Why We Went From Car-Free to Car-Lite

We bought a car to get in shape.

I have to laugh at myself when I boil it down to that reason.

Last fall the first, and only, Crossfit gym opened in the Isle of Man. I literally screamed with joy when I found out.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to join at the time because I was heavily pregnant.

Crossfit is one of the handful of things I really miss from our life back in Vancouver. And while I do enjoy other methods of working out, the combination of challenging skills, weight lifting, aerobic conditioning and great community that you can find at a Crossfit gym check a lot of boxes for me.

I looked at many alternatives to car ownership to meet my want of going to this gym.

The gym is only three miles from our home but it’s not easily or frequently accessible by public transportation.

I tried taking a bus part of the way there and then walking to the gym.

It worked but wasn’t a solution for a few reasons.  The commute would take me almost an hour. Each way. I couldn’t go with both boys with me – no chance I would get a workout in – so would need to go while Henry was at daycare. That would mean most of my nursery ‘free time’ (meaning only having one child with me) was taken up with getting to and from the gym.

Could I bike it? The hills around the gym are steep and you can’t bike here year round.

I started devising crazy schemes like buying a folding bike, taking a cab one way, and then biking home. But the numbers and long term viability of these complicated plans did not add up.

For a short time I was catching a ride with a neighbor that goes to the gym. It was very generous of her and made it possible for me to get started. But it wasn’t a long term solution with different schedules and with Chris joining the gym too.

We finally hit a road block with not owning a car.

Living without a car started as an experiment. I said from the beginning that we would do it until it no longer made sense for our family.

If my husband and I wanted to join this Crossfit gym and take our fitness goals to the next level, we needed a car.

While I felt a lot of reluctance over owning a car again it hasn’t been too painful to join the driving world after a three year absence.

Maybe that’s because we aren’t driving the car much. We’re trying to live as we did before, using public transportation and a lot of walking to get around, and we just use the car when we would otherwise need a cab.

It also helps that our car, while functional and road safe, isn’t exactly a luxury ride (more about our car choice soon).

I think we have more car-free years ahead of us. This certainly isn’t the end. When or if we move back to Vancouver there is a good chance we won’t own a car. And I have a strong feeling our retirement years will be car-free.

Anyone else do a long term experiment with downsizing one are of their life? What turned it into a short term change instead of a permanent one?

Photo Credit: anyjazz65

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  • Our long-term experiment was to sell our house and go back to renting. So far we still like it. It has freed up a lot of time and money to have more fun adventures. We may own again someday, but for now it is working out well for us.

    • Hi “Freedom”, I’ve been contemplating selling our home as well. We are trying to pay off debt, and sometimes I fantasize about selling the house to help with that. But the investor in me makes me rethink this…what helped you make your decision?! Thx

  • All you did, Rachel (& Chris) was to prioritize and then have a look at the practicalities to satisfy your priorities. :) Sounds simple, yet so many of us are unable to achieve this. Enjoy Crossfit and the convenience of the car!

    • Thanks, Apple. It was tough to make the jump but the actual decision was easy: we had exhausted all of our transportation possibilities.
      So far we are enjoying the convenience of the car. We got something very small that we could pay cash for, is fuel efficient and meets 99% of our driving needs.
      Also enjoying that I am getting the driving on the other side experience.

  • I can never imagine taking a loan our for a car (or for anything else as a matter of fact…. would re-thing a mortgage too. :) ) Looking forward to your post on what car you got. Since my accident I have an issue with (very) small cars. Had I been in a bigger/safer car, I would have walked away from the car-crash as opposed to…you know. :(

    • :( That is a concern about our car. It’s very small. We thought about that a lot but decided to go with it. We are rarely in it as a family and won’t be driving it a lot or at high speeds.

  • I’m a little confused about the crossfit thing. I thought crossfit focused on real-life movements (like jumping up on and off a box or heavy stool, lifting something heavy, etc) that work you out in a more natural way, requiring very little in the way of special equipment. Couldn’t you just make up your own stuff at home and avoid all the headaches of car ownership? I know you’ve thought this through, as you clearly do in all of your posts, it just seems like an expensive purchase for just one use. Or maybe Crossfit isn’t what I think it is?

    • Hi Erin, Crossfit does focus on real-life movements but it also has strength and skill pieces like Olympic weightlifting and some gymnastics. Though I have tried to replicate the workouts in my living room since we moved overseas, I never found I could get the same workout as at a Crossfit gym. Both with the equipment, group atmosphere and coaching.
      I am so happy to be back at the gym and so is my body. I don’t have many hobbies but this is one that has high value for me and provides a lot of return for the rest of my life. Cheers, Rachel

      • It’s funny cos I had NO clue what Cross Fit was when you first mentioned it and tbh, wasn’t interested. Then I recently started Krav Maga – http://www.kravmagaluxembourg.org/index2.html – and I am LOVING it! Anyway 1 of the guys was talking about a work out at a local park so I got chatting to him about it and it turns out he says it’s ‘more like CrossFit’ so I then googled when I got home and whilst it’s nothing like what I thought, a friend told me about a 2km trail at the park, so I’m hoping and assuming it’s the same thing! I never expected this guy to have something ‘in common’ with your blog! 😉 Also in the summer I think Krav Maga runs with the school term so I hope to keep my fitness up by going to the park… I also love that the ‘site your link goes to says ‘minimalist tendencies’ or something…

        And lastly, which fitbit did you get your husband? :)

  • I have loved hearing about your car saga. Such a great choice to go car-free, and really encouraging!

    I went car-free for my 3 years of college. The town (my husband and I still live here) is very small, and most people bike; they have specifically built around the biking paths to make it easily accessible! The weather is great year-round, except the summers when it hits 100 most days; and you can still bike in heat. I was car-free and biked EVERYWHERE. My best friend was a bike mechanic who fixed it up whenever it broke. Easy. The couple days a year when it would rain, I would take the bus, or done a heavy raincoat and bike anyways.

    But then I graduated and got married, and those two things changed my lifestyle. As a graduation present (and reward for paying my way through college), my parents gave me a brand new Honda Fit to get started in my life. There aren’t a ton of jobs in town, and while I work from home as an independent writer, I have to commute 45 minutes when I have meetings with the organization I primarily write for. There are no bus lines that get me where I need to go, and the Fit gets 30+ miles per gallon (~13 kilometres per litre).

    But I thought I would still bike around town. I thought I would go car-lite and only use my car for the commute. Not so. To get food that was healthy for my husband, as well as to save money, means that my grocery trips ventured out of our town to the next (20 miles roundtrip). It was worth it for the mass quantities of food, both cheaper and healthier, that I could stock up on. I end up shopping less often. But it requires a car.

    After that, my lifestyle just began to change. I stopped biking and instead now walk a lot of places, like to the library or to my best friends’ homes, all of whom are nearby. But I drive a lot and am in now way living car-lite. The fact that the Honda Fit gets me so far on very little gas justifies it both financially and environmentally. Because I have more time (I spend less than half the time getting places), I have been able to simplify other areas of my life. I have more time to sit down with my husband in the evenings and be together. I can get my writing and housework done and have time for myself without worrying about being late to my next appointment. The simplicity in other areas of life has been well worth it.

    I hope one day to go car-lite (maybe even car-free??). I am encouraged by so many others, such as your family, who have made car-lessness work, and made a better life out of it! But I’m learning to not guilt myself for what I need right now. Simplicity is meant to make life’s loads lighter and allow me to enjoy the people around me more. As soon as it starts defeating that purpose, I need to reevaluate.

  • It’s very nice that you guys have a car now :) , it’s very helpful to have one when you have with little kids, and even for those doctors appointments and such. And even when we own a car, there are ways to minimize its use to only real needs (health/getting fit) are needs in my book. We can also make the most out of gas, and avoid pollution by scheduling errands to one day instead of many different days. For me, one things that begun as an experiment was us moving into a very small apt with no bedroom for me. I was sleeping in the kitchen/ living room/ my bedroom. I though that as long as my kids had their bedrooms, I should be ok, paying less rent than the prior apt. Well, a year into it, I got tired of not having my own place to call my bedroom. I ended up moving to another city, and a bigger apt, which turned out to be cheaper in rent and utilities. So it was a win-win at the end.

    • Thanks for sharing, Eva. Particularly your trial of a small apartment with no bedroom for you. Brave of you to try and braver still to recognize it wasn’t working.

  • Our family has done a few long term experiments. We did 9 months without a car but ultimately started driving again because my husbands commute was so much longer it wasn’t worth it to us, plus we were having to give up so many activities we enjoyed. Maybe if we had been able to rent a car or take a cab every once in a while it would have been different. We still have just one car and walk and us public transportation a lot though.

    We also did six months without a refrigerator, which was cool. I did end up buying a small fridge to keep our raw goats milk and cod liver oil in but I probably will never need a larger fridge again, because I’ve learned how to store produce without it.

    I like experimenting. Even if you go back to a way you used to do things you’ve always learned so much and have such more mindfulness about the choices you have.

    • That’s interesting about your fridge. The trend in Europe is now towards the enormous US-style of fridge, while the standard is still for a fairly large built-in model, as we have in the kitchen of this house we bought; I can’t imagine why. I am also always amazed at what Americans seem to put in their fridges (apples, nuts?!). Anyway, if I ever get to redo my kitchen, I would like an under-counter fridge because mine is almost empty most of the time, whether there are 4 of us or 2 of us at home… very little needs to really be chilled. Milk and butter, meat when I buy it. Fruit and veg I buy often and use while fresh, so it’s just in a basket till then and cheese needs to be room-temp to be at its best. Actually, I like all foods fresh so wouldn’t dream of buying for a month! Maybe that’s the trick…
      My granny didn’t have a fridge at all until the mid-1970s – her cool pantry was under the stairs and she managed just fine for 40 years! Not much in it, now, either! She is my role model 😉

  • I am living quite happily car free as a single middle aged person living in the city. However my parents generation, who do drive, are becoming elderly and I can see the day approaching when they may be unable to get around, or give each other lifts. Being able to help out with transport for them and to see them more easily as their transport options diminish may lead to me wanting a car.

  • I have lived car-free for practically my entire life, so I don’t really see it as a lifestyle choice. It’s my natural state of being. My childhood family always had a car but we only used it on weekends and for long trips. On weekdays we would travel by mass transit, walk, or bike. So I never got used to being driven everywhere, I always looked for a public transportation option first.
    Both my husband and I have driver’s licences and we know how to drive. We will occasionally borrow eg. my parents’ car and we have been thinking of joining a car club where we can lease a car for weekend trips and such. But right now, we have no day-to-day use for a car whatsoever.
    I commend you on making your choice of getting a car based on practical reasons instead of just because it’s “comfortable” or “expected”. Sometimes you just really need a car, and there’s nothing wrong with that. :-)

  • Our experiment was with excess. My husband and I both grew up poor and didn’t have a lot. We rented a place twice as big, with twice the payment/utilities, than we’d ever lived in before. We bought a van for the kids & I to use. We ate out a lot. Having a home that large to care for was not fun, I hated having so much to clean. We talked about selling our van and moving back to a smaller place when our lease was up.

    We ended up not selling our van but did get rid of it. An uninsured driver without a license caused a head on collision with my van. Our uninsured policy covered most of what was left on the van loan and our medical expenses, which were quite high, for the treatment of our injuries.

    It’s been almost 19 months since the accident and we haven’t bothered replacing the van. We are back to living in a smaller place. Right now we’re in a 3 bedroom, 1 bath that’s just shy of 1,000 sq ft. We’re in town again so the kids and I can walk to a lot of places. We’re 2.8 miles to my husband’s work so some days he rides his bike, some he walks and some he takes the car just depends on the weather and how he feels. We still eat out more than we did before the experiment but a lot less than the average for other Americans who are in our income range. We live on less than half our take home pay.

  • We had a old van that we used for hauling a drum set around. We really didn’t need the car, but thought that the drum set would never fit in the other cars we had. Well, the van had some major car repairs needed and it wasn’t worth the money it would cost. Because of necessity, we had to try to fit the drum set in a Camry. We were surprised and glad that it fit. It is so nice to have the extra space in the garage and not to have the gas guzzler around any more. I doubt we will ever be carless, since we live in a place that wouldn’t work too well for that, but we hope to get down to one car eventually. We are just going to use our other 2 cars until they did before replacing them with one car that would be good for winter driving. That will give us plenty of time to save the money before purchasing it so we can pay cash. We have paid cash for anything we have driven in the past 13 years and it is so nice not to have a car payment. We can’t go carless because we can’t haul a drum set on a bike!

  • Although I admit I was surprised at first to discover this was your reason, I can totally relate to why you got your car. We are now one year without a car in Europe. Back when we had just one car in the States, I drove to the gym 5 days a week. It was part of my routine and I was pretty fit as a result. I joined a gym here in Luxembourg, but I almost never go, and I’m wasting a lot of money. It’s very awkward to get there on the bus. I can walk but it takes me 20+ minutes each way, and sometimes it’s just really cold and/or wet and simply I don’t want to. As you say, I feel like with travel time it just sucks away too much time. And I need to carry around a gym bag rather than storing it in my car. It’s hard enough to motivate oneself to get to the gym in the first place, so when there are other obstacles in the way my motivation evaporates to basically nothing. Granted, I walk a lot more than I did in the States, but it doesn’t make up for the hard workouts and classes I used to take at the gym. I need to come up with a different solution for getting hard exercise…sure, I could theoretically do it at home but it’s not my temperament to be disciplined at home (I wish it was, but it’s not, I much prefer the motivation of a live group and an instructor, everyone’s different).

    Anyway, you’ve got me thinking…I don’t think we’ll be getting a car right now but I need to figure out what will work for me. More importantly, I want fitness to move up my priority list (rather than continue to make excuses about my temperament, as above!). I think it’s great that you are taking your fitness to the next level and making that a priority, and doing what it takes to make it happen for you. As with any goal, activity, hobby, etc. – it it’s a high enough priority in your life, you will find a way.

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