advantage of the transportation provided you by your city.
Nearly every modern city has a bus line. Now, I hear what you’re saying, that riding the bus isn’t safe, or that it takes too long to get anywhere. Give your local public bus service a few test spins to see if it can meet your standards for safety, timeliness, and any other criteria you might have before you dedicate yourself to a car-free lifestyle. You might be surprised.
If you’ve got a train in your city, that’s even better, especially if you’re getting around by bike already. A good commuter train can make your commute short, painless, and often very relaxing. After all, you can’t read a book while you drive, can you?
Once you’ve got your transportation figured out, now it’s time to figure out the logistics of getting from point A to point B, as well as doing all the things you want or need to do. Sit down with Google Maps and plan a few routes. If you’re going by bike, you’ll want to steer clear of heavy traffic, obviously, but you’ll also want to figure out how you’re getting home from, say, the grocery store. Figure out all the places you’re likely to go and find the way to get to them that works the best.
When you’ve planned a route, don’t stop researching. Maybe you’ll figure out you’re more comfortable riding on a busier street that allows for good traffic flow than cutting through a residential neighborhood with lots of stop signs. Maybe you just find a detour that takes five minutes longer but has better scenery. It sounds weird, but these little discoveries really are the best part of living car-free.
Don’t neglect diligent route research when it comes to public transit, either. Cities make changes to bus and train schedules all the time. The same bus line might leave from the same stop, but suddenly take six minutes longer than a different line. Or you might find that getting off the train a station earlier allows you to knock out your grocery run for the week. You never know.
What about when you need to get to the next town over, or you’ve got family a state away you want to visit for Christmas? If you haven’t been doing it already, then it might be time to consider ridesharing. Plenty of people are going the same direction you are at the same time, and plenty of them are willing to take you along if you’re willing to split the gas. While ridesharing comes with its own obstacles – namely safety – we can help you find a ride from someone who has been professionally screened through the Haydash community.
Look, let’s be real about this. You’re going to be walking or riding a bike most places you go if you don’t have a car. Neither of these options has air conditioning or a heater. You’re going to want to take a look at what you’re used to wearing and deciding whether it works for you.
If you’re riding a bike, you don’t need to be clad in Spandex to be comfortable. Even Levi’s has been getting in on casual bike clothes for a decade with their Commuters Collection and your local REI Co-op will have a ton of options for staying comfortable on the bike without looking out-of-place at the office. Don’t believe me? Check out Club Ride gear, which about as stylish and comfortable as bike clothing gets.
When it comes to colder weather, you’re going to want to think about your clothing in terms of layers. My go-to kit for a day getting around Albuquerque was a light cycling windbreaker, a wool ¾ zip sweater, and a comfortable base layer that kept me from feeling sweaty. Too hot? Take a layer or two off. Too cold? Throw them back on. Everything fit in my backpack, and it was far more practical than one big, bulky jacket.
Get some decent shoes as well. On foot or on wheels, a good pair of shoes can make all the difference. Pair them with a good pair of wool socks and you’ll keep your feet comfortable, warm, and sweat-free.
Really, this might be the most dramatic shift in mindset when you go car-free. Everything is going to take longer. Even when you’re running ahead of schedule, you might have to wait for a bus or change a flat. You’ll want to factor that into your day.
The truth, though, is that you don’t even need a lot of extra time. If your destination is less than five miles away, you’re likely going to arrive just as quickly by bike. Further, then that, give yourself an extra 15 minutes or so. Give yourself a lot of wiggle room, and eventually, you’ll have a better understanding of how long it takes to get places.
It’s not just time spent in transit though. Who among us doesn’t have that certain day of the week we set aside for running errands? Without a car, you’ll realize you took the ability to knock it all out at once for granted. Space your errands out over the week rather than ping-ponging around your city and trying to get everything done at once. Trust me…you don’t want to drop your mortgage payment off at the bank while simultaneously lugging around a week’s worth of groceries.
When I first told people I was going car-free, most of them looked at me like I was crazy. Our entire societal infrastructure is built around cars, and at first, I thought I might be a little crazy for trying to navigate it without one. However, the rewards weighed out the minor inconvenience: I got healthier, I got happier, I had more money, and rather than dread getting in a car and getting home every day, I eagerly hopped on my bike and spent a half-hour enjoying myself. I think you’ll find that eventually, you’ll miss the car less and less.