How to Shop for Groceries Without a Car

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Katy Lang Tweet Us @walkarlington@walkarlington November 15, 2018

Katy Lang is the Program Director for Active Transportation. She started living car-free in Arlington in 2010 and is passionate about finding great running routes and safety for people walking and biking.

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There’s a lot to gain from not owning a car, but people always ask how they can do their grocery shopping without one. Car-free veteran, Katy, shares what has worked well for her when she goes grocery shopping.

I decided to sell my car in 2010 while I was living in Arlington. I didn’t use it for much, because I walked to the Metro every day for work, took the bus to do my shopping, and wandered on foot to Clarendon to socialize. Fast forward to 2018, and I still live without a car.

Most people understand that living car free in Arlington is easy and enjoyable, but I always get asked, how do you do your grocery shopping? Here are a few things I’ve learned from living without a car and walking to buy groceries for the past eight years.

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Use a Basket in the Store

This is my #1 tip! Carry a basket. You’ll be conscious of how heavy my items are and the size of the items. If it’s hard to carry them around the store, odds are that it will be hard to carry them home. So keep the large grocery cart at the front of the store and opt for a basket.

Rethink Where You Shop

Rather than treating grocery shopping as a large, one time per week trip where you buy everything from food to household products to wine, consider purchasing some of those items at alternate times and alternate locations. Stopping at a corner store on your way home to pick up milk or adding a fun walk with your family to the farmer’s market for produce, reduces the need to make that one large trip to the store each week.

Carry a Reusable Bag

Keep a foldable, packable tote bag in your purse or work bag at all times. This has come in handy when I’ve spontaneously grabbed items that I need while I’m out without worrying about a paper or plastic bag. A bag with a shoulder strap also helps spread the weight around.

Get the Right Gear

Even though you’ll have fewer groceries when you leave the store, you’ll still need a way to carry them home. Sometimes they’re heavy, because you made one last minute decision to add one (or two) more snacks to your basket! But that’s ok, because there are several great options to help you carry the bigger loads, including:

  • Bag handles to help you carry more grocery bags at once, like Mighty Handle.
  • Folding shopping carts which are perfect for larger trips.
  • Backpacks—great for hands-free carrying and for balancing heavier items.
  • Carshare. I’ve used carshare as a last resort for groceries maybe twice in the last eight years, but having a membership helps for those times you’ve purchased too much and are unable to get it home under your own person-power. Zipcar and Car2Go operate in Arlington.
  • Ridehailing services like taxis, Uber, and Lyft. Whether you hail a ride with the traditional wave of the arm or use an app to get a ride, they’ll pick you up wherever you’re standing.
  • Biking—whether you grab a Capital Bikeshare bike or enhance your own bike with baskets and saddle bags, biking is a fun and easy way to carry lots of goodies.

Consider Alternatives

Subscription services are increasingly popular, both for ready-to-cook meals (e.g., Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Freshly) and groceries (e.g., Instacart, Peapod by Giant Food, Shipt). Depending on your budget, switching to one of these services can take the stress out of grocery shopping and eliminate a trip. I do this mostly for big, heavy items that I purchase regularly such as pet food.

Tell Us About Your Car-Free Experiences

Do you also walk to get your groceries? What are your tips for keeping it easy and hassle free to shop? Join us at an upcoming event for a chance to receive a WalkArlington tote bag perfect for grocery shopping.

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This post was updated on November 19, 2018 and September 18, 2019.

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