a dark and stormy winter without a car

Rough day in Douglas

Douglas Bay, Isle of Man Photo Credit: Jim Weir

Winter at 54.5 degrees north of the equator means some short days and long nights. The longest day this summer was 17 hours and the shortest this winter will be 7 hours and 20 minutes. Dramatic windy and wet storms have rolled in several times this fall (see photo above) and I was caught out in a light shower of hail the other week.

We are feeling a strong urge to hibernate.

We are also feeling the downside to not having a car.

The truth is that while Douglas, Isle of Man is quite walkable it is not as convenient as our former neighbourhood in downtown Vancouver. It’s a good 25 minute walk each way into town from our flat on the Promenade. The closest indoor play area is a 20 minute walk away. Even most of our play date friends are a good 20-30 minutes away. We love our ocean view and the proximity to Chris’ work (a 12 minute walk) but we pay for it with some distance from friends and amenities.

Obviously it would be more convenient to get a car for the winter.

But we’re holding out. Chris thinks I will be the deciding factor. He figures he will still walk to work most of the winter and grab a cab on exceptionally wet and windy days. I’m the one out and about during the day and if it gets to be too much, if the rain cover on our stroller, my knee high wellies and my Mac rain jacket aren’t enough cover to get us out in bad weather, we might get a car.

But I hope not.

The beach is across the street for afternoon fresh air and exploring. Henry gets out and plays with other children at least 3-5 times a week. I connect with adults during the day at least 2-3 times in the week with more outings/visits on the weekend. I know that we’re happiest with a balance of social engagements, one or two drop in classes and activities a week and quiet time at home. The question is if we will start skipping those outside the home activities because the weather is just too daunting.

I’m also trying to use the bus more. There is a stop just across the street and for a pound we can be in town in under ten minutes (and stay mostly dry).

The real cost of not having a car.

We’ve actually made no effort to cut corners or put limits on transportation spending here. If it’s made sense to get a cab we have. If we want to take a bus to Peel (very cute town a thirty minute drive away) we do it. My mom just visited for a week and we paid for her taxi to and from the airport. This is not an exercise in deprivation but rather a lifestyle choice. We like all the perks of not having a car. And 95% of the time we walk. It’s our preferred mode of transportation.

Here’s what we have spent on transportation since arriving in the Isle of Man five months ago. This doesn’t include bus fare to the airport for our family trip to Dublin or my trip to Toronto (we take that $ out of our vacation/travel spending account).

Total: £380 ($609 USD or CDN)

Monthly Average:  £76 ($121 USD or CDN)

Included in that total is £100 GBP for train passes (which were actually a gift from my MIL) and £40 for horse tram passes. The rest was spent on buses, cabs and a few train trips before we got our season passes. Not included is the £3-£5 a week we spend on grocery delivery. We could include that but… I think I would get grocery delivery even if we did have a car. Everyone else I know on the island that uses grocery delivery (mostly expats that rave about it) has a car but like the ease and convenience of online grocery shopping and delivery.

What would a car cost us? I’m not sure (which means I don’t want to do a lot of math right now). What I do know is that gas here is £1.45/litre which for US readers would be $8.76/gallon (quick check says the US average is around $3.74/gallon) and for Canadian readers it would be $2.36/litre (quick check shows a big range in gas prices in Canada but I saw an average of $1.24/litre).

Those fuel numbers alone make me think we are doing just fine with our bus, cab and train costs.

As with most of our lifestyle changes I am loathe to say this is forever. It’s not. It’s for now and it works and when it doesn’t work for us anymore we will come up with a new plan.

Could the new plan involve a bike? Maybe.

Car-free isn’t for everyone but car-lite could be.

I connected with Stacy from A Simple Six a few weeks ago. I was immediately fascinated by their journey to reduce their vehicle use. This is a family of six with four children ranging in age from 2 to 9. In the spring of 2011 they decided to go car-lite and sell their car, keep the family van, and invest in a fleet of bikes. They bike as a family to school and haul groceries home with a trailer. They drive their van about 20 miles a week.

This is doable. For a lot of people.

It’s not easy, it’s taken a lot of strategy and trial and error, but they are making it work and, most importantly, enjoying it. As a family they have created a schedule that allows the kids to still have play dates and take classes. Stacy even takes her kids to dentist appointments (on Halloween no less!) by bike.

If you’re considering giving up your second car or only car head over and have a read at A Simple Six. They even detail cycled, bus and driving mileage for the week on their blog. Inspiring stuff.

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  • We may be car-free this winter, in about the same latitude (eastern Canada) but not by choice. It may be a financial necessity. We, however, are rural, with no public transportation and the nearest grocery, doctor’s office and feed store are miles away. Liek the Amish, we will have to hire ad river, but our transportation cists would drop t a quarter of what they are now.

  • Oh Rachel – Winter in the UK!!!!! I’m feeling it for you!!
    I walked the kids to school today (as we do every day) – it’s a mile and it was raining. First born moaned, second born didn’t as was being pushed in a stroller – he’s just a little too small to walk at any speed for a mile. We do bike it and scooter but the rain put us off today. I’ve even looked at ‘trundle trucks’ but will use a sledge in the snow. Anyhow… this year my car has been used less and less, we are walking more generally. We are car-lite but not car-free, our location doesn’t allow. I’ve changed many commitments so that more is within walking distance, but public transport is pretty rubbish over here. If you fancy coming out of hibernation we are up for some guests over the winter (if Chris has any hols). We’re more protected from the elements being in the middle of the country.
    ps – I love the photo of Douglas, I’ll show it the FIL :)

  • When I was a kid growing up in a village of 3000 people, we walked or biked everywhere. School and stores could be reached in 10 minutes, train ride to most relatives would be 30-60 minutes. I want my son to be able to walk more; in our back-home visit he was exhausted (excited too) because we have taken public transit and walked a lot.
    In my small town buses only go every 30 minutes and with home, daycare and my work in 3 different directions ( would be about 7 km one way), it is not worth it right now. The daycare would be closed by the time I get there walking or with a bike. In the summer we took some walks and have gone to playgrounds in other neighborhouds with his trike.
    I have reduced my shopping to once a week and combine errands when I have to go somewhere. When I was on mat leave, we had one car and I would walk or take the stroller on the bus.. Now Hubby works in another city, we could not do without two cars.

  • Grocery delivery – now that would be heavenly. We live in a suburb of Detroit, MI. We have to rely on cars for EVERYTHING…there is not even much of a public transit system to take advantage of. And to be honest, I totally envy your car-free life. This coming from a girl employed by a major US automotive manufacturer no less.

    • It’s a pretty nice option here. There is a few but I find it easy to meal plan online and do less impulse shopping. Not sure it is the best value though. I think if I spent an afternoon going to a few different stores I could get betters deals. But that’s kind of moot point because we don’t have a car.

  • Have just discovered your blog, and enjoyed your very thoughtful piece about being car-lite/car-free.
    I live in rural Scotland, a 30 mile round trip from the shops, but with an pretty good bus service, until early evening. We have a fish van with beautiful produce once a week -fresh anchovies, crab and lobster, and when I asked for smoked fish I was asked ‘Peat smoked or oak smoked?’ You could have knocked me down with a feather!

    The whole question of minimalism is one of balance I think – I try to live a simpler life, ‘but not too simple!’

    Hope you have a mild and gentle winter..

  • I feel for you Rachel. Getting into the warm car from the cold/wet/stormy weather is tempting.

    Also, well done on the book!

  • We are car lite at the moment with one car. My boyfriend needs his car to go to work. Public transportation would take him 2,5 hours just one way! I just use my bike or public transportation if it rains to get to university and work (about 8-10km one way, so that’s doable). The car will need to be replaced in the next one to two years so we are saving up the cash to do so. Owning a car suddenly becomes very expensive when you need to save cash needed to buy a good used car! My boyfriend likes his job and we don’t want to move to the area of his job, so going car free isn’t an option for us right now.

    Great picture of IOM by the way!

  • As much as I would like to downsize or as you call it “go car-light” it’s simply not an option for us. We live in an area that assumes people will have a car and are willing to travel fifteen to thirty minutes to get what they need. My husband works and we attend church in the next town over; a seventeen minute drive away. We’ve talked about reducing down to one car, but the nearest hospital is twelve minutes away by car which makes my husband nervous (we’ve had our fair share of medical emergencies.) I do envy your ability to walk everywhere; I miss fresh air and exercise in the winter!

  • Sounds doable to me! At first, it sounded iffy, but then you said you had a bus stop 10 minutes away, which I think makes a lot of difference.

  • Dear MinimalistMom,

    I am a loyal and dedicated follower. I was inspired by Bank Transfer Day to start a facebook event for Buy Nothing Christmas. Buy Nothing Christmas wasn’t my idea, but I really want to promote giving the gift of love and charity this season, instead of consumer debt.

    Please direct people to join the Facebook group Buy Nothing Christmas

    There are also website that people can go to:
    Buy Nothing Christmas http://www.buynothingchristmas.org/
    Buy Nothing Day http://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/bnd

    Have a Consumer-Free Holiday Season : )


  • This is my first time commenting, but I’ve been following your blog for a couple of weeks. You are so inspiring! It is so hard to find a family take on minimalism. I am far from a true minimalist but I love the principle of it and am slowly adapting it. My husband and I sold our car at the beginning of the summer and had every intention of buying a new one but because we are within walking distance to everything we need, and there is a bus system we can use if needed, we haven’t yet. Reading this makes me want to see if we could make it through the winter without buying a car.

  • The only time I find it not to have a car in Ottawa is the winter. Without our awesome strollers, have had both mec and Chariots, that have covers it would have been hard to ger out with a baby and toddler. Although I am finding that with the kids getting older a car would be useful to get us to and from activities.

    • Are you a one car or no car family? I think we will reconsider our car-less state once Henry is in activities. I don’t want to have to say no to things (swimming, soccer) because we’re too stubborn to get a car.

  • Last winter we sold our second vehicle in anticipation of selling our house and traveling. Unfortunately our house has not sold yet and we just bought a second vehicle again.

    It was easy enough in the summer (southern BC) as we could walk to town and the beach. We really thought about our outings and tried to do as much as we could if we were driving into town. But honestly I just did not want to spend the winter without having a car.

    We homeschool our boys and with no car during the days we could not go to any homeschool meet ups and activities. We are a half hour walk to town and with winter weather that can be unpleasant. So we bought a cheap car and I am much happier now that we can get out to do more and have that social contact. It is unfortunate that our public transit is virtually non-existent here.

    I would love to be a car free family or a one car family, but I gotta tell you its too hard to do in our area!

  • Hi Rachel,
    Just catching up on your posts, and really appreciated/related to this one.

    It’s been rainy weather here the past month, and we too are feeling it, not having a car. The kids and I have had to wear all our rain gear, throw all their backpacks and instruments into the chariot attached to my bike to keep them dry. At first, I expected the kids to hate biking in the rain, by ironically, they really love biking over the huge rain puddles on the trail. It’s been raining so much that the river is overflowing onto the sidewalk/bike path.

    Perhaps you’d be able to buy second-hand bikes there, along with a second hand baby trailer!

    A Simple Six is such an INSPIRING family. Thank you for sharing their link. I hope that when the time comes for us to return to Canada, we can continue this bike loving life too. Reading about Simply Six is so encouraging!


  • Fascinating post (and blog, by the way)! Our family of 7 moved to Costa Rica in August and not having a car here (unlike most expats here) has been a challenge at times, but we’re doing fine.

    One thing that I didn’t expect when we went down to one car (before leaving the US) was the decrease in spending on other stuff because of the ability to run to the store to pick up something…and walking out of the store with 10 things I “needed”. Of course, that’s similar to being here without a car. I’m sure if we had a car, our extra spending would be considerably higher.

    And a great benefit to walking has been that my husband and I have both shed excess weight since moving here. Always nice. :)

    It’s funny…I never imagined that I would not want a car (or house or

  • Hi
    Just found your blog – fascinating. Living car free, albeit in London not IOM. You say you have a waterproof coat and boats and buggy cover for the little one- good. One tip I have is to invest in a decent pair of waterproof trousers from a good outdoor store. Try Berghaus or some make like that – make sure there are zips all the way up the side of the legs so they are easy to put on. They are not just waterproof but wind proof as well and you will never have soggy jeans again…
    Hang in there! It’s saving you cash and getting you exercise!

  • We are car-free but it’s so much easier here (Manhattan, New York). Really admire you being able to keep it up with such a hike to nearest friend’s house!

    Looks like a beautiful place where you live.

  • Yours was the only article I could find about people without a car in winter. I HAVE GONE THROUGH THE POLAR VORTEX and arctic blast without a car. No car since 2008 and absolutely no one reliable to give me a ride anywhere! Those winters since 2008 have been record-breaking here for low temps and snow. I worked outdoors last saturday for 6+ hours in 7, that’s right, 7 degrees F. Never again.

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