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7 Tips for Living Without a Car

This will be the last Carless in L.A. post. After almost ten years, my husband and I are no longer living without a car. But we learned a lot during that time, and here are our top six tips on how to do it.

Living without a car in Los Angeles is very doable. It can certainly be a royal pain, but it is doable. We mostly depended on public transportation (which we know is not always that viable in some places). But we also rented cars. Occasionally, friends would offer us rides, but that was mostly serendipity.

A Metro bus in traffic

Tip #1 – Plan Ahead

If you have a car, it’s a lot easier to dash out on a second’s notice and pick up that a gallon of milk when you discover you’ve run out. It’s not so easy when you have to check bus schedules, figure out which bags you need to bring (insulated? with ice?), will it be after the bus home runs for the last time?

Granted, the new Metro Micro program is something of a help, but it is not a panacea. It got way too popular, for one thing. So now we have to plan our rides several hours, if not a day or two ahead.

And it’s not just about fetching groceries. It’s about getting to appointments. What clothes should I wear? Will I be able to wear that nice skirt suit with my walking shoes? You learn to think beyond where you’re going and when you need to be there. You also think about what you need to bring with you. When you’re not driving, having that extra charging cord in your backpack may mean the difference between a functional phone and a dead one.

Tip #2 – Be Flexible. Be Very Flexible

Living without a car means that you give up a certain amount of control. I can’t tell you how many times we reserved a car at the rental place, expecting a smaller one, and ended up with the USS Gas Hog instead. Or needed something larger to haul something home (usually grapes) and ended up with a sedan.

And, of course, there is the age-old problem of buses that should arrive at a certain time and don’t. Ride share drivers who don’t pick you up. You still need to plan – that is essential, especially when things go awry. Which they do sometimes.

Tip #3 – Get the Apps

One of the things that initially made going carless more viable for me, especially, was that I could read and answer email from my phone. Interviews were a snap. Thanks to the phone hot spot, I was able to write from my Chromebook, then my iPad while riding the bus or train.

Another thing that made depending on public transportation much easier to do was having the various real-time arrival apps on my phone. I still use two of them and had up to three. Google Maps works quite nicely. I loved Citymapper. I also have the TAP app that’s specific to L.A.’s Metro system.

how to bring home the groceries without a car

#4 – Living Without a Car Does Not Save Money

It did save us some serious cash over buying a new car initially. Or even a used one. But not anymore. Since the 2020 pandemic, car rental rates have sky-rocketed, and the same car that once cost us as little as $30 for the entire weekend, now costs us almost $300 for the rental. And that’s before we factor in the cost of gasoline.

If you want to limit how often you rent, then you might save some cash, but it didn’t work for us.

#5 – Make Sure You Have Your Own Way Home

Presumably, you want to keep your friends. Constantly bugging them for rides will not help. We seldom turned down any offers, but we didn’t ask very often. Occasionally, we did, but because we only occasionally did, our friends were much more likely to say yes.

#6 – Know Your Limitations

There was that one time my husband swore he didn’t need the granny cart to pick up some groceries. He ended up hauling four full bags, including four bottles of wine and a gallon of milk, home from the bus stop over a quarter mile away. Admittedly, this is part of the whole planning ahead thing, but sometimes you have to think about what you can realistically carry. I’m not carrying even one cinder block home on the bus. I can’t physically. When we needed cinder blocks or the 50-pound bag of dog food, we rented.

#7 – Keep Your House Stocked With BackUps

Hauling a big package of toilet paper on the bus takes planning ahead. But it also takes not waiting until the last roll is on the spindle in the bathroom. We got very good at figuring out which groceries and supplies we needed to keep around on a regular basis and even have a shelf in the pantry for that extra box of cereal or chicken broth. Panic buying does not affect us because we always have plenty of cleaning supplies, food items, and other necessities already in the house, thanks to being dependent on public transportation.

Joltin’ Joe

Now, on to living with a car

As in, let me introduce you to Joltin’ Joe, a 2023 Hyundai Kona electric. Yeah, we’re pretty excited. Given that we’re still committed to doing as much as we can to reduce waste and use fewer resources, an electric vehicle made a lot of sense for us. It’s not a perfect option, by any stretch. But, dang, it’s fun to drive. Although we do still have to plan ahead, especially for longer trips.

We still use public transportation. Sorry, I am not big on trying to park in big cities and I still hate sitting on the freeway in traffic. Trains are more relaxing, too. But it’s nice to know that when I get that emergency call from my parents, I can take off and get to them. Or if I get sick, it’s not that hard to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy. Or the other benefits of having a car around. Still, I do not regret the ten years we lived without a car.

Please talk to me. I'd love to hear from you.

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