Fighting the High Cost of Fuel — with My Feet!

As gas prices soar across the United States, I decided to spend a month walking instead of driving whenever possible.

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Last month, I walked more than 200 miles. I walked to the gym, I walked to the market, I walked to the library, and I walked to business meetings. When I couldn’t walk, I biked. Why did I spend so much time on my feet? Because of the high price of gas.

After paying $4.19 per gallon to fill my Mini Cooper with premium fuel in early May, I decided it was time to look for alternatives. I’d been reading Jacob Lund Fisker’s Early Retirement Extreme [my review], and was fascinated by a section where he compares the costs — in time and money — of different modes of transportation. His point was that often it makes more sense to walk or bike than to drive.
[time-link title=”(Read about the high gas prices all across the country)” url=,8599,2072829,00.html]

Note: Want to find the lowest gas prices in your neck of the woods? Check out GasBuddy, the online fuel-price comparison tool.

I crunched the numbers for my own life, and found that nearly 90% of my driving is to the following places:

  • The gym, which is 8.5 miles (20 minutes) from my house. It takes 40 minutes to get there via a 2.5-mile pedestrian route. I can bike it in 40 minutes.
  • The nearest town, which is 3 miles (10 minutes) from my house. It takes 45 minutes to make this walk or 15 minutes to bike it.
  • The grocery store, which is 1 mile (5 minutes) from my house. Walking takes me 15 minutes; biking takes me five.
  • Downtown Portland, which is 10 miles (20 minutes) from my house. Walking takes an eternity (well, three hours, which is nearly the same thing) but biking takes just 45 minutes.

During the month of May, I decided to walk (or bike) to these places whenever possible. Because I work out first thing in the morning, that meant getting up 20 minutes earlier to go to the gym. (And it meant getting home at 8:20 instead of 8:00.) Working in my other destinations required a little more planning — and a little less goofing around during the day. (So long, Angry Birds!)
[time-link title=”(TIME’s Curious Capitalist blog argues that we should get used to $5 gas, not $3)” url=]

I was willing to make the sacrifice in time, though, because it turns out there are other benefits to walking besides the reduced bill at the gas pump.

  • Walking is a great form of exercise. Shocking, I know. So while it’s taking me a little longer to get to the places I go, that time isn’t wasted. It’s being invested in a healthier body.
  • Walking gives me a better feel for the natural world. One of the highlights of my morning is seeing the mated pair of mallard ducks who have made their home in a giant mud puddle a few streets over.
  • Walking is a great way to meet the neighbors.
  • It’s fun to read while walking. It takes a bit of concentration, but it’s very possible to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo while strolling on the lightly-trafficked sidewalks in my neighborhood.

My experiment wasn’t a complete success. Though I often bike into downtown Portland during the summer, Oregon‘s liquid sunshine made the trip unpalatable over the past few weeks. That’s okay. My aim wasn’t to abandon driving completely. I just wanted to see if I could cut my fuel costs. Turns out it was easy (and fun) to do. In fact, I plan to stick with this program — at least until the cold weather sets in this autumn.

Walking and biking aren’t for everyone. Some parts of the U.S. aren’t very bike friendly. (I’m fortunate to live in Portland, where bikes are part of the culture.) If you live in the country, walking to the grocery store isn’t an option. Plus, there are some places where it gets too hot — or too cold — to make walking or biking practical. Finally, there are some people, like my wife, who don’t want to walk a mile to get a gallon of milk, even if they can. That’s fine.

But I’ll bet some of you are like me: You’re willing to trade an hour or so a day to save money on gas, get a little exercise, and avoid the hassles of rush-hour traffic. If you’re one of these folks, I urge you to give your feet a chance.