The cruising lifestyle means getting creative with how to get around on land. But we’ve found it’s made for surprising adventures in meeting people and discovering sights.
So when your house is a floating one and you move it regularly, how do you get around to do all the various life things that are usually done by car? This is a common question when we talk to people about our cruising lifestyle (second only to ‘where does the dog go to the bathroom?’ but that’s a whole other future blog).
Without a doubt simple things we previously took for granted became harder when we no longer had a car, requiring a lot more planning and forethought. There is no quick run to the grocery store for a missing ingredient, or popping into Home Depot for that little something needed to finish a project. Appointments are an intricate puzzle of far-in-advance scheduling. Amazon Prime and its free delivery, for better or worse, replaces hours of shopping. Dave has become a master of sourcing All Things Boat, from engine parts to toilet seat hinges to specialty hardware. Marinas are very good about letting you ship stuff to them; the hard part is making sure it will be there before we are scheduled to leave. Menus are planned out several days in advance. Sometimes we choose stops and marinas with nearby grocery stores, veterinarians, marine supply stores, or other needed services.
In short, you get creative and it can make for an adventure. Here’s some of the ways we manage it, and some resulting experiences.
On Foot or By Scooter
For anything within a mile of the marina, we walk. This has the added benefit of exercise, but we also find cool stuff along the way. We’ve discovered so many parks, murals, historical markers, and quirky things as we strolled along and were able to enjoy our surroundings. Beyond a mile, we usually take the scooters. These have been great for sightseeing, exploring neighborhoods, getting haircuts, and just enjoying a scenic ride. A cool thing some friends introduced us to are little Bluetooth devices that attach to our helmets and allow us to chat while riding, pointing out things we pass by or giving each other directions without the confusion of unheard or misunderstood shouts. They have really enhanced our scootering because we can easily converse and share observations. They work so well that it may not be long before we’re wearing our bike helmets all the time just so we can carry on a conversation without a lot of what-was-thats and say-that-agains.
But as creative as one might be in finding alternatives, there is no escaping the eventual need for bigger wheels. First option is a marina courtesy car, for those few that have them. These typically have a two hour limit and are pretty much just for groceries or supplies. Usually older and quite well used, we’ve had a couple that were throwbacks to the beaters we drove in high school. The kind with the one window that won’t roll down, the engine light that’s always mysteriously on, or the broken air conditioning. Some are quite well known among Loopers, like the red Cadillac at one marina, or the former police car with the characteristic black and white paint job in another. We’ve even had a couple courtesy golf carts. But they get the job done, which is all that matters to cruisers.
When things get out of scooter range, our first option is to look for public transportation. Many tourism-dependent locales seem to have figured out that free circulator buses, running a continuous loop through downtowns and tourist attractions, help promote commerce and alleviate parking and traffic problems. In Kenosha WI, it even took the form of a vintage trolley. In bigger cities like Charleston we’ve been known to ride the whole loop without getting off in order to get a feel for the lay of the land and find the places we want to return later. Our driver Clarence in St. Petersburg FL kept up a continuous historical and places-of-interest dialogue the whole route, pausing only to open the door to greet someone he knew (which seemed to be pretty much every corner). When he found out we were from Minnesota, he even pitched his idea of opening up a Hyvee supermarket in St. Pete’s ‘in case we happened to be billionaires.’ The Florida Keys had a $1 bus that ran between Islamorada to Key West and you got a great view of all the smaller Keys in between.
Land Dinghies (aka rental cars) are an option in bigger towns. We decided early on to focus our sightseeing to local activities right around wherever the boat is and save rental cars for when we can cluster things like medical/dental appointments or when the boat is hauled out for maintenance. There’s usually plenty to see and do around a stop, to include just sitting with a cup of coffee and observing passerby. But when we do rent a car, it can be fun to drive all kinds of different vehicles. One time I was excited when they gave me a Prius, but it didn’t come with any instructions and it’s kind of a weird car. I sat at the Norfolk Airport for ten minutes trying to understand the controls in the dim light of the parking structure, feeling very stupid, and was about to swallow my pride and call my niece who has a Prius to ask how to get between Reverse and Drive when I finally figured it out. Then I started feeling like the car was judging me with its constant display of my mileage performance! It kept telling me how much better I could do if I managed my acceleration better, or went 5 mph slower, or or or…. I kept hoping Siri would come to my defense and beat up the Prius computer, but she just kept telling me she didn’t see Prius in my contacts.
Uber & Lyft
Then there’s Uber and Lyft, a great resource for cruisers if you’re in a big enough town that it’s available. I really like it for the people you get to meet as drivers. It’s such a cross section of the locals to chat with, as well as learn things about the area that aren’t in tour books. I’ve noted a willingness for many drivers to share their stories with a perfect stranger in the privacy of their own car when I’m sitting behind them and they aren’t looking right at me. There was the older gentleman from New England who picked us up in Georgia and told us about meeting his wife there and her fear of ‘Yankees’ from all she had heard about them in her isolated childhood, only to fall in love with Boston the first time he took her there, his story concluding just as we arrived at our destination with his comment that she had passed away within the year. Or the man in Virginia whose teen daughter was killed by a drunk driver days before her high school graduation a few years before. He talked of how his marriage had succumbed to their grief; driving was his small way of perhaps preventing someone else from getting behind the wheel drunk. There was the retired college professor who used it as his means of interacting with people now that he didn’t have the classroom, the woman paying for her son’s final semester in college proudly telling us about the job he had accepted in cybersecurity with the federal government, the young man who left his beloved NYC because his ex had taken his two young boys to North Carolina and he wanted to be part of their daily lives. Immigrants young and old, from all over the world, readily relating stories of their lives before coming here and why they left their countries with a simple inquiry, told with sadness, resignation, happiness, gratitude, or combinations of all.
Of course, there’s always The Quirky Ones. In Sarasota, our driver had what I think is in the Top 10 of Strange Reasons to Move Across the Country, telling us three times that he had to leave San Diego because it didn’t have good enough steak, and then kept missing his turns because he was busy giving us a run down on the best steakhouses in the city. A young woman in Norfolk picked me up from a dentist appointment and stomped on the gas pedal before I even had the door shut, announcing ‘my friend OD’d and died yesterday and I don’t want to talk about it but I need to drive today because the rent is due,’ then proceeded to drive like a maniac back to the marina while noshing on Burger King fries. Pretty sure we set a land speed record from Virginia Beach to Norfolk.
Sometimes drivers provide a bonus by acting as tour guides, with wonderful history and local knowledge they eagerly share: the best restaurants, farmers markets, ice cream shops, things to do, town traditions, where they grew up, or the business their uncle had on that corner during WWII. One guy in Panama City intentionally took us the long way through his favorite neighborhoods, pointing out where famous people had lived, telling us about his experience in 2018’s Hurricane Michael, and throwing in a bit of history as well.
One of my all-time favorites was the talkative older gentleman who picked us up at the Tampa airport a few years ago. As we cruised along the freeway through downtown, we saw one of the large freeway traffic marquees announcing a Silver Alert for a senior citizen who hadn’t arrived at their destination, giving a description of the car. Our driver cluck-clucked and began espousing about the senior population (of which he was definitely one) in his slow southern drawl.
“Yeah, these older folks get this Alzheimer’s and really shouldn’t be driving. They get out and don’t remember where they’re going and can’t find their way home and just keep driving for hours. Sometimes they find them a couple hundred miles away and they think they’re in their own neighborhood. My doctor told me I have Alzheimer’s, but I don’t believe it.”
Wait — did he just say…?!? Dave and I looked at each other in alarm in the back seat, and quickly took out our phones to make sure we were going the right direction.
One of my strangest Adventures in Land Transportation was in Marathon when I booked one of those airport shuttle services, a 12-passenger van that picks up passengers at their door for the three hour trip to Miami International. I was the fourth passenger and took the far back seat. We picked up another couple a little further down in Marathon, and the guy proceeded to conduct business loudly on his cell phone with constant incoming phone calls and a really annoying ringtone. At one point he tells someone, “Call anytime. I’m on a bus for the next couple hours so it’s a good time to talk.” To which I’m thinking, it’s not a good time for everyone else on the bus! Then in Islamorada a young man gets on and immediately starts watching a loud blow-em-up action movie on a tablet – without headphones – followed by a woman wearing way too much perfume in Key Largo and now we’ve got a full bus. So as we head into the bustle of Miami the businessman is shouting into his phone at someone he obviously wasn’t happy with, the movie is at maximum explosions with dialogue consisting of either screaming or grammatical variations of the F-bomb, and I’m trying to breathe without fragrance-induced bronchospasm. I’m thinking this is the Shuttle Ride From Hell when a woman in the front — and I kid you not – takes out a UKULELE and starts playing! I am in stunned disbelief when I catch the eyes of the young couple next to me and the three of us are now sitting in the back giggling at the sheer absurdity of the situation.
When we first started this big adventure, not having a vehicle was one of the pieces that seemed the most alien and constraining to the liveaboard cruising lifestyle. Now two years later, we find we really don’t miss it. No car payment, no insurance costs, no traffic hassles. Okay, so we traded up on the maintenance and fuel costs by a large factor. But we get regular exercise, we really ‘see’ what’s right around us, and we get to engage with people in new and revealing ways. We eat less and healthier because we always have to think about how we’re going to get it back to the boat. (My motto has become ‘if I can’t carry it, I shouldn’t be eating it.’)
Thus our adventures in Living Without a Car are helping us shape what Living After the Boat might look like. We are a quite a ways off from figuring out the Where and When, but our What and How criteria are a frequent dinnertime top. From a transportation point of view, major ‘must haves’ include:
- the ability to get to grocery store, coffee shop, library, and most weekly life maintenance under human power or public transportation
- one car maximum (yes, that makes it kind of a binary)
- abundant social, recreational, volunteer, and educational opportunities within a short radius so we can reduce our environmental footprint by not needing to venture far from home on most days (we will be saving those environmental impact chits for that occasional travel to exotic places)
So how do we get around when living on a boat and don’t have a car? The short answer is we do more with less, but gain more with less effort.