Posts tagged travel

How to Get Far Without a Car

Some of you readers may recall when I made a pledge to sell my car in order to green my travel around the city.  It’s been more than three years now, and I’m happy to report that I haven’t died from lack of access to basic goods yet, so clearly, it IS possible to make work, even in a city as sprawling as Los Angeles.  It’s fairly easy to trade in the frustrations of driving, paying for inevitable parking tickets, car insurance, gas, crazy-driver door dings and side view mirrors lopped off by passing cars for the peace of mind that comes with regular exercise and time spent enjoying LA’s incredible outdoor clime.  Of course it does have a few drawbacks, the greatest of which being that it’s harder to get out of town to places which are far enough away to necessitate a car but not far enough to be serviced by the Greyhounds and Metrolink trains of the world.  There are a few strategies I’ve employed over time to make it work without feeling deprived.

First, I took a good look at the places I travel in a normal day.  Since I work “from home” but live off-grid without power, my primary need in the work department is occasional access to an outlet to recharge the computer and internet to post stuff like this, converse with clients, etc.  About a year and a half back, I purchased a netbook with a seven hour battery life.  Best investment ever! This means that I only have to find an outlet for an hour or so daily to have my portable office up and running for more hours than I can practically stare at a screen.  So I hit a local coffee shop each morning, sip tea, upload posts, and download relevant research for the next edition or client.  The mile or two walk to and from the shop each morning gives me a chance to start my day outside, practicing walking meditation (a post on this coming soon!) and organizing in my head what I need to accomplish.  As a photographer, I carry my camera with me everywhere I go, and this walk also allows me to get interesting shots in the golden light of early morning before most people wake up.  What started as an obligation to get to a destination has actually become one of my favorite daily activities!

Over time, I’ve discovered local alternatives to my daily purchases.  The other day, I found the best little pupuseria while walking by on an errand, saving me a bus trip across town to my other favorite streetside vendor.  How’s that for ultra-localizing life!  Many people drive all over creation going to stores that they are used to frequenting when there exist alternatives right within their own communities.  By shopping locally, not only will you save frustration and gas/insurance money, you might also get to know your local business owners better, which helps build stronger community ties.  Of course, supporting your local Best Buy over a family run electronics shop just because it’s down the road isn’t necessarily what I’m talking about, but even franchise businesses are run by individual owners who may be from your community.  Take the time to ask, it can often lead to an enlightening conversation.

When needing to get out further than walkable distance, I can get most places for $3, the current price of a round trip bus or metro ticket in these parts.  Sure, it takes about fifteen minutes to walk to or from the metro station, but I simply view it all as exercise and think about the money I save by not having a gym membership while I walk.  If the destination lies off a main bus or metro line, then I might ride my bike to the station, which cuts the travel time down even more.

In order to head out of town/city limits, which is an occasional necessity given my other-other day job as a treasure hunter, I’ve had good luck by posting on Craigslist for someone to drive to a given destination, even one off the beaten path.  Usually it costs me gas money and the price of lunch, maybe an honorary token payment, far less than it would to rent a car for the day and I don’t even have to drive.  (yet another option is signing up for a shared-car service such as Zipcar, which I’ll cover in an upcoming post)  There are several rideshare sites which can be used in similar fashion, especially if one is not tied to a particular moment of travel and can be a little flexible.  Of course as a woman I am careful about this, bringing a buddy with me to share the ride and always being on top of knowing the exact directions to where I’m heading.  You can also run a classified ad for people to pick up items from further locales and deliver them to you for a nominal charge if they are headed some direction anyway.  Given the state of public transport here expanded by an additional biking radius, both this and the ride for hire scenario are rarely utilized but useful tools to have in the arsenal.

One final thing that I’d like to mention here is that of motivation.  If you’re going to be walking or biking, why not reward yourself for putting in miles toward the sustainable cause? There are many websites that let you track your exercise miles over time and provide like-minded communities for motivation and friendly competition.  I started using dailymile.com a few months back to log miles walked in order to see how much gas I would theoretically save each month by not driving.  It nicely computes my calories burned, keeps track of the amount of gas I’ve saved by not driving, and even tells me other fun stats like how many donuts I can now afford to eat after all that walking!  Though the site is primarily designed for athletes who are training for things to share inspirational workout routes, it serves well too as a general tracker of miles logged, featuring interactive route maps which calculate your mileage based upon the path you draw on a Google map.  One of my favorite features of the site is the challenge page, where you can sign up to try and complete a certain number of miles or hours spent exercising during a given time span in friendly competition with other athletes on the site.

The luxurious abode that is Trimpi Shelter.

Last Thanksgiving I signed up there for a virtual Appalachian Trail hike, in which walkers try to log the 2179 miles of the AT within a year’s time.  I use my distance data from the site (it keeps track of which types of exercise qualify, in this case walking and hiking) and compare it to a distance map of the trail to see where I am on a given day.  Today, two and a half months after starting out my “hike”, I’ve walked through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and am venturing up through southern Virginia toward the Trimpi Shelter, pictured above, where I will virtually slumber this evening.  Right now things are on track to finish the trail with a few weeks to spare, which at the necessary rate of 5.5 miles daily is no small feat!  By looking up each county I travel through on Wikipedia and reading about what the areas are known for (the Trimpi shelter is in Grayson County, VA, mountainous home to several annual bluegrass and fiddle music festivals and a yearly through-hiker festival which celebrates those trying to complete the AT), my daily walking chores have changed from a simple necessity into an exciting and educational activity which feels more like a vacation.

The location of the Trimpi shelter along the Appalachian Trail.

Well, those are a couple things I have found useful.  What strategies do you employ to cut down on extraneous daily travel? How have they worked for you?

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A Memorial to Nature

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and I can’t think of any way I’d rather spend it than getting as far from lots of people as possible to enjoy the splendors of Nature.  So I’m headed into the woods again to get lost for a few days. Stay posted when I get back for inspiration from the trail!

walking away

Happy Memorial Day, Everyone!

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Ride the BioTour

More Information on joining the BioTour here

BioTour Across America

If you’ve been looking for an inexpensive way to spend a week of vacation while still contributing to a great cause, how about taking part in BioTour’s journey across America?  Biotour is a big school bus, converted to run on WVO (biodiesel) and solar energy.  A rotating cast of characters pilot the bus across the country making presentations to school children and politicians alike about the importance of renewable energy in our lives. Along the way, crew members educate themselves about the deeds and processes of progressive companies and towns across the nation.

The BioTour Bus

You can stay with the crew for up to a week for a suggested donation of $0-$100 dollars, a good CD of music to share, and some snacks for everyone.  They aren’t running an alt-travel agency, so you’re signing up to be part of the crew, slinging grease and working on broken parts alongside everyone else.  The past tour dates have included some impressive stops, and many interesting ones in between: it’s safe to say your week will be unlike any other that’s transpired in the past.  So pack up your backpack and hit the greyhound station to meet them along they way for a week of french-fried country education and fun.

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COMMITMENT: Use Public Transportation

Back to the great experiment that is my green life-in-training.  It’s been a while since the last report, but fear not, I HAVE been taking action.  About a month ago, I decided that long distance trips across the country were unacceptably increasing my carbon load on the earth.  True, I still drove much less than the average American, and I shared a ride every trip across the country that I made.  But, when 45% of your emissions are coming from one place… well, that just looks yucky on the pie chart!  So I made a commitment.  Sell the car….  Done. 

What was I thinking?   No, really, it’s not that bad.  During the daily routine, I only drove a few miles a day anyway, and now that’s a little further free walking exercise to be gotten.  No, I don’t mind that at all, especially given LA traffic, which doesn’t quite compete with the intensity of that in my native DC, but certainly makes up for it in volume across great distances.  Yes, LA traffic is frustrating, and I am happy to kiss it goodbye.  Even though it means making a few adjustments in lifestyle (no more meeting people across town unless you’ve got a GOOD reason for paying bus fare and figuring out a route), it’s a better way to get to know your local community, as you WILL interact more with passersby and merchants.

Greyhound Bus - Eco-Friendly Transport

However, the real test of this commitment is the replacement of my regular car travel plans over long distances.  How to get across the Southwest without a car or a monster budget?  In a spirit of conservation and adventure, I recently took my first trip… on the Greyhound bus.  I must say, it was less stressful than driving, with driving’s relentless watching the road while steering, or not quite trusting other drivers and watching the road anyway.  Never a good sleep in a car, unless you’re REALLY zonked.  So, back to the Greyhound.  It was painless, relatively on time, much more eco-friendly, and I met a few interesting people along the way

If you’re contemplating taking the bus when you next travel, may I offer a few pointers?  Arrive earlySeriously.  And when you arrive, ask where your gate is and go ahead and put your bags in line.  It seems to be standard practice that you don’t have to remain with them beyond that point.  So settle in and watch a movie on the big(ger) screen while you wait.  And bring your own food, unless you like two dollar snickers bars in the vending machines and similarly priced sodas.  I’m pretty sure that they’ve never heard of the word organic either.  Experienced Greyhounders relate that they routinely oversell the buses (remember that tip about putting your bags in line?), so if you want to have any choice about what variety of seatmate you want, better get your spot and hold on tight.  It will help you out a lot if you travel light enough to avoid checking baggage.  That also removes you from having to open up your bags for people at every stop.  When I went hiking last month, the travel compartments above were large enough to accommodate an artfully packed trecking backpack and tent – it’s kind of get-it-as-you-come on available space.  After all that, well, sit back and relax!  The bus stops at cities along they way, often for  long enough to get your standard fast-food fare along the highway, make cell phone calls or whatever else you can fit in a quarter hour.  Best of all, if you travel with a friend, one of you can ride for a 50% discount companion fare, reducing costs further. 

So far, life without a car has been pretty good.  I HAVE missed a few appointments and retooled my day a few times, but all-in-all, it hasn’t required too much more time or thought.  And I’ve met several local business owners whose businesses I might not otherwise even have seen whizzing by in a car.  If this is to be a long-term arrangement, I think that I’ll get a bicycle again (last one was stolen, another LA hazard!) or maybe even a little moped that can be converted to use less gas.  Has anyone else made the jump to sell their car?  I’m curious to know how it went/ is going?   I salute you for traveling the road to green-dom (literally!) one step at a time

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