Tag Archives: car-free

A Fancy Weekend in Victoria

To celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary, we decided to spend a fancy weekend in Victoria.


We did the whole trip without a car. It’s pretty easy to take public transit to the ferry terminals, and once we were in Victoria almost everything was walking distance from our hotel.

Cherry Blossoms

We were lucky to have a beautiful spring weekend, with only a sprinkle of rain and the cherry blossoms were in bloom.

The Empress

We stayed at the luxurious Empress hotel, originally constructed by Canadian Pacific in 1908. We were a little out of place arriving by public transit with backpacks on, while the other guests used the valet service for their Ferraris and Teslas.

Fancy Tea at the Empress

We might not have arrived in a sports car, but we brought fancy clothes so we could enjoy afternoon tea in the Lobby Lounge.
They had no problems preparing an all-vegan tea for us (we gave them notice when we reserved our seating), with scones, jam, crustless sandwiches, chocolates, and passion fruit custard.

Tea Timer

Astrid even enjoyed it. She managed to stay amused for over an hour by playing with the tea timer, reading the tea options, drinking tea with a spoon, stealing berries off the desserts, running around our seating area, and visiting the powder room.

Arby and Astrid

Most of our time in Victoria was spent catching up with friends. Astrid had successful playdates with Arby, Lyla, and Cleo. Our friends Katie and ilan even took Astrid home for lunch so Emily and I could go out for a nice lunch by ourselves.

Play Date

We hit up all of our favourite vegan/vegetarian restaurants in Victoria: Be Love, Rebar, and Very Good Butchers.


It was a really successful weekend mostly because Astrid slept well. She had no problems sleeping in a double bed on her own in the hotel. And she napped on the go – sleeping on bus and ferry rides while we travelled, and in her stroller on Saturday while we walked around Victoria.


Amusingly, we happened to be in Victoria while the Capital City Comic Con was going on at the convention centre connected to our hotel, so there was always someone in a costume walking by.


More pictures here.

Data Nerd: Transportation Expenses Updated

My 2012 post analyzing my transportation expenses is making the rounds on twitter again, so I thought I’d update the charts.
Transportation Expenses by Year Chart

Although the cost of driving in Canada has steadily risen, my transportation costs are flat. I spend $1200 a year split between car rentals, car sharing, cycling, and public transit.
Transportation Expenses by Year Pie

Long Weekend in Seattle by Train

Seattle King Street Station
I love the Amtrak Cascades line. It’s hands down the best way to travel from Vancouver to Seattle. You have beautiful views of the ocean, no border waits (you pre-clear customs in Vancouver), the seats are roomy, and there’s free wifi and power outlets.

Emily and I took the train down to visit friends in Seattle, try some vegetarian restaurants, and do some shopping. It was great seeing some of the Waterloo crew and hearing about the latest gossip at Microsoft, Amazon, and the Seattle startup world.

Seattle Freeway Broadway Separated Bike Lane Seattle Big Wheel
I like Seattle but it’s a lot harder to get around without a car. We used a combination of public transit, taxis, and walking and I was amazed by how bad traffic was all weekend long. The good news is there are new light rail lines and cycle tracks under construction.

Marina and Hotel Bellwether Yellow Leaves
On the way back to Vancouver, we spent a day in Bellingham. I was impressed to find the city is more then the malls along the interstate. There are two cute historic downtowns (Fairhaven and Bellingham) with some interesting shops, good restaurants, fancy hotels, and spas. We stayed at Hotel Bellwether on Sunday night, walked around during the day, spent the afternoon The Chrysalis Spa, and had dinner at ‎Keenan’s at the Pier.

Salt Spring Island By Bike

Loading Bikes onto the Ferry
For the September long weekend, Emily and I decided to have car-free adventure on Salt Spring Island, using our bikes and public transport to get around. It was cheaper not having a car and a lot less stressful not having to worry about ferry reservations but it was hard work biking up all those damn hills.

We stayed at the bike-friendly Duck Creek Farm. We were planning on tenting, but we couldn’t resist the chance to stay in their cozy bus. We were able to travel lighter without camping gear and we stayed completely dry.
Bus by Day
Duck Creek Farm Cozy Bus Lounging in the Bus Bus by Night Magnetic Poetry
The bus was a unique experience. It took a bit of detective work to figure out where to “check in”. Once we finally found the owner Sue, she commented: “I should really give better directions, but I figure if people were meant to be here they’ll find their way”. Sue is a true hippy and a lovely lady. The bus didn’t look like much from the outside, but the inside was really comfortable – with a double bed, a well-stocked kitchen and gas stove, hot water for washing up, electricity, and mood lighting.

Biking Long Harbour Road Bike Route Salt Spring Bike Lane Separated Gravel Path
Biking around Salt Spring Island was ok. The hills can be a challenge, especially when you’re on heavy city bikes loaded with gear, but it’s manageable. The infrastructure on Salt Spring Island is really varied and inconsistent. There’s a few sections with bike lanes painted on the shoulder or separated gravel paths, but they never last for long. Most of the time you’re sharing the road with fast moving traffic. We logged over 50 km biking riding from Duck Creek to Ganges, out to Beddis Beach, and to the ferry terminal.

Salt Spring Island Market Fruitsicles   The Gathering Place
Ganges is a great little town. The Saturday market has lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, prepared food, and local crafts. The whole town is compact and walkable, with lots of great restaurants and stores along the waterfront. We had good dinner at the Tree House Cafe. We wanted to try out The Gathering Place (a cool looking tapas place with a huge selection of board games) and Rawsome Living Foods, but both had really limited hours and were closed whenever we wanted to eat.

Waiting at Bridgeport Bikes on the Bus Ferry Bike Loading Zone
The hardest part of the trip was probably getting to/from the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. It’s easy to take your bikes on the Canada Line to Bridgeport, but from there you’re competing with a lot of other cyclists for 2 bike spots on each infrequent 620 bus to Tsawwassen. We were lucky on the way down to have a bus driver allow us to carry our bikes onto the bus, as the front rack was already full. On the way back we had to wait an hour before we got our bikes onto the third bus.
Continue reading Salt Spring Island By Bike

Living Car-Free Saves Me $7000 per Year

Modo Car with a Bike Rack
When I moved to Vancouver six years ago, I made two crucial decisions that have saved me thousands of dollars – I bought a bike and joined the car co-op.

Being a data nerd, I’ve kept detailed records of all my spending for the past decade (first in a spreadsheet, then in Quicken, and now in mint.com). I went back through my records to see how much I’ve spent on transportation since moving to Vancouver. In six years, I’ve spent nearly nearly $8000 getting around by bike, public transit, taxi, car sharing, and car rentals. That’s less than what most people spend on their car in 1 year.

Note: Updated charts with 2013 data are available here

According to CAA, the annual cost of owning a car (driven for 12,000 km per year) ranges from $7,723.72 for a Civic to $10,465.12 for an Equinox. When you don’t drive much, 80% of the cost of car ownership is fixed costs (insurance, license and registration, loan payments, and depreciation). Only 20% is proportional to the distance driven (gas and maintenance). CAA doesn’t include the cost of parking, which can be quite expensive in Vancouver. In my building, it costs $100/month for a parking spot.
Transportation Expenses by Year Pie
My expenses have averaged $1257 per year since I moved to Vancouver, almost equally split between car rentals, car sharing, cycling, and public transit (including taxis).

Transportation Expenses by Year Chart
Cycling is my main form of transportation, and most years it costs less than $200 to service my bike (new parts and maintenance). I purchased a bike in 2006 and 2009, spending an extra $500 (my commuter bike isn’t that expensive).

Bike LineupNormally, I don’t use the bus that often (it’s faster to bike), but in 2008 and 2009 I was working in West Vancouver and commuted a lot by bus (2 zones), which explains the higher public transit costs those years. Otherwise, I spend less than $200 per year on bus tickets and cab rides.

Living in Vancouver, the times I need a vehicle are rare. When I’m buying furniture or playing in the North Shore mountains, I often use a car sharing vehicle from Modo. In the past year, I’ve started using car2go for short trips when public transit and biking are inconvenient. For traveling around BC, I often rent a vehicle from Enterprise. car2go VancouverThe cost of each car trip is high (a car rental for a long weekend is between $100-$200, plus gas), but I only rent a car once or twice a year. My car sharing trips with Modo average $30 (including gas). Even though I only drive a few times a year, the cost of renting a vehicles and using car sharing accounts for more than 50% of my “car-free” transportation budget. But I appreciate the flexibility I have to get a car when I need one, and it is still way cheaper than owning a dedicated vehicle.

Now, it can be argued that living close to downtown Vancouver, where a car-free lifestyle is easy, is costing me more for rent. Which is true, but it’s an easy tradeoff to make for a healthy lifestyle. I’m willing to spend my transportation savings on more expensive rent so that I can replace hours stuck in my car with minutes on a bike and pleasant walks to the grocery store any day.

Weekend Trip to Portland by Train

I love Portland – the food, the trains, the bicycles, and the general weirdness of everything. It’s an amazing city. Emily and I spent the September long weekend soaking up the city, our second weekend getaway to Portland.

The Train
Relaxing on the Train Amtrak Cascades - Check out the View
We took the Amtrak Cascades train from Vancouver to Portland. I don’t think there’s a better way to travel. There’s plenty of leg-room, you can get up and walk around, there’s free WiFi and electrical plugs, and there’s an excellent view of Puget Sound. Sure, it’s a few hours longer than driving or flying, but there aren’t any border hassles and it’s affordably priced. And with Amtrak’s Rewards program we got 2 one-way tickets for free.

The Bikes
Pedal Bike Tours Duct Tape Wallets - New and Old
We we disappointed that weren’t able to take our bikes on the train this time. Amtrak does take bikes for $5, but each train only has room for 6 and all the spaces were full when we booked our tickets. Bummer, but we were able to rent bikes and go on a guided tour of wine country. It was the first time we’ve explored Oregon outside of Portland.

The Wineries
Oregon Wine Country
Touring Wine Country By Bike Dundee Oregon - Wine Country Erath Winery
Pedal Bike Tours offers a five-hour guided tour of Oregon’s wine region. Five hours seems like a lot, but 2 hours were spent in a van, 2 hours were spent at wineries, and only an hour was spent on the bike. Which was good, because it was over 30 degrees. We didn’t actually visit any wineries by bike. Instead, we did a 10-mile loop through farm roads in Dundee Hills, and then visited the Erath and Four Graces wineries by van. Oregon has excellent Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wine, and we picked up 4 bottles to bring home.

The Streetcar
Go By Streetcar Streetcar Meet Bike
Without bikes to get around town, we were reliant on public transit. In the core, the trains (light rail and streetcar) are free and convenient. It was a bit frustrating waiting for buses when we were trying to get to the east side and the buses were running on Sunday service frequencies, but for the most part we had no problem getting around. A few times we gave up on the bus or streetcar and just walked, and I was surprised how quickly we got to where we were going. Portland has some of the smallest blocks in North America (just 200′ x 200′), so distances on maps are actually smaller than they seem.

The Food
Live Sampler at Blossoming Lotus Voodoo Doughnut Lineup
A highlight of any trip to Portland is the food. The street food culture is renowned, but we only ate at one food cart, a yummy tamale stand. Apparently most food carts cater to the business crowd because they close on the weekend. We also skipped the uber trendy Voodoo Doughnut, which had a 50 person lineup every time we walked by. We did however discover some new restaurants that had amazing vegetarian food:
Blossoming Lotus – with great raw food options
Hungry Tiger Too – served up the best tofu scramble I’ve ever eaten
Los Gorditos – vegan tacos that you can eat on the giant patio of the neighboring Apex bar.

The Beer
New Belgium Beer and Cider Apex Bar
Portland has an awesome brewpub culture. We were pleasantly surprised when we found ourselves at the Apex bar. We went for the Mexican food at Los Gorditos, and they served it to us at the patio of the bar next door. It looks like they converted a strip mall parking lot into a giant patio (I wish Vancouver would do that more), and you could eat food from the neighboring restaurants. I really liked Apex – it had a funky vibe, 50 beers on tap (most under $5), a room full of pinball machines, and a massive patio with parking for dozens of bikes.

The Culture
Art in the Pearl Nikki McClure Exhibition
We checked out the Nikki McClure exhibit at an art gallery and wandered through the overwhelming number of vendors displaying their wares at the Art in the Pearl festival. We also stumbled upon two spontaneous concerts (not just busking, but 7 piece bands performing and people dancing) on downtown street corners. But the real cultural treat was just watching Portlanders in their natural habitat. After watching most of the Portlandia skits, I have a love for Portland stereotypes. I definitely noticed a lot of tattoos and hipsters. And when we were waiting for our table at the raw food restaurant, there was a punk beside me who had a Vegan patch on his jacket and he was talking about how he might start looking for a job next weekend. Oh Portland, I love you.

Keep Portland Weird

Blueberries By Bike

Yesterday Emily and I went blueberry picking in Richmond. We didn’t think it was possible to go berry picking without a car, but it was actually really easy. We took the Canada Line to Brighouse Station and then biked 15 minutes (mostly along bike lanes and paths) to a blueberry farm on No. 5 Road.

I was impressed with the bike facilities in Richmond. The city is pancake flat, lacking the hills of Vancouver. Most of Westminster Highway had a bike lane on it, and when we turned on to Shell Road it was a car-free recreational trail. A map of our route is below. Note: Google Maps originally wanted to send us down No. 5 Road instead of the Shell Road Trail. Luckily with Street View we were able to find a better route.

The No. 5 Blueberry Farm had very tasty organic blueberries. It only took us 1 hour to pick 6.5 pounds, and eat our fill. They charge $3 per picker, plus $2 per pound.

There are a few other u-pick farms in Richmond that are easily accessible by Canada Line and biking. We’ll have to make this a regular Sunday outing.

Blueberry Bush Organic Blueberries Farm No 5 Shell Road Trail Westminster Highway Bike Lane