I want to go carless. How can I make the transition as easy as possible?
February 8, 2014 1:04 PM   Subscribe

For a variety of reasons, I'm thinking of selling my car and switching to a carless lifestyle. Do you have any tips on how to make the transition as painless as possible? Maybe you've made the switch yourself? I think I have a pretty good handle on this, but I'd love any advice you can give.

I think I want to ditch my car. I could do without the expense of gas, repairs, and insurance and I could certainly use some more exercise. I also could certainly do without the cognitive dissonance of being a conservationist who drives to and from work every day in a 13 mpg SUV. I know I could just drive less and bike/walk more, but I've found that as long as it's sitting right there it's very tempting to use the car even for very short trips – plus, just having the car involves expense, since I need to keep it insured.

How can I make this transition as easy as possible? I have a bike, and would plan on using part of the proceeds from the sale of my car to buy a better one. I live in New Orleans, where biking is pretty practical – the streets are nice and flat, and there are a fair few bike lanes. (Potholes and aggressive drivers are a problem, but I can manage.) All the stores that I need to go to regularly are within biking or walking distance. The most difficult part would probably be commuting, but I already have two coworkers in my neighborhood who are carless and who make the hour-long round-trip commute on their bikes each day. I did it myself for a semester or so, so I know I can do it.

Public transit here is OK – a combination of buses and streetcars – so I can learn to use that for some of the longer trips that might otherwise be a pain in the butt. Most of my friends have cars, and if I want to get out of town chances are it'll be for recreational purposes and it would generally make sense to invite a friend along anyway so getting a ride should rarely be a problem. I already make extensive use of Amazon Prime for much of my shopping, so other than groceries, pharmacy stuff, and an occasional trip to the hardware store (all of which are bikeable) I rarely have to do errands.

This all sounds eminently practical to me, but for some reason I'm still a little hesitant. I've never been without a car for the last ten years, and I've gotten really used to being able to just hop in any time in almost any weather and be quickly whisked away to my destination in full comfort. I have a feeling that once I made the switch it'd quickly become the new normal, but I'm still a little anxious about it. Normally the way I deal with anxiety is by researching and preparing, so any advice you can give or relevant anecdotes you can impart will be very reassuring. Thanks a lot!
posted by Scientist to Travel & Transportation (41 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not carless, but I actively follow Mr. Money Mustache's blog and he promotes a carless lifestyle. He lives in Colorado, has a few kids, and though he owns a car rarely uses it. He bikes EVERYWHERE, even in Colorado winters.

If you search his website, you'll find lots of entries on the evils of car use/ownership and how he does it.

posted by canda at 1:09 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Reliable car service or cab company is really good local info.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:10 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Add up all the monthly expenses for your car.. basically gas and insurance (assuming your car is paid off). Mentally make that your monthly limit for cab fare. If the weather is horrible, or you need to buy six cases of water, or you're feeling really lazy, go ahead and take a cab. I decided I would buy a new car when I started exceeding that limit... its now been three years and I've never come close. Just knowing that I can take a cab makes me feel comfortable enough that I don't need a car in the driveway 'just in case'.
posted by valoius at 1:13 PM on February 8, 2014 [14 favorites]

In some places, there are great smartphone apps for public transportation that make accessing schedules and maps, and even planning trips, easy.
posted by BrashTech at 1:13 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Start living the carless lifestyle before you sell the car; that way you'll either adjust or figure out that it's not for you without being forced into it. Make it really inconvenient for you to get to the car: pay for long-term parking far away from your home, or get a safe deposit box and store the keys there. Once you've done that for a month or so, then you'll feel more at ease with selling the car.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:15 PM on February 8, 2014 [11 favorites]

If you cook at home, get a ZipCar membership.

Unless you're in Manhattan, getting groceries without a car sucks. When I lived in Brooklyn, I even used ZipCar to go on grocery runs to Fairway.

It's a bit quirky but I also suggest a Brompton folding bike. It's probably the best thing I've ever purchased. If you get rained out you can easily fold it up and take a bus or cab or have someone pick you up. It doesn't incur the same bans and fees that regular sized bikes sometimes do. I've ridden it everywhere from NYC and LA to Tokyo and Melbourne.

If you are a sweaty mess like me, bike commuting can cause perspiration embarrassment in places with humid summers. Look into how you're going to clean up at work.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 1:18 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you by any chance happen to be affiliated with Loyola or Tulane, I notice that they both have a car sharing program set up through Enterprise CarShare.

Our local carshare program is open to anyone, but back when I drove, the university I work for subsidized my membership. Anyway it might be worth contacting them even if you're not affiliated with either school; if enough people do, they may consider opening up a program for individuals like they have in other cities.

My employer pays for my bus pass; it's worth it to them to have fewer employees trying to find precious parking spaces and losing hours to commuting problems. It might be worth checking with yours to see if they have any kind of program that might help you with yours.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:27 PM on February 8, 2014

I went carless last year, partly due to circumstance at the time, but also for the same ethical reasons...it was a combination that made sense all around, and I'm lucky that I live in an urban area where public transit makes it possible. I agree, though, to give it a trial run for a month or so.

I purchased a Zipcar membership, do a monthly cash-balance swipe-card for the local transit system, and that's basically it. Taxis seem like a ludicrous expense to me, so I save that option for the absolute last. (Basically, emergencies/non-transit-operating hours only.) Zipcar cost me $69 upfront for a 1-year membership, iirc, and $9/mo for some additional insurance option. I usually rent it for a 4-hour window. I just rented one this week for a grocery & library run, and it cost $31.94 for 2.5 hours. Still less than a car payment + insurance! These days, I feel a little flabbergasted to realize how much of my monthly budget my car was taking up.

I use Zipcar once or twice a month to do a major grocery/supply run. The rest of the time I walk to the small neighborhood grocery or take a bus to the slightly nicer one that's within a 25-minute bus ride and 5-minute walk from the bus stop. I use a large backpack + 1-2 larger canvas sacks for these smaller trips. I'm finding that these small walks, for errands or just to go to the library, etc., are restoring some mindfulness to my days in a way that I was really lacking before, simply because I never fully took the time to just slow down.

I have a nice, basic Schwinn comfort bike with knobby tires for getting around, but so far, I've been enjoying plain old walking more than lugging the bike around. (Plus, I'm still not used to riding in traffic yet!) I haven't had to change my habits much; I prefer to carry a backpack or cross-body bag now with a few supplies in it, vs what I used to keep in my trunk or glove compartment. I've needed some better weather-proof shoes and outerwear, but that's really about it.

I'm not gonna lie, I definitely miss the convenience of having a car handy when I need it. I did find, however, that NOT having a car has gotten me out of a social shell I'd been stuck in, and has made me push my own boundaries to get things done in a way that I previously hadn't thought I was capable of doing. I really enjoy not having to worry about the stress of driving, of being able to read on the bus, etc. Most of all, I get great enjoyment out of the small daily interactions I have now with my fellow city-dwellers, along with noticing so many small details about my city that I never got to notice before. I travel through difference places now and in a different manner, and I think it's helped me to appreciate the shared experience of people living in community a lot more than when my car sanitized me from that.
posted by cardinality at 1:35 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Start building up your biking and walking skills now. You might be surprised by how tired you get. You also need to get really good at estimating biking and walking times, because without a car, you don't have a quick way to get anywhere; you can't impulsively go many places you previously would and you have to plan ahead a lot more. In a car, you can wear pyjamas to the store and don't have to think about weather, but on a bike, you have to get dressed, remember your lock and helmet, and find a place to lock the bike. You have to decide if it's safe to be on the road when it's dark, which is not a concern in a car. You also have no quick way to escape a party or date gone wrong if you have to wait an hour for your next bus or wait for your ride to be ready for you or cycle in the snow, particularly if you don't have the budget for a cab. It's also important to live in a place with effective public transit, in case you get the flue or bust a knee. If you're in the US, that limits where you can live.

I'm not saying this to dissuade you, I've never owned a car and I never want one, but it's a major lifestyle change. You can do it, but my advice is that you need to be good at planning ahead and temperamentally suited to not taking impulsive trips.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:37 PM on February 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Two of my three brothers have been car-free in New Orleans, as well as a few of my friends.

The only real problem is getting out of town. I think if your family and friends all live in New Orleans proper, you never like to travel anywhere else in Louisiana (or if you do it's for recreation with friends), and you would literally never ever ever need to leave New Orleans for any reason, then sure.

It's really difficult for my brothers to visit our parents in Terrebonne Parish without cars, for example -- they see them about as often as I do, and I live across the country. One of my brothers has barely left the city in the past five years. Another friend of mine is frequently on Facebook trying to crowd-source rides outside of New Orleans, which can get hairy in the event of a hurricane, a family emergency out of town, or other urgent need situations.
posted by Sara C. at 1:41 PM on February 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm very often carless when I travel - so a few days a week. Being carless is really not a big deal and it's actually kind of freeing. If the weather is bad, I'm a huge fan of UberX. I rarely use it, but it's nice to know that a car is available. Uber hasn't hit New Orleans yet, but perhaps there's a similar service or Lyft?
posted by 26.2 at 1:44 PM on February 8, 2014

In term of getting out of town, don't forget about old fashioned car rentals. I can live car free and can rent a car for a weekend every month and it's still considerably cheaper than the insurance would cost if I owned my own.

If you think you might rent more than a couple times of year, look for a credit card that offers comprehensive rental insurance. There's a usually an annual fee, but you'll make that back in 3 or 4 days of renting by waiving the company's insurance.
posted by scrute at 1:53 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've never been totally car free* but I owned a series of $500 beaters in the nineties that had no business being on long road trips so I just rented cars from Budget or Hertz for road trips.

* Owning a 1984 Chrysler Laser pretty darn close to being car-free
posted by octothorpe at 1:59 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

We're carless. I would suggest, before you ditch the car, adding up what you spend each year on insurance and gasoline. Then look at that amount of money and decide you be utterly guiltless every time you need to take a taxi or rent a car for the weekend. If New Orleans has a Zipcar equivalent or a community car thing, join that and feel the same way about it.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:59 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Be willing to chip in for gas/costs when you hitch a medium-to-long ride from friends or when you've hitched short rides multiple times from friends. And by "be willing," I mean proactively hand the cash over and if they politely refuse, slip it into their cupholder/glovebox/console while telling them you're doing that.

If you are or become single, note that not having a car will narrow the number of people willing to date you as that's a fairly typical dealbreaker in parts of the country where owning a car is the norm.
posted by vegartanipla at 2:10 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Having lived on the Gulf Coast before (Pensacola to be precise) what are your plans for not being a total sweatbomb when you get to your destination? It's hot and humid down there!

What if you get sick and need to go for medical care? Or, heaven forbid, you sprain your ankle or something?

I think it is great to be carfree if you have access to good mass transit, etc. but I agree with the poster above that said you really should do a trial run first before you get rid of your vehicle.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:18 PM on February 8, 2014

I'm carless in New Orleans! Fun! Transition-wise I don't have a lot of tips, because my car broke down one day about 7 years ago and I just didn't get another one, so there wasn't a transition period.

It's important to have an evacuation plan. Have something lined up with a friend before the hurricane starts bearing down and everyone is stressing. Double this if you have any pets you'll have to evacuate with.

It depends a lot on where you live. I've always lived within a few blocks of the Magazine bus line, which is frequent and reliable. I work in the Quarter and live in the Irish Channel, so it's easy for me to get to work almost all the time. There are hiccups with the bus during special events, marathons, obviously Mardi Gras, etc., but you know all that going in so you can plan around it. I bike to work on days I know it's going to be hairy getting out of downtown. Does your work have any kind of showering facilities? Mine doesn't so I don't find it handy to bike to work every day, but I have several co-workers who do so it seems to be doable. If you live/work close enough to a grocery, drugstore, and hardware store, which you say you do, you should be fine.

As far as entertainment, it is a bit of a pain sometimes. It's not difficult to get from, say, Uptown to Mid City using the bus/streetcar and transferring to the Canal line, but it can take some time. I honestly probably don't go out as much on St. Claude as I otherwise would, because public transport is really inconvenient from my house to down there and it would be a pricey cab. I do call a lot of cabs, even for short trips, because often I'm not comfortable walking home even six or eight blocks from the bar if it's late. Sometimes cabs take a long time to come. I consider it an acceptable tradeoff. I don't think I spend more on cabs than I would on a car note and insurance and break tag.

Good luck! Feel free to memail (or meetup?)!
posted by CheeseLouise at 2:20 PM on February 8, 2014

Oh, I touched a bit on pets, but I do have a cat and I've never had trouble getting a cab to pick me up with her in her carrier to go to and from the vet. They don't mind at all for small pets. And when I say cab, I'm generally talking about United. They're the only ones I call and 9 times out of ten they're the ones I flag.
posted by CheeseLouise at 2:22 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

And lastly, someone above mentioned carlessness as a potential dealbreaker for many people in dating scenarios. I have not found that to be the case here. I'll stop now! Good luck!
posted by CheeseLouise at 2:26 PM on February 8, 2014

Everything a car needs, a bike needs, too. This is my favorite analogy.

So if a car has a horn, a bike needs a bell. If a far has lights, a bike needs lights. If a car needs maintenance, a bicycle needs maintenance. If a car keeps you dry, a bike needs fenders and rain gear. If a car has a trunk, a bike needs a bike trailer. If a car has a passenger seat, a bike needs a second bike for guests.
posted by aniola at 2:40 PM on February 8, 2014

Get good at route-finding. Going everywhere by bike means re-drawing your mental map of your city. Main roads are no longer your thoroughfares, they're a last resort - why battle trucks and suck exhaust fumes if there's a quieter, safer option? Learn the secondary roads and laneways of your city and let them become your main routes. Connect with other cyclists in your city and learn their secrets. When you ride a route often, try to refine it over time: could that path through the park be a new shortcut? What if you take this alleyway instead of that one? Is there a scenic alternative? I do most of my exploring on the way home, when I'm not in so much of a hurry. Eventually you'll develop a network of "best routes" between the places you regularly visit; that's your new mental map of the city. Once you know your routes, cycling becomes a lot more enjoyable because you can let your mind wander a little as you ride.

Apps! Ride the City is one of the best - it taps into Open Street Map data to give you direct, safer and safest routes by bike. Google maps does cycling routes in some locations too, but the quality varies; when they first launched in my city the recommendations were downright dangerous, but they've improved over time. TripGo is great, not just for route planning but for deciding whether to take the bike or public transport and figuring out smart combinations of the two. It gives you options like biking all the way, biking to a transit stop, taking a taxi, etc, and then ranks them by price, time and carbon emissions. It doesn't seem to have New Orleans support yet but they're adding new US locations all the time. I also recommend getting an app that shows the weather radar in your area - it can be helpful to know whether you're riding into a brief rain shower or a day-long rainstorm so you can decide whether to wait it out or bail and take a cab.

Get your bike set up to carry cargo - a quality rear rack and waterproof panniers at a minimum. (When you choose your new bike, make sure it has eyelets for racks *and* fenders, preferably front and back). Keep a couple of bungee cords and a piece of rope in the panniers in case you need to transport something awkward. I've managed to carry things like an entire weekly grocery shop, small pieces of furniture, potted plants or large bags of potting mix on my bike; it's all a matter of keeping the weight low and securely attached. But even if you're not carrying anything big, panniers are still a big improvement over a backpack or messenger bag - less weight on your back, better stability and nothing trapping sweat against your skin.

Get ready for wet weather. Even if you don't plan to ride in the rain, you will inevitably get caught out in it (and if you're prepared, you'll find riding in the wet really isn't so bad). Your bike needs fenders; if the staff at the bike shop tells you otherwise, you're at the wrong kind of bike shop. Mention them when you buy the bike so you can be sure there's enough clearance for fenders and your preferred tyre size. Get wet weather protection for yourself, too. I've made do with a cycling jacket for a few seasons but I think next winter I'm going to go with a rain poncho - they might look ridiculous but they're the best thing for keeping your legs dry, and easier to remove than over-trousers. Oh, and lights. Invest in the best lights you can afford; that way drivers can see and you can see the potholes.

Finally, learn basic maintenance so minor mechanical problems don't leave you stranded. At a minimum you should know how to remove a wheel, fix a flat and lube your drivetrain, but there are plenty of other maintenance tasks you can learn to do yourself. Looks like your local bike co-op is called Plan B. Go and say hello! They'll teach you everything you need to know.
posted by embrangled at 2:41 PM on February 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Location matters a lot. I haven't owned a car for that last ~6 years, and the best thing I did was move to a convenient apartment just a few blocks from grocery stores, restaurants, and transit.

If you can find an apartment that would be significantly more convenient than your current one, moving will be worth the hassle.
posted by ripley_ at 3:03 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I strongly recommend the book How to Live Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Balish. Seriously, it covers all this stuff.
posted by mskyle at 3:13 PM on February 8, 2014

It's worth investing in good gear for your bike to make using it as comfortable as possible. I've had good waterproof panniers for years, but only recently got a nifty small messenger-ish bag that'll clip on and off my rack super easily, and is comfortable to carry if I'm taking the bus. So now I've just got the one main personal-items bag that suits no matter what transport I'm taking, and that makes my life that little bit easier -- no need to take things out of one bag and put them into the other.

Also, even if I'm not planning to go anywhere in particular other than my commute, I make sure to have extra room in my panniers, or even a whole empty one. Having your freedom to stop and pick up whatever on a whim curtailed because of lack of cargo space sucks. (And having to carry anything on your back pretty much sucks by definition.)

The hardest part of biking most places is managing not to forget all the removable parts. When you're in the car, everything's there, and it's impossible to forget your lights or fail to charge them or leave your trunk at home or oh, I want to stop for lunch but I can't lock my car up because I forgot the key. So I try to keep a small bag of necessities on my bike at all times, including some basic repair stuff, multitool, spare emergency backup lights, reflective vest that folds tiny, etc.

I've got a carfree brother in New Orleans as well, and he just walks everywhere. So, uh, good shoes, I guess. Me, it takes about four blocks walk or so to hit the point where I'd rather put the time into locking at my destination than into boring slow walking. Also, I got a granny cart figuring I'd use it a lot for groceries and such, but I've ended up using it maybe twice in a year since it's faster just to take my bike, and my biggest panniers can carry pretty much anything I need.
posted by asperity at 3:57 PM on February 8, 2014

I've not had a car in the 9.5 years since I left home (I spent one of those living on campus as an undergrad and three living within easy walking distance of campus, so that's not so representative from a commute perspective, but is from the groceries perspective). I do have a car share membership to facilitate buying kitty litter and sudden trips to the vet. I don't think it's worth the cost for trips to the grocery store, though sometimes it's tempting. Sometimes I roll a kitty litter trip together with a trip to Trader Joe's for novelty. Obviously, if you have kids (or perhaps if you have to shop for two people on your own), it'll look more appealing because you'll have a lot more stuff to carry.

Everything embrangled said is excellent. You need to be able to keep you and your stuff dry. Buy jackets and bags in obnoxiously bright colors. My bike is lacking braze-ons to attach racks, so my carrying capacity is limited to what can fit on my body, which does extend to a week's groceries (though not milk).

One thing that's maybe not obvious until you don't have a car is how constrained geographically your world becomes, especially if you're not biking. Places that involve a bus transfer rapidly fall into the 'not worth it' category. For example, all of our Indian groceries are concentrated at the far end of a bus line and I've been talking about going for absolutely ages, but I just can't be bothered since I don't actually need to go. Biking opens things up dramatically--it's faster than the bus for anything around a couple miles. You learn which streets are better and when it's worth it to go out of your way to get to a better street or to a bike path. Your ability to give directions goes wonky--you know where all sorts of stuff is, but can't give directions involving freeways because they might as well not exist (aside from blocking off roads you use).

To my mind, it's always better to walk from the bus to your destination than to a bus that puts you nearer the destination, as it's easier to time when to leave the house to catch a bus closer to you.

I gave up my bus pass this past summer and I think giving up the bus cold turkey, as it were, made things easier. The $1.75 overrode my laziness more than a few times and I suspect the same is true for giving up a car. Cab fare starts looking expensive pretty quickly. I also noticed I took the bus a lot more this fall than last fall, because I'd dream up excuses to take the bus, basically just because I could (since I'd paid for a bus pass for the fall semester).
posted by hoyland at 4:05 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

A quick check of ZipCar indicates that it isn't offered in your city. No loss! You can actually do much better by taking advantage of weekend rates at car rental agencies. (My neighborhood Enterprise has weekend rates under $20/day, for example.) Some agencies will pick you up and take you back home.

For groceries, I am a big fan of getting mine delivered. It's worth the time savings to me to pay someone a modest sum (plus tip) to bring them to my door, rain or shine.

I've also started using taskrabbit (which isn't offered in your city at this time, but perhaps a similar service exists) to farm out errands that require a car. I've met some neat people this way, and have built up a for-pay support network of trustworthy people I can call on. As a bonus, these are folks who really need the money, so it's supporting them as well. It strengthens the social fabric, if you will.

I would approach this as a grand experiment in improving your quality of life. If it doesn't prove to be a better way to live, then you can buy a sensible, late-model used econo-car. No biggie.
posted by nacho fries at 4:20 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Okay, nacho fries just ruined what I was going to point out about Zipcar (i.e. reserve the car at least half a week in advance, spontaneous car rentals don't tend to fly). I have occasionally done the weekend car rental thing, but I have to leave work before work ends in order to get a car for the weekend when they close Friday at 5.

I have done the opposite thing--gone carfree to having one. (Disclaimer: I am NOT a biker and cannot speak to most of that.) In general it sounds like you've got it down if you live close to where you need to get food and go to work and stuff like that. That's the #1 thing to me. But yeah, long distance travel is a pain in the arse, especially in areas with no public transport (of which I seem to end up needing to go to many). Or specialty doctor's appointments--somehow those always seem to be located in the boonies with no public transport. I haven't actually GONE to said appointments when I needed to because I couldn't get there and had nobody who could give me a ride. And it waaaaaaay limited my job options. Maybe not for a city dweller, though.

And I have to mention the weather. I haven't spent much time in New Orleans to know how your weather goes, but I don't know if you want to start this plan in winter or not. It is pissing rain here all weekend and thanks to my car, I went to the gym for a two hour workout and got two sewing projects done at our craft center. If I'd had no car, I wouldn't have left the house all day because it would be too miserable and hard and wet/hot to spend a half hour hiking to those places with no car. Wearing enough layers to keep you warm while transporting yourself eventually becomes too many layers of hot + wet. Biking seems like it'd be even more sweaty. And coming home drenched just sucks.

Mostly the thing you will notice is that things take a LOT longer (and are hotter to do) than you're used to. It's a lot of physical labor, which is both good and bad. You get to enjoy nature more and save money and feel righteous and cheap and avoid freeways. On the other hand, sometimes you will be all, "Oh god, I just don't have the energy to slog over there today, not when it's gonna take me two hours to go there and do my thing and come back." And carrying large amounts of stuff sucks, even sometimes when you're only going a few blocks and you think it's going to be no big deal.

Like someone else said, try avoiding using your car for like a month to see if you can tolerate the lifestyle.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:26 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bicycling around is fun and feels great. Maybe not so fun in extreme weather conditions, but still fun most of the time.

An important tip: for those weekends when you rent a car, you'll probably need to pay for extra liability insurance which is often required with the rental and can be pretty expensive. If you have a fancy credit card this cost is often automatically covered. If you have a generic credit card account sometimes you have an option to pay an annual fee for extra travel coverage. If you have this option take a close look at it, because it could save you quite a bit of money if you go for it. Depending on the fine print, of course.
posted by ovvl at 7:20 PM on February 8, 2014

Haven't owned a car in like 8+ years and have no plans to every really get one again. I personally think like 90% of the car-free lifestyle is really just a mental change. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, so when you've spent your whole life driving for even the smallest neighborhood errand you can't imagine how else it could be done. The bicycle is really key, and has made my life better in innumerable ways. I didn't see it that way at first, but trust me, just do it every day and it will grow on you - even in the rain.

Here's some more things I haven't seen mentioned:

1. CSA box for groceries. Mine is very cheap (compared to the equivalent nicer grocery store) and they deliver to my door. This cuts down drastically on the number of grocery runs I make and I usually just go to get staples like olive oil, coffee, etc. that I can fit in a backpack or pannier.

2. Amazon Prime is so fucking worth it. It also eliminates what I call the toilet paper/dog food problem: do I make a lot of frequent trips for small quantities of something that is annoying to carry on a bike, or do I get a car and stock up? Neither, just get that shit delivered. Even if I bought an SUV tomorrow I'm not going back to lugging 40lb bags of dog food around when my UPS guy will do it for me. I buy all household type stuff and other things that previously would have been an errand in itself on Amazon in order to free up time to do the kinds of errands I enjoy: a leisurely bike ride to the farmer's market, a trip to that specialty spice shop or Asian grocery that's a little out of the way, dropping in to the local Ace hardware store to shoot the shit with the guy over what tool or part would be best, etc. I have no desire to make a Wal-mart run for laundry detergent or to go to Best Buy for special batteries, life is too short.

3. Bike stuff, you need a lot more than just a bike, and I would recommend just doing this all at once when you have the cash from selling your car or whatever. Racks and nice panniers (ie Ortlieb, just get the touring grade waterproof stuff the first time and save yourself the headache of shitty bags) and basic tools. Ask the bike commuters you know what they have as far as rain gear, cold weather clothes, etc. Sometimes I'd rather bundle up with a bunch of layers of normal clothes when it's cold, sometimes when it's raining I'd rather just wear spandex and get wet and change when I get there. It's nice to have options for the weather, so don't count out the spandex bike shorts and jerseys just yet.

Also for those hot and humid days: wear bike only clothes, arrive a few minutes early, wipe down with baby wipes and catch your breath, then change into normal clothes. I've had coworkers comment on how amazing it is that I never smelled or looked sweaty, even when I was commuting 16 miles one way in the summer heat.

4. Stop giving a fuck how much delivery services / cabs / rental cars cost. Pre going car-less I always thought I would use these things more than I actually do, but even using them frequently the long term costs are negligible compared to actually owning a vehicle. So what if the cab ride home is $60 or you had to pay for overnight shipping for that thing you needed right now? You're still way ahead.

5. More bike stuff - take some maintenance classes (I'm sure there's a bike co-op there, that would be a good place to start). Not just the basic one, but the 'advanced' ones too. Nothing on a bike is rocket science, once someone shows you how to do it's all very simple. Make the investment in your own set of tools, it seems spendy when you're blowing $50 on one special purpose wrench but it's worth it in the long run, and it's better than figuring out how to get a broken bike to the shop. Also, it's ok to have more than one bike. Sometimes I need the clunker cargo carrier, sometimes I want to just pound out the commute quickly. If you only had one, it better have fender and rack eyelets in both the rear and front.

6. Move, this will probably have more of an effect than anything else. Are you a transfer away from the bus line you frequently take, or your work/grocery store/hood you hang out in? Then just move closer and be done with it.

It's really not a big deal to go carless in most cities, you just need to think differently. It's definitely very, very worth it.
posted by bradbane at 9:48 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I drive and take transport in equal amounts now, previously just transport.

It takes longer to do things, and you might have to do fewer of them in a day; instead of doing 3-5 errands, you might feel able to do 1-3. Double up on errands by shopping opportunistically, instead of spontaneously. E.g. you might notice you're running out of contact lens solution on Monday. Instead of just restocking the same day, you might wait until Wednesday, when you know you'll be near the pharmacy for some other reason.

A transit pass together with the aforementioned apps give me a lot more mental space for both planning and spontaneity than was the case in pre-smartphone days.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:28 PM on February 8, 2014

If you join a gym near your workplace, you can use their showers.

Nthing that location is everything, and living close (ideally within walking distance) to grocery stores, the library, etc. is so so worth it. Sometimes walking > biking during the following situations 1) I just want to get up and go, and don't want to hassle with the bike 2) I want to listen to a podcast/ make a phone call 3) my purchase fits better in a granny cart.

Another location consideration is where is your social life? I am more .... shall we say adventurous... in the daylight when there is better public transit/ and more people around than I am at night. I admit that there are some social events that I bow out of since the dealing with getting there and back part is too much hassle.

Have you thought of doing a test run for a week or two? Leave the car at a friend's place and hand over the keys.

I have found it helpful to use Yelp/ Google Maps/ my own experience to compile my own internal map of what's on the way from point A to point B.
posted by oceano at 12:41 AM on February 9, 2014

I'm in my 30s, and I've never had a car. Every month, we add up all of our transportation expenses and compare it to what a car would cost (amortized purchase price, maintenance, gas, insurance, parking, etc). Even in the months where we rent a car for a week or even two, it's still way less expensive to not have a car. So we're utterly shameless about cabs and rentals ($20 per day on the weekend), though I find that I seldom feel like we need to do one.

Bradbane summed it up well. We were also shameless about buying nice bikes that we enjoyed riding, purchasing a really secure lock, and getting the gear we would need to make biking easy and fun. If a bike is now going to be your primary source of transportation, take it seriously.

Also, I'm always done my grocery shopping by car or on foot, and I've never had a problem getting enough food for the week in a backpack or two shopping bags. You don't mention that you'll be buying for a family, so you'll probably be fine. If you're used to shopping less frequently (once every few weeks) or if you go to bulk stores, that would be a good idea of a cab or rental.
posted by oryelle at 8:10 AM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I will second this: " I personally think like 90% of the car-free lifestyle is really just a mental change. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, so when you've spent your whole life driving for even the smallest neighborhood errand you can't imagine how else it could be done. "

Things mentioned above that help with this: (1) choosing a dwelling convenient to essentials (work, groceries, your favorite bar, transit options, your friends); (2) getting comfortable with route-finding (whether a bike route, transit route, or walking route; (3) if you're going to use a bike as transportation, outfit it to be useful for transportation (fenders, lights, decent racks/bags).

Things I did not see mentioned (but may have missed) which I think are critical: adjusting your habits and outlook. You probably have to grocery shop more often (so what? I actually find that's a benefit, swinging by the store on the way home means I eat fresher foods and have fewer things going bad before I cook them); you may have to add transit time to your schedule (you may not. at least you won't have to trawl for parking); you will have to budget for cab fares or delivery charges from stores (but it's not a new expense; it's just shifting gas, license plate renewals, parking tickets into a different budget line). Some things will take a little more planning to get to than they used to, but it becomes second nature, and if you aren't always expecting someone else to drive you there, it's a neutral thing--not a negative one.

It's important to have a good support network, in case of emergencies but that's just true of life in general. I injured my ankle badly a few years ago, when I was living alone, without a car, without a close friend very nearby and I was fine. I was a lot slower; I had to rely more on delivery services than usual; I had to beg a shitty boss to let me telecommute for a week. But it was temporary and I made do.

I, personally, find my city so much more interesting viewed from the sidewalk, or the passenger seat of a bus, or my bike. I see more things; notice more shops. I no longer experience the people around me as obstacles, which I always did when I was driving and they were driving and in my way. I don't get as far afield from my doorstep as I used to when I lived in sprawl navigable only by personal car, but I don't do any fewer interesting things and I don't stay in more, I just go out closer.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:46 AM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get into the zen of walking. It can be frustrating to spend time walking if you treat it as just a means to get from point A to point B when the points are a mile or more apart. Listen to podcasts or think and clear your head.

I personally prefer biking to walking, but I live in the Northeast where winter biking is unpleasant. When I need walk a mile or more, I make it a sort of power walk or jog (provided I'm not lugging groceries), which gets me my daily exercise in an environment much more interesting than the gym.
posted by redlines at 9:57 AM on February 9, 2014

To make public transport as painless as possible, get all the info about it together before you need it (not when you're rushing to get somewhere on a rainy day or stuck at work late at night). Get the app if there is one. Get copies of the timetables (or bookmark them on your phone/computer). Figure out what the consequences of staying late at work will be (for example, I know that if I'm at work past 6:15pm, the buses become very infrequent) and get used to starting and finishing your work day at a time that will give you the most options. Figure out how to take the bus to your doctor's surgery or to your dentist.

If there's any kind of electronic ticketing, sign up for it. If there's a way to top your ticket up automatically, get that set up. Set up a jar at home and at work that you can dump all your change in so that you've always got bus money.

And carry a book - a 30 minute bus ride is 30 minutes of reading time that you wouldn't have in a car.

In addition to the above advice about bike commuting, keep a charger for your bike lights and/or some spare batteries at work so that you don't get stuck at night with no lights. And a couple of big plastic bags to put your stuff if it turns rainy.
posted by girlgenius at 4:32 PM on February 9, 2014

Does your university have a car-sharing plan?
posted by oneirodynia at 7:42 PM on February 9, 2014

So - I live about 1/4 mile from the grocery store and I drink a fair amount of milk/sparkling water/beer/wine. If you also drink alcohol or juice or any other liquid in a large container, figure out how you will get it home. I am fortunate enough to be able to walk home with these items, since it's nearby but this would be more difficult if walking or biking further.
posted by Red Desk at 11:01 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Red Desk makes a great point. Even living in wonderfully walkable NYC, I always had to strategize about large heavy grocery items.
posted by Sara C. at 1:10 AM on February 10, 2014

The trick to carrying liquids is to put them in a backpack (if walking--otherwise you want panniers on your bike for anything more than a half gallon or a six pack). Anything up to two gallons of milk/juice/whatever (less if it's glass, obviously) for a mile is pretty reasonable. Put half the liquid on your back with whatever else fits in your backpack, carry the other half in your hand. You'll probably have to swap arms a few times, but it's okay. Two gallons of milk is my "ugh, do I really have to carry this?" point, but it's totally doable. (Safeway used to have a deal where it was cheaper to buy two gallons of milk and I'm a bit impatient when it comes to waiting for a bus to go a mile, so I walked it plenty of times.) Obviously, if you currently buy four gallons of milk at once or six bottles of wine or something, you'll have to rethink things, but I don't think liquids are that big a deal for a one or two person household (supposing no injuries or disabilities anyway). That said, the CVS near me seems to use milk as a loss leader a lot of the time, so it might be advantageous (or worth an extra 10¢/gallon) to not carry milk from the grocery store if there's some similar situation in your neighbourhood.

Also, those blue Ikea shopping bags are astonishingly convenient for carrying heavy things.
posted by hoyland at 6:41 AM on February 10, 2014

A couple of mentions but worth explicitly stating: treat yourself to a good pair of shoes. It's worth paying extra money for shoes that are comfortable to walk in, will last a long time, and fit your style. You could wear sneakers everywhere, or cheap flip flops, but you will definitely appreciate a pair of well-made, weather appropriate shoes.

And, specifically to New Orleans, I recently visited from NY, where I live car-free. Pretty easy to get around via public transport but had an awful time with cabs. Find a reliable cab company before you need one!
posted by paradeofblimps at 5:59 PM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

One piece of advice, if you've got a grocery store in walking distance. Get heavy-duty reusable grocery bags with straps big enough to sling over your shoulders. Walking with a bunch of those shitty plastic bags will kill your hands and is probably the least efficient way to carry a lot of heavy stuff over a long distance.

I've also found the reusable bags that crunch down into a tiny pouch to be useful (you can keep them in your daybag for spur of the moment grocery runs), but either get a version of that which slings over your shoulder or use the crushable ones only for picking up a few things.
posted by Sara C. at 7:58 PM on February 11, 2014

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