go car free course

Lesson 18

Don’t Go There: Make Your Errands Come to You

food delivery robots

My daughter with the Coco self-driving food delivery robots that are all over Santa Monica.

Virtually any errand and almost all shopping can be done easily and conveniently without ever getting into a car. Those of us who are car free have known this for years. The rest of the world experienced it during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns and closures forced hundreds of millions of people to have just about everything delivered.

I always recommend that you try shopping locally by riding your bike or walking to nearby stores or farmers markets. Patronizing neighborhood businesses keeps local economies strong and leads to social interaction within the community. But if your neighborhood doesn’t have merchants that carry what you need, it’s time to get online.

The Internet has revolutionized the way we conduct business, communicate, research products, and shop. In my humble opinion, there is seldom any reason to actually visit a big box store these days.

woman packing groceries in car in parking garage

The Problem with Car-Based Errands

Car owners typically run errands by driving. They drive to the bank, to Trader Joe’s, to the post office, to the drug store, to the fabric store, and to the health club. They circle the mall looking for parking, then wait with their blinker on for someone to vacate a spot.

They leave the mall two hours later and spend another five minutes searching for their car. They arrive home that evening having wasted four hours of their life “running errands.”

Plus they spent $20 on gas, $15 on fast food, and who knows how much on impulse buys. They also waste precious time and risk serious injury and death fighting other cars and SUVs in highway traffic.

amazon delivery van on side of road

There Is a Better Way

If there was no other way to accomplish the tasks required for everyday life, we could perhaps justify such a habit of car-based errands. Fortunately, all this driving is unnecessary, not to mention a tremendous waste of energy.

Unless your errands include something out of the ordinary – like providing a urine sample or a medical appointment that requires you to be there in person – they can probably be done from your computer or smartphone. Actually, telemedicine became popular during the pandemic, so even many doctor visits can be done online from home.

Below is a list of errands that car owners would typically drive to accomplish. Yet every one of these can easily be taken care of from home in a matter of minutes.

  • Renting videos or first-run movies
  • Going to the drugstore
  • Shopping for electronics
  • Buying stamps at the post office
  • Picking up a prescription at the pharmacy
  • Depositing a check at the bank
  • Dropping off clothes at the dry cleaner
  • Buying groceries
  • Shipping a package via UPS or FedEx
  • Taking a computer in for repairs
  • Going back to school to earn a college degree

The biggest obstacle for lifelong car owners is breaking the ingrained habit of using the car to accomplish every errand. It may feel a bit odd when you first sit down at the computer to shop for a new television, computer, or even toilet paper. But when it arrives at your doorstep a few days later – with free shipping – you’ll recognize the beauty of buying from home.

Car Free Success Story:

I do all banking and bill paying online, even the rent. That really frees up the schedule. I also have online access to all the digital databases and electronic journals through the UCSB library. Electronic access to a university library allows me to do quality research (including document retrieval) right from home, on my own time.

As for shopping, when I buy big items I have them delivered. My desk, bookshelves, lamps, kitchenware, comforter, plywood, fixtures, and more, they all came from online retailers via UPS or some other delivery service. And that reminds me, DHL and UPS (and probably FedEx) all come right to your door, same-day service when it’s time to send a package. Why drive to them?

Scott M., Ph.D., 35

Anthropologist, Santa Barbara, CA

Online Grocery Shopping

One of the first questions people ask when I tell them I don’t own a car is, “How do you buy groceries?” Most car owners are so car-centered in their thinking they can’t imagine any other way than by driving to the supermarket.

My response to that question is standard. I stock up on nonperishables at Costco every couple of months. I buy a lot of frozen food which I put in my chest freezer. I buy milk, bread, and fresh produce at a nearby farmers market and local stores in my neighborhood. And I have groceries delivered to my doorstep. There’s no reason to go to the supermarket anymore.

Most major regional supermarket chains offer online grocery shopping with door-to-door delivery. Just call the large supermarkets in your area and ask, or visit their websites and click on “Services.” Many smaller supermarkets and neighborhood grocers also deliver.

amazon fresh groceries

There will usually be an additional charge for delivery. But remember what you’re actually saving. When you add up the time it would take to drive to the supermarket, wander the aisles, wait in line to check out, load the groceries into your car, then drive home and unload all the groceries, plus the money you’ll spend on gas and on impulse purchases at the store, paying the delivery fee starts to look like a bargain.

One of the nice benefits of online grocery shopping is the ability to keep your personal shopping list on file. So the next time you’re ready to shop, all you have to do is log in, call up your previous shopping list, then click on the items you want to reorder. This saves a tremendous amount of time.

Many online grocers also allow you to set up a “recurring order.” This feature will automatically ship your favorite products at time intervals that you specify without your having to do anything.

Just when you’re about to run out of Lucky Charms and soy milk, they magically appear on your doorstep. This feature takes a little trial and error to get the timing right, but I use it and it is wonderful.

Even trips to Costco are no longer necessary. Costco warehouses have partnered with Instacart to deliver groceries directly from the nearest Costco to your home. They have both same day delivery and 2-day delivery. We order grocery delivery at least a few times a month.

Costco and Instacart Logos

Distance Learning

If you plan to go back to school to earn a college degree or a graduate degree, you no longer have to drive to campus, park, and sit in class. Many major universities now offer online degree programs, usually called “distance learning.”

But be careful in researching distance learning institutions, because many are not accredited. Your first step should probably be to visit the websites of the major universities in your area to see if they offer fully accredited distance learning programs.

Best Online MBA Programs

Dry Cleaning and Laundry

Many dry cleaners now offer pick-up and delivery service to help their busy customers. Some don’t even charge an extra fee. Since most dry cleaners don’t have fancy websites, the only way to find out which ones offer this service in you area is to make a few phone calls. If you can’t find one near your home, try looking for one that will pick up and deliver to your office.

Dry cleaner delivery van

First-Run Movies

Netflix and all the other streaming services changed the way America watches movies. First-run movies that would normally only be shown in the theatre now often show up on streaming.

HBO MAX, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and the others all exhibit certain first-run movies simultaneously in theatres and on streaming. If there is not a movie theatre near your home, you can still see the new Disney movie in the comfort of your own home.

Movie: Creed III
Car Free Success Story:

When shopping for clothes, computer stuff, household appliances, etc., I have several options. I can carry smaller things on the handlebars of my bike, use my Bob bicycle trailer, call an Uber XL, or have the store do home delivery. The infrequent use of Uber and home-delivery service is far less costly than owning a car. The home delivery workers recently delivered and hooked up my new washing machine and unhooked and carted off my old washer. Nice. Simple. No hassle.

Kimberly C., 48

Data Analyst, St. Petersburg, FL

Find Your Own Favorites

Whatever errands you typically run, whatever your hobbies are, whatever you want to buy, whatever you’re passionate about, you will find a website that focuses on it – and delivers. Whether you collect rare cognac or grow exotic orchids, you’ll find a retailer online.

One of my hobbies is digital landscape photography, and I have found literally dozens of websites devoted to this interest. In the past year, I’ve purchased thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment, batteries, courses, software, lenses, and filters from B&H Photo, yet I never had to set foot in a car.

Let’s move on to Lesson 19, Pick Me Up: the Miracle of Car Sharing and Ridesharing

Ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uber have taken the concept of peer-to-peer, on-demand mobility and implemented it in a way that’s convenient and cost effective. But there is another option if you need a car for a short period. Car sharing was around long before Uber and Lyft, and it’s still going strong. See why in Lesson 19.

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