Five Reasons Why Car-Free Travel Beats A Road Trip

take the train

Car-free travel is having a moment. If you haven’t yet discovered its allure, the time is ripe. Bopping around the Big Apple without a car is already standard fare, but why not make this your year to go totally car-free? While it’s just a humble step towards lightening our collective carbon footprint, individual lifestyle changes like it may be just the spark that ignites more comprehensive earth-conscious behavior.

Here are five reasons to consider an alternate mode of transportation for your next getaway.

Environmental Awareness

With its lower ecological impact, choosing public transportation is good for our planet. The icing on the cake is what’s good for Mother Earth is good fun for you. When you say hasta la vista to the car, getting to the destination is often as interesting as the destination itself. Once you’re out of the isolation zone of a personal vehicle, the shared journey of more globally responsible travel might just spice up your social life in a way that Tinder can’t. Smiling at that cute stranger across the Amtrak aisle doesn’t guarantee a love connection, but a non-virtual conversation is practically a sure thing.

Cultural Immersion

On your next trip, hop aboard the same means of transportation that the locals utilize and your experience will be effortlessly infused with authenticity—and far less predictable. Not long ago in Mexico, I got a glimpse of the country as I cruised around on their modern network of coaches. I caught a speedy bus to the colonial city of Puebla right at the Mexico City airport terminal. For the equivalent of a dozen bucks, I got a cushy seat aboard an air-conditioned coach, complete with Wi-Fi, complimentary snacks and movies. My two-hour journey was punctuated by conversations with gracious residents who insisted on sharing their insider tips (and homemade tamales) with me.


Even with gasoline prices on the downward spiral, you’ll still save a bundle using public transportation. Scores of U.S. cities including Baltimore, Salt Lake City and Savannah offer free downtown transportation routes. Do your research before leaving home and you’ll find that nearly every city offers a money-saving transit pass. The ever-frugal Swiss have pioneered a program that makes it practically impossible for tourists to refuse to use public transit. The Geneva Transport Card provides visitors with an absolutely free way to move around this lakeside jewel of a city. Visitors who stay at a hotel, hostel or campsite are given a pass that allows them unlimited use of buses, trams, trains and taxi-boats for the entire length of their stay.

Pedal Your Way to Good Health

If vacations are an excuse to put your usual fitness routine on hold, a bicycle can be a traveler’s best friend. Consider participating in a guided tour and you’ll pedal in the company of other cyclists with experienced guides at the helm. Reputable companies include Discovery Bicycle Tours and Backroads; they offer enticing itineraries with something to suit every level of cyclist.

If you’re still concerned about tracking your fitness during your trip, accurate power meter pedals will do the trick of measuring power output and collecting data on your rides.

Individualists shouldn’t hesitate to do-it-themselves. Even novice cyclists can get in the act, especially if they select a destination with designated bike lanes and paths. Renting a bike and helmet is easy, and many rental shops cheerfully deliver directly to your hotel. Book a room at a forward-thinking chain such as Kimpton and you’ll be met with free loaner bikes at all locations. If your fitness level leaves something to be desired, coastal Florida is a savvy choice. I recently pedaled my way around the flat, sun-drenched bike paths in Sarasota, Florida, with hardly a huff or puff.

Bike sharing systems have been in vogue in European cities for years and they’re fast gaining popularity in the U.S. Borrowing two wheels is a breeze, so give it a try on your next urban adventure. Just find a bike kiosk, swipe your handy credit card, hop on and you’ll be zipping around town in no time.  You’ll instantly assimilate into the city’s fabric as opposed to observing a still life behind the sterile glass partition of a tour bus. You’ll burn calories too, so permit yourself to double down on an extra edible indulgence.

Car-Free Alternatives Beyond Buses and Trains

No need to sacrifice for virtue; the lower ecological impact of going car-free is way more enjoyable than being stuck in traffic. Don’t stop at buses and trains. There’s an array of travel options with a pinch of pizazz.

You don’t need to have the stamina of Bill Bryson’s Appalachian Trail attempt or Cheryl Strayed’s Pacific Crest Trail saga to enjoy hiking. New Yorkers are blessed with an abundance of modest hikes within easy reach of the city limits. Ride Metro-North or the bus and use pedestrian-perfect towns like Cold Spring and New Paltz as your weekend base and you’ll have heaps of hikes to choose from.

A ferry ride’s combination of breeze and sea spray acts as an instant elixir.  It’s a snap to take mass transit and connect with ferries to hideaways like Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

A Segway is an amusing way to play tourist. It’s an individual two-wheeled, battery-powered electric vehicle. You stand on the sturdy platform and control the Segway by shifting your weight, no special skill required. They maneuver particularly well on paved surfaces making them perfect for city sightseeing.

Consider sailing on a Maine Windjammer. These exhilarating cruises explore Maine’s rugged coastline by day, before dropping anchor in a snug harbor each evening, never losing the primary focus of respecting the ocean. Meandering in the majestic Atlantic does wonders to inspire and challenge individuals to seriously ponder responsible stewardship of our waterways.

With all these options, it’s time to give car-free travel a try.  It’s a win-win: for the traveler and the planet.

Photo: Vincent Lock