How To: Get Around With No Car

Getting around without a car in England was something I was looking forward to, coming from a town in the US where the nearest grocery store was 2 miles away and the main shopping area was close to 3. This however is entirely dependent on how close to (or in) a city you live, though even if you’re in the countryside you can get by with just buses and trains if located in the right spot. Even in the cityscape, you have 4 main options: buses, taxis, trains, and feet.

Buses

Buses in Leicester are next to useless if you live near the city centre, as all of the buses terminate in the centre. This means if I wanted to take the bus to university that I’d have to take one to the city centre (going the wrong way!) and then wait for another one to take me the correct direction towards the campus. If you time it right and don’t miss your connecting bus you’ll get in at … exactly the same time as if you had walked. Needless to say, I don’t bother with the buses in Leicester unless I’ve got arms full with grocery bags or am visiting a village on the outside of the city.

However, buses can be useful in other cities. The one in Colchester is useful for the days you really don’t want to climb up the steep hill to the High Street, and they have a few lines that run across the town. How convenient! The only major issue with this is that (in any town, not just Colchester) you need to know the name of the stop you’re getting off at before you get onto the bus so you can pay the right fare. There won’t always be information as to where each bus line goes, so be prepared to look up this information on your phone ahead of time or brave the possible wrath of a disgruntled bus driver and a queue full of people who would really like you to just not get on.

Taxis

Taxis, while not something I’d use on a daily basis, are not nearly as expensive as you would think, and are sometimes very much worth it. Coming home from the other side of town late at night or with a suitcase is well worth the £6. You forget just how much you rely on your car until you don’t have one, as I have a time or two coming home late. If you can, call a private company in town as the famous black cabs are also generally the most expensive. They’re also the only ones that are legally allowed to be hailed off the street, so sometimes they’re worth it on that alone. It just depends on what you need. In this day and age it’s not so much an issue, but still make sure you’ve got cash on you for these rides just in case (and exact change if you’re going to use the bus!). Also be prepared to tip your driver. The tipping culture is much less extreme here than in the US, but there are still times when it is proper.

Trains

Trains I’ve spoken about before, so I’ll mostly just link you back to that entry. With that stated, trains are my main mode of long distance travel around the country. You can still have some trouble getting certain places though, especially if it’s a small village. You’ll need to prepare to catch a bus or get a ride from someone (or even hoof it) in these cases. This should be factored in to getting BACK to the train station too. Also worth noting is the power of the advance ticket. If you know for sure that you’ll be traveling on a certain day at a certain time, it’s well worth buying a ticket in advance. You can book them up to 12 weeks beforehand, and the sooner you do, the more likely you’ll get a great deal. Add in discounts for going at odd/off-peak hours and having a 16-25 railcard discount and it makes traveling much more feasible.

Feet

So you’re getting ready to go somewhere with no car. We’re going to say just in the city this time, as this is the day to day you’ll deal with. You need to become adept at knowing EXACTLY how long it takes to walk to get somewhere. Google Maps on my phone is generally pretty spot on for estimating walking times (24 minutes to campus!), but it’s always wise to pre-walk the path ahead of time or plan extra time to arrive somewhere when the timing is important. You also need to consider the importance that you will no longer have your car to act as a storage unit. You will become your own pack mule and either learn to travel light or develop new tone to muscles on your back and legs.

A good backpack is a must! At first I was hesistant and tried to get by with my crossbody messenger bag, but even the best of them can’t compete. It’s very common to see people with backpacks on though, even if they’re otherwise dressed really smart, so don’t worry about looking odd for it. Also, this should be a no-brainer, but make sure your bag is waterproof. Umbrellas don’t always cover your back side all the way and no one likes soggy papers or (god forbid) a wet laptop. Along this vein, make sure you either carry your lunch separately or be really confident in your food storage. You’ll always be in the worst spot when the broccoli juices leak out and there are rarely ever paper towels in the bathrooms here.

This bag logic will also inevitably spill over into your grocery bags. There are pros and cons to both though. When it comes to it, plastic bags:

  • Cut off blood circulation to your fingers, unless carrying very light items
  • Can’t be slid over the shoulder
  • Always have a chance of breaking due to weight strain or sharp object edges making holes (cereal boxes are notorious)
  • Bang your things around more, which could be devastating to your bananas and/or glass bottles
  • Some places make you pay for using them, to try to get you to be more eco-friendly

Reuseable bags are however:

  • Generally more comfortable (unless overstuffed and then they like to slide off your shoulders)
  • Fashionable or let you show off your favorite things/places (I’ve resisted the urge to pick up many reusable totes from the museums we’ve visited this year)
  • You have to remember to have one with you when you go out, which you sometimes won’t when you pick things up on the way home
  • Usually pretty good about not upsetting the self-checkout machines
  • Great for rescuing laundry, toting things to friends’, etc.

With this in mind, you’ll start changing your shopping habits a bit. The giant hauls of food don’t happen so often when you realise you have to carry it back. It also helps curb any therapy shopping too when you have to lug it all around town and back home. In general though you’ll just be walking around more, so it won’t feel like much. You just kinda learn to plan your life around it. You get in the habit of walking home with people or calling people up to make the walk pleasant, which is really nice. You can also plug in and tune out with music or podcasts. Regardless, you’ll adapt quickly and if you wear a pedometer you’ll find that reaching those healthy 10,000 steps a day is actually pretty easy to do. You’ll also find that you can in fact walk your bum off, but that it makes finding jeans SO much simpler.

In short, while having a car is really nice and I do miss it on occasion, getting by on foot is entirely doable in Leicester and I love it. At this point I wouldn’t want to drive on a daily basis. Anyhow, it’s getting close to dinnertime and I should probably go find something to cook. Talk to y’all later!

— Kate

ministry of silly walks