In the spirit of the season (and in the spirit of recycling–you know how we bus chicks do), some of my bus-friendly shopping tips, circa 2006:
Tip 1: Buy less. The simplest and most effective way to avoid the hassle of shopping without a car is to stop shopping so doggone much. Your decision to try life as a bus chick means you’re probably interested in conserving — your money, the world’s resources, or both — and spending less time at the mall will surely help you accomplish this.
Tip 2: Use a different kind of highway. If you don’t need a particular item immediately, consider ordering it online. If it’s a gift that has to be shipped, you save two trips: the first, to the store to buy the gift, and the second to the post office to mail it. In cases where you want to see an item before you buy it (or you don’t want to pay shipping costs), you can still use the Internet to research products and prices. That way, when you’re ready to buy, you’ll only have to make one stop.
Tip 3: Concentrate! The bus-based life is not well-suited to the “running around” that has become the norm in our consumer-oriented, car-centric culture. (And who says that’s a bad thing?) Shop in places that have a wide variety of stores concentrated in a small area, so you can take care of several purchases each time you make a trip. I tend to shop downtown, mostly because it’s the concentrated shopping area that is most easily accessible to me. And speaking of downtown…
Tip 4: Shop on your way. The next time you’re in the center of our fair city waiting for a transfer, try using that time to take care of business. When I’m downtown and in need of a particular item, I decide how much time I’ll need, check the schedule of the bus I’m waiting to catch, and then head to the nearest store that has what I need. If I’m not in the market for anything in particular but the wait between buses is especially long, I’ll use the down time “pre-shop” for stuff (greeting cards, vacuum-cleaner bags, printer cartridges — whatever I’m closest to) that I know I’ll need in the future.
Tip 5: Be Flexible. Most of the items people regularly shop for can be easily reached and carried home on the bus. (Note: If it’s big enough to take up a seat of its own, consider traveling during off-peak times.) For those times when you want to purchase an item that is outside the bus’s coverage area or that exceeds your carrying capacity (and the limits of your fellow riders’ patience), rent a Flexcar [er, Zipcar–doesn’t quite go as well with the heading, eh?]. For all you Craig’s Listers and garage salers: They even have pickup trucks.
I’m not that into shopping (OK, I hate it), so this is hardly expert advice, and–given that I try to think about this issue as little as possible–I haven’t come up with many new tips in the last two years. But, here are a few updates:
• If you’re fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood with a variety of shops within walking distance, take advantage of them.
• Follow the advice of the waste-free holiday folks and buy experiences (tickets to concerts, plays, etc.) as gifts; they’re easy to carry home.
• When in doubt, buy the smaller one.