Sell everything and sail off into the sunset sounds like a great concept, but how do you actually do some of the everyday things? Like, say, grocery shopping?
Whether you’re full-time cruising and sold your car or are simply away from your home port for a short trip, provisioning without a car is a serious concern for many contemplating the cruising lifestyle.
It is a big change, but there are ways to manage it. Here are a number of different strategies depending on your situation.
Walking. If I don’t need too much, and the store is less than a mile or so away, I tend to walk. The downside is that I have to be careful of how much I buy and the weight of it. Cold things go in my soft “12-can” cooler (link below); everything else in a daypack or heavy-duty tote bag. A good daypack is easier to carry cans in, but “crushable” foods such as bread, chips and produce do better in a tote bag.
I also have a larger 24-can soft cooler, but it’s just too big when I’m carrying everything back from the store. Which brings us to another option . . . a collapsible wagon. More and more cruisers are using these instead of the traditional dock carts and they work much better over long distances and bumpy roads.
Key features to look at are overall frame strength, size of tires (larger ones are much better on bumpy roads and sidewalks, as well as grass, dirt and sand) and handle length if you’re tall. Depending on where you need to store it, the folded size may also be a consideration, although the tougher units tend to have larger frames and don’t fold as compactly as more lightly-built wagons.
Most are rated to carry 150 pounds, which is usually adequate (a case of beer or pop weighs a little under 20 pounds; canned goods are generally under a pound per can). In hot climates, you can put a cooler inside to carry meat and dairy products — I prefer a soft 24-can cooler for ease of storage, but I’ve seen people using hard coolers too. They’re not designed to carry kids or pets.
You can buy collapsible wagons at most home improvement, outdoors and big-box stores — or on Amazon, of course. As with most things, tougher units that better stand up to everyday use are more expensive — how tough a wagon you need depends a lot on how you anticipate using it.
Friends and a couple of readers have recommended two models:
- Mac Sports Wagon on Amazon — this is their less rugged version (and less expensive), it folds up to just 8″ thick. Wheels are made for hard surfaces, not sand. Good for occasional use — Mac is a good brand; we have some of their collapsible chairs that are going on 10 years old and haven’t broken whereas other brands have broken in just a few years.
- Mac Sports Heavy Duty Beach Wagon on Amazon — a more rugged version overall, with much larger tires (10″ diameter and 4-1/4″ wide), making it easier to pull on uneven surfaces or reasonably hard sand (soft sand is a problem for pretty much any size tires). Handle length is adjustable. Collapses to 10″ high.
When we were cruising in the Sea of Cortez, I would have loved one of these collapsible wagons instead of having to hand carry items when I couldn’t find a cab. Now, we use one of these wagons to transport lunches and other “daily stuff” at the Annapolis Boat Show.
Cabs. When you don’t have a car of your own, cabs (also Uber and Lyft) become a way of life. How often we used them depended on the distance, cost, and availability. Many times, we’d walk to the store (partly to save money, partly just as exercise) and then would take a cab back to the boat.
In Mexico, there were almost always cabs waiting outside the grocery stores. Here in the Florida Keys, you can call for one while you’re paying and they’ll usually arrive at the store about the time you walk out the door. When we were in El Salvador, we’d generally get with a few other cruisers and jointly do a full-day trip to San Salvador with one of our favorite cab drivers.
Buses. While I have provisioned by bus, I have to say that I generally found it hard if I was trying to get more than just a few things. If I packed things into a day pack, I’d have to remove the pack and find a place to set it down during the ride — not always easy on a crowded bus. If I just carried bags, I had to make sure that none rolled away when I set them on the floor. Taking a case of sodas or beer was almost impossible.
Delivery. Occasionally, you’ll find a store that will deliver to your marina or dinghy dock. Many in the BVIs do (read more about provisioning for a BVI charter here) and we found a couple in the Bahamas that did. Since COVID, many stores now do delivery via Instacart.
Rental car. A car of your own is about the ultimate in luxury as far as provisioning goes. Most of us aren’t going to rent one for the day just for provisioning, but if you have one for some other purpose it’s great to stop by the store before you have to return it.