How To Live Without A Car

How To Live Without A Car


Some say that living in nyc without a car is easy because of 24/7 public transportation. While this is true, there is more than access to mass transit that needs to be taken into consideration when ditching your car. I rarely miss having my own car here but it did take some adjusting to.

Do Not Expect Privacy

One aspect of driving that may go unnoticed is the privacy you have in your own car. Although other people can see you singing your heart out, you are more or less in your own private bubble. As long as you drive safe, you can snack on that granola bar, sing to your favorite song, or try not to cry after a bad night.

With public transportation, you lose all your privacy. Once you leave your apartment, you are constantly around people. Phone conversations are conducted in public, everyone can see you touch-up your make-up before a date, crying makes you a public spectacle, napping at lunch is not quite as convenient.

This is an easy adjustment but one that tends to get overlooked.

Only Buy What You Can Carry

I wrote previously to only buy what you can carry and this still holds true. Without a car, you have to carry everything you pick up along the way when out. This means you need to think about the stops you plan on making, your plans later, and what you want to purchase. This isn’t complicated but may involve some strategics.

Bulky items like a broom or large art supplies can be tedious to carry around to multiple places. If you have a lot of bags, some stores will ask that you leave your shopping bags with the security guard in the front when entering the store. Other stores may offer to hold your bags for you so you can more easily shop in their store.

Small but heavy items like canned goods, bags of flour/sugar, liquids, or books need to be purchased in small quantities per shopping trip. The better market near me is a half-mile walk so weight is a big factor for me when grocery shopping. Thankfully, many cashiers here know this and will double bag or distribute weight pretty well. Trader Joe’s cashiers are pros at this.

Be careful with reusable bags. Since they hold more, it’s easy to keep filling them up and not realize their weight until it’s too late. I am sure most of my grocery carrying woes are due to having zero arm strength.

When it comes to liquid drinks, try to buy powder when possible. I tend to only drink water (nyc has some of the best tap water in the country) but Gatorade can be great after a run. Purchasing powder Gatorade has been a great alternative to carrying the heavy bottles home. This also means I usually have a powder-packet on hand for recovering from a run (or a hangover).

In general, most shopping is done in smaller quantities. Even for those who use a cart, you still cannot fit as many bags in that as you can a car. Doing weekly shopping is to be expected. Forget about buying in bulk.


For groceries, long days out, or larger items, I love my backpack. If I know I’ll be out all day, it’s useful to carry small items I pick up, to put my jacket in when the day warms up, to hold a bottle of water or a snack, etc.

My favorite use for my backpack is to purchase cat food & cat litter. Buying cat supplies at Petco in-store is still the cheapest option for me. So I have discovered I can easily carry a 7lb bag of cat food home in my backpack. As well, a 12lb bag of cat litter fits in there too. It’s heavy but certainly easier with a backpack than any other bag. Similarly, a small luggage suitcase with wheels works as well.


Pretty much everything can be delivered here. Food, bodega items, laundry, documents, etc. You pay for the convenience of course but boy is it convenient.

Most deliveries are by bike so ranges can be limited but most places will work with you. My local Thai restaurant has been known to send your food with a car service if you order enough & live out of the neighborhood.


Finding an apartment building with basement laundry is rare and an apartment with in-unit laundry even rarer. Going to the laundromat without a car can be a bit of a chore. You can do smaller quantities or use a wash/fold service.

Practically all laundromats/dry cleaners provide a service to wash & fold your clothes for you (price per pound). They will pick-up your laundry from your apt and drop it off the next day. You do nothing. These services typically cost $0.90/pound in Manhattan and $0.80/pound in Brooklyn.

Nights Out

The city’s mass transit is a huge reason almost everything revolves around booze here. Not only can bars legally serve until 4a (and many parties go later) but also you don’t have to worry as much about getting yourself home. You can take the subway regardless of how drunk you are or better yet, take a cab.

However, remember that you will be on a moving train. It is likely you will get sick at least once on a train/platform while living here.

Cheap Commuting

The absolute best part of using mass transit is having very little transportation expenses. I don’t have to think about gas prices (no idea what the country average is right now). I don’t have to worry about my car breaking down and the unexpected expenses that go with car repair. Even little things like car washes add up (on time if not money). No searching for parking or worrying about your car being damaged/stolen. None of that.

As @DeenaDollars said, “Count your cash and laugh maniacally every time you think about how you’re not paying for gas, insurance, or repairs.”

There will always be traffic congestion and unexpected delays. This will suck whether you’re behind the wheel or stuck on a train. That part of a commute does not change.

You Can Have A Car

While it is 100% possible to live in NYC without a car, you can also fairly easily live in the outer boroughs with a car. You will have to pay attention to alternate side parking rules in your neighborhood – that is the main nuisance. However, for getting out of the city, having a car can be much easier.


8 Replies to “How To Live Without A Car”

  1. I can’t find powdered Gatorade in any of the normal supermarkets in the city! Even though I have a car, I have limited kitchen storage so I prefer the powder as well. But I have to buy it at Target or the ‘burbs, both of which are kind of a hassle.

    You should add: Make friends with someone who has a car for those occasional trips to stock up on things, to Ikea or just because it’s useful, sometimes.

    Before I had my car in the city, I used to take two subways to go to TJ’s and Whole Foods in Union Square and loaded up my reuseable bags. I remember feeling like a pack mule on the way home.

    1. Ha! A pack mule is a great way to describe how I feel when I stuff a giant bag of kitty litter into my backpack and haul it back from manhattan (cheapest price I’ve found).

  2. This reminds me of a book I read a couple of summers ago entitled Farewell My Subaru. It was an excellent piece that realistically went through a journey of whether or not one could make it on bare essentials, passing up many things we consider essential, namely a big name and expensive car.

    For my family it has everything to do with the proximity of our jobs. That allows us to look at the circumstances. We have lived in places where walking was the smartest decision and others in which having a car was a necessity. We have two now but, I’m hoping to bring the number down to one when we can afford to (again jobs are the concern).

  3. I would LOVE for someone to pick up my laundry and do it for me…but sadly I have no excuse as I have a car and and a laundromat is 1/4 mile away. I think the best part of having no car is like you said, no repairs, insurance or gas, and not having to worry about drinking and driving.

  4. I miss not having a car! I was car free for four years in University and used public transit everywhere. Now that I have a car (mandatory in my rural setting) I dislike the cost, the isolation, and the lack of exercise. One of the biggest reasons I miss the city is the ability to go car free.

    1. Interesting, I really miss the isolation of a car. Not having a car means you have zero privacy outside of your apartment. That can be quite an adjustment.

  5. After seeing NYC I don’t think I could drive in that city! That being said where I live having a car is much easier and the public transit is 1/100th as good as in NYC!

    1. You’ve probably only seen the busier parts of Manhattan. Driving in other parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, etc, is much easier. Driving in Manhattan can be fun in a perverse way, though….

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