This is part of an ongoing series of what it is like to live a “car-free life”. Having sold my car and not having regular access to one I’ve chosen to share my experience and thoughts on things that are relevant to this lifestyle. You can find the growing list of articles here.
Living a car-free life isn’t something relatively new, people have been living car-free, well, since forever. Before the wheel existed people walked everywhere they had to go albeit some of the smart humans made use of horses, had a dog sled or rode dinosaurs.
In more modern times living car-free has been done by many with relative ease. Cities like Paris, New York and Montreal have been places where owning a vehicle never crosses the minds of many people. The established and growing infrastructure in urban areas such as these world class cities makes it easy for someone not to own a car but experience a ‘normal’ life that is full of everything these metropolitan areas have to offer. Existing subway systems make it easy to travel long distances, substantial networks of bicycle lanes allow for entire families to lead healthy lives and smart urban planning with intensified blocks that provide short walks surrounding pedestrians with beautiful cityscapes make it an easy choice to walk from point A-to-B without thinking twice.
Here in the Forest City things can be a little more challenging at times. With the often unreliable and consistently inconsistent public transit system, coupled with bicycling infrastructure that is slowly playing catchup and urban planning that doesn’t seem to (generally) promote or encourage walkability, living a car-free life takes some work in order to make the most out of every day and every trip.
Over the past year of living car-free I’ve managed to realized that one of the key things to making this lifestyle viable is having a ‘tool kit’ that you can rely on to get you through the variety of situations you may encounter. While owning a car allows for a person to carry with them (and store) a larger number of items and provides the opportunity to quickly (not during construction at rush hour though) go from point A-to-B, living without a car does not allow for such flexibility and thus the need for a ‘tool-kit’.
While the resources you’ll find in a ‘tool-kit’ for someone who lives a car-free life will differ from person to person I’ve found the following items to come in handy more than once over the past year.
A Good Backpack - The first thing I purchased was a good quality backpack. I’ve never been a backpack guy (always carried a messenger bag) but realized for extended periods of carrying stuff I needed more support. I went for something that was durable, could be ‘roughed up’, was really water resistant and that was flexible enough to handle a variety of uses. From groceries, travelling, biking to day-tripping, the same bag comes with me everywhere. I’m looking to never replace it.
A Quick Dry Towel- Have a perspiration problem? Get stuck in the rain a lot? Bike? Simply want to be prepared in a case of an emergency? A small quick dry towel takes up next to no room, dries quickly (duh) and is indispensable.
A Wet/Dry Bag - Stuck in the rain and now your clothing is wet? Have some electronics you need to keep dry? Just come from the gym and don’t want your clothing stinking things up? These light weight and collapsable bags provide a multitude of uses for those living a car-free life.
A Combination Lock - Even if you don’t make use of a locker on a regular basis you never know when a combination lock will come in handy. I’ve been able to drop-off and lock up my bag on a number of occasions at locations around the city simply so I do not need to carry it around for extended periods of time.
A Flash Light - A small flashlight can be your best friend. To finding something at the bottom of your backpack, the keys you dropped in the grass late at night or simply to keep you safe when you’re walking home at night. Something small and light with multiple LED bulbs is what I recommend.
Book/Newspaper/Magazine/Kindle - You never know when you’ll be stuck waiting for your bus 20 mins (or even 60 mins) longer than you anticipated. You never know when you’ll decide to take a break or a detour in a city park for 15 mins (perhaps a couple of hours) to sit down and relax. Regardless of the situation having something to read is essential in helping time pass quicker and making good use of every minute. For times when I cannot read (or choose not to) I’ll listen to pre-downloaded podcasts. I typically listen to these while walking, on the bus (when I don’t fee like reading) or times when I’m simply too distracted to dive into a book or need my eyes for some other purpose.
A Collapsable Bag - While having a decent sized backpack is key for daily use sometimes you just need more space. I carry around a roll-up collapsable bag for the times when I need to pick up some groceries or transport other goods from point A-to-B..
Pen & Notebook - Like many people, you never know when a pen and a notebook will come in handy. The smaller the better when you’re living car-free.
A City Bike - When the car was sold last year the first thing I did was buy a new bike, one that I knew would fill my needs. In the past I’ve purchased whatever bike has been the cheapest but I knew that this time around I’d need something that would fill many criteria. It needed to be light as I carry it up stairs at my apartment, it needed to be easy to maintain by myself because I am inherently lazy, it needed to have fenders for when riding in the rain (best investment ever) and I needed to be able to add a rack to the rear of it (I haven’t yet) if I needed more room to carry stuff. This list of needs coupled with a good helmet, some lightweight LED lights and a small but sturdy lock have made this one of the most important pieces in my ‘tool-kit’.
Spare Bus Tickets - Like many people who live a car-free life I always carry bus tickets on me as I never know when they will come in handy. They are in my wallet and available at a moments notice. Sometimes though I run into instances where I go to get a bus ticket and I’m all out having forgotten to purchase more. For such occasions I find myself looking to a secret pocket in my backpack where I always have a couple extra tickets for moments when I need them.
A Good & Light Raincoat - Having a raincoat with you can save yourself lots of grief on the days that you don’t plan properly for the weather. While some might choose to carry an umbrella I find them awkward, sometimes heavy and that they break far too often. After having purchased and ruined my fair share of ‘$5 Fisherman Yellow’ raincoats I’ve invested in a good quality, light weight rain coat that folds up to fit into a letter sized envelope. This has saved my bacon more than a couple of times.
Water bottle - This is a standard item for many people; students, commuters, ‘health nuts’ etc., but for those who are car-free, meaning more walking, biking and periods away from the home or office a water bottle can be the things that saves you on those hot days.
A City Map - I’ve lived in London all my life and know a great deal of the city streets really well but from time to time I’m needed to go to a location that I’ve never heard before. While my iPhone is really my map of choice these days a city map can be invaluable if you find yourself venturing across the city into new and unexplored territories.
Now I realize that not everyone who lives a car-free life does so by choice or has the resources to purchase things like those listed above so this might not be applicable. However, for someone who has made the conscious decision to live a car-free lifestyle and is willing to make the investment I’ve found that these resources (as well as others not listed) have helped to make things a little more manageable and enjoyable over the past year.
I am by no means saying you need all or any of these things to live a car-free life but if you’re looking to spend more time away from home on a daily basis without a car you might find some of these to come in handy from time to time.