Grocery Shopping Without a Car

I know many folks who read this blog live in places where cars are more than just a convenience, they’re a necessity. One of the biggest things it’s needed for is to get groceries.

Up until I was 33 years old, I lived somewhere grocery shopping required some sort of motor vehicle. The only exception to that was that my grandparents lived in a couple of small Vermont villages where they could walk to a country store. Even then, while they could get many necessities: milk, bread, eggs, limited meat and a very few vegetables, they still relied on either a weekly van ride to a nearby town with a grocery store or one of their children (often my mom) to give them a ride to the supermarket.

When we moved to Toronto we realized within a week we didn’t want our car anymore. It was a hassle – stressful to drive, expensive to keep filled with gas and insured, and then we had to find and pay for parking whenever we went somewhere. At the same time we learned that where we live we can walk to a few grocery stores or the library and catch a bus to the subway within 3-5 minutes during the day. So we called an NPR station just over the border and offered them our car. (The year/model of car as-sold in the US could not be sold in Canada so we were unable to sell it here anyway). They sent a tow truck and then we were car free.


But, many wonder, what’s it like to live without a car? How do you get groceries?

We do it in a couple of ways. The most common way is to take a “granny car” like this across the street to the grocery store. It will hold several day’s worth of groceries.


We use it like a shopping cart in the store, then when we check out we toss all of the groceries back in there and wheel it home. Easy peasy. We also use it for larger library trips and laundry as well (we live on a high floor and the laundry room is near the ground).  It takes about 10 minutes each way to get to/from the grocery store so for us it’s about as good as having a car. In fact, when I lived in Vermont as a kid it would take 30 minutes each way to get to the grocery store.

In between big trips we might grab a few things here and there if we pass a grocery store in our travels. We often carry a backpack with room for a few things in addition to whatever bags we can carry. This makes it so we don’t have to do bigger trips quite as often as we might otherwise need to.

Today I used another method that I often use. I took my bike.  We have a few grocery stores to choose from here. The closest has basic North American groceries and a few specialty items. Prices are really good and it’s a 10 minute walk – so close that taking a bike is more trouble than it’s worth.

The next closest is a great option – about a 15-20 minute walk – across a windy bridge that seems 100 miles long on a cold day. They’ve got a solid mix of North American, South Asian and Chinese / Southeast Asian foods including fruits and vegetables. If you have spicy Korean Ramen, frozen parathas, fish sauce, kulfi, corn tortillas, and Thai basil all on your list, you can knock them all out in one trip here.

About the same distance in the other direction is Iqbal Foods – they’ve got the best selection of South Asian foods in the city – and they should – they’re the biggest Asian grocery store in Ontario. They have absolutely everything including lots of vegetables you can’t get anywhere else and convenience foods like pre-made dosa batter or East African-style Gajar Achar.

These last two require a longer walk or a bike ride on a more stressful road. I would describe it as “Safe but not comfortable” – drivers are impatient and there is lots of traffic. Usually I walk to them.

Today, though, I wanted to take a nice, quiet bike ride. And so I went to a pricier grocery store a bit further than the others. It is too far to walk but only a 10 minute bike ride or so. This takes a little preparation. First I get my panniers to carry my groceries:


Then I head down to the bike room for our building. The room requires special access so only people with bikes have access to the room.


One of my two bikes is locked up down here. I have a nicer bike for touring that is upstairs in our apartment – partly because I don’t want to leave it unattended in the bike room but also because I use it for indoor cycling at this time of year. (I have two rear tires for it – one for being on the trainer, another for the road)


The panniers hook on to the rear rack and can hold quite a lot. I’ve carried as much as 70 lbs this way (though that’s a little excessive and probably more than the rack is rated for – but for short distances I don’t mind)20180410_124545.jpg

I head out in to the day. It was supposed to be 4 Degrees centigrade (39 F) which sounded warm. It wasn’t bad with a hat, sweater, mittens, and a windbreaker.

The ride goes through an industrial area. It isn’t pretty but there are a lot fewer cars so it’s pretty much stress free.20180410_125436.jpg20180410_125440.jpg

Once I get there I grab a cart and go shopping. Today I was a bit of a space cadet – I had to go back and forth throughout the store, going to pick up things I forgot when I passed them the first time – even though I had a list. After about 30 minutes I was checked out.

Instead of using bags, I put all of the groceries in my panniers. I keep a couple of bungee cords in one just in case I need to pick up something bigger like a multi-pack of paper towels or a larger bag of cat food. I didn’t need to today, though.20180410_134232.jpg

Ironically part of why I wanted to go out today was because it was so much warmer than it has been. I know, my readers and friends in India who are currently dealing with 35 – 45 Centigrade temperatures are laughing at me for saying that four degrees is “warm” but after so long of subzero temperatures this does feel better.

But as I stepped out of the store there I stepped in to a Christmas card – snow was falling. It wasn’t falling hard – but it did make me laugh that this was to be my ride celebrating the beginning of warm weather for us.


For those curious who haven’t dealt with snow and cold – dressed as I was, I was warm and there wasn’t enough snow to make anything slippery. There was no ice either so it was just pretty to look at. I have been known to ride in actual slippery snow though I’m less of a fan of riding when it’s slippery out. More than that, I really don’t like being outside for long in the cold – particularly riding so when it’s below zero. It can be done but it’s not comfortable.

The ride home was equally calm and quiet. A bit of snow fell and the wind had picked up but not enough to be uncomfortable. I took the panniers off the bike, locked the bike back up on its rack and put the groceries in the elevator.


2 thoughts on “Grocery Shopping Without a Car

  1. As someone who does not own a vehicle, not having a car to forces you to plan when getting groceries or larger items. But it is a choice and cars are expensive. Between the cost of gas, insurance and maintenance I chose not to own one so I could live comfortably and not share a place with a roommate. It also forces me to be more active and I need that so I walk more places. I find alot of my friends who own vehicles can be very lazy and don’t want to walk what I consider short distances, it drives me crazy as they are so reliant on being able to park in front of a store or house and walk the minimal.

    1. I notice that as well – though I will say that when transit is convenient and easy I also walk less than I need to – especially when I have a pass that gives me unlimited rides for one price. Then I might even take a bus a couple of stops.

      But you’re right about planning. I try to keep a running list in my phone (or at least my mind) of what we might need on any given day. If I happen to pass a store that has what we need I’ll pick it up. Otherwise you’re right, you have to plan. More than once I’ve poorly planned shopping for a meal and had to make not just one but two trips out to the store to get missing ingredients. Not fun.

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