How to Shop for Groceries Without a Car

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

Katy Lang was previously 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 2020, 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.

man and woman walk down the sidewalk, Arlington, Virginia

Use a Basket in the Store

This is my #1 tip! Carry a basket. You’ll be conscious of how heavy your 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 are great for hands-free carrying and for balancing heavier items.
  • Carshare is used as a last resort for groceries, 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 operates 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 is another option 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.

Want to Have More Car-Free Experiences?

Being car-free in one of the most walkable places in the country is much easier than on might imagine. If you can shop for groceries and carry them home, imagine what other things you can do. Learn more about all the ways you can go car-free and experience Arlington by subscribing to WalkArlington’s monthly newsletter.

This post was updated by Suzanne Patel on October 6, 2020. 

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