Two and a Half Years Without A Car

We bought a car.

I’ll write more about it later, the why behind it, but right now I’m thinking about what a win it was for our family to live without a car for almost three years. 

I could go on and on about the health benefits and financial benefits of not owning a car. About how it simplified our life in so many ways.

But the biggest thing letting go of the car gave us, the piece that has kept paying itself forward in the years since we sold our 1998 Nissan sedan and rented out our parking space, was the way it made us challenge assumptions about what we really need in our life.

Living without a car gave us new eyes.

When people said it was a mistake before/after we sold the car, when we wondered if we could manage the winter, Sunday family swims at the pool a ways out of town, lunch engagements several villages away, getting a newborn safely home from the hospital, answering all of those questions, finding solutions to the small and big challenges of not owning a car, all of it gave us more resolve to be even more creative and discerning with the how and what of the other things we gave our time, money and space too.

Some highlights from our car free days that are detailed here on the blog:

You might be interested to know we didn’t buy a car because we had a second child. That wasn’t a factor.

In fact, we could have continued on just fine with our current transport set-up for at least another year and half before our oldest son starts school. Even then, depending on the school he went to we could have decided to get by without a car.

I write that because so many new parents are told they need so many things for their children, one of them being a car. It’s just not true.

You can have kids and not have a car.

We just did it for several years and at the end of what started as an experiment and turned into a lifestyle choice, I am here to tell you that my kids made all of their medical appointments, picnicked in far away parks, saw a lot of our little island and we were late just as often as people with cars are.

It’s just that sometimes we showed up a little sweatier. Or wetter.

More to come on the reasons for our big change and our rather unconventional auto choice.

Photo Source: Tobyotter

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  • “it made us challenge assumptions about what we really need in our life”

    So true. I think it’s true in general of all the “crazy” things we’ve done since you got us into minimalism, but the car especially. Getting rid of the car was, for me anyway, the minimalism gateway drug.

    I feel like it had somehow never occurred to me before that we could actually make our own decisions about what kind of lifestyle we lived, and what we prioritized, and that pretty much everything was in play.

  • I also like this statement: “it made us challenge assumptions about what we really need in our life”

    We’ve done quite a bit of that in the last couple of years, with selling our house to rent a smaller apartment, changing our last name, and starting to bike to work instead of driving. There are a lot of assumptions of how people should be and many have a preconceived idea of what constitutes normal.

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about your car.

  • It would have been nigh unto impossible in our city to go completely car-less, especially as public transportation continues to get cut more and more. But we’ve been a one-car family off and on over the years. My husband took the bus to work. Right now, though, we have one van and one motorcycle. The long bus commutes took their toll on family time.

  • “…all of it gave us more resolve to be even more creative and discerning with the how and what of the other things we gave our time, money and space too.”

    This is the beauty of making your way without something and it brings a new depth to living in the here and now. Having been there several times but not being there now has proven to me that this important fact easily gets brushed under the rug when the “crazy” comes back into life and how the “crazy” needs to be tamed….

  • We’ve done everything from two cars to no car, and I definitely liked not having a car the best. In fact, I went through a kind of grieving period when our current living situation basically forced us to buy a car. I’m not against cars, but I loved not having one. I learned so much more about my environment and myself, and I was physically and mentally stronger. Even if my husband and I can find a home in our current small town that enables us to walk to more things, we’ll likely still need/want a car for the experiences and daily living items that are hard to come by in a relatively isolated locale with no public transportation.

    • Celeste: I really relate to your comments. I am not against cars or car ownership, I just find it easier to not have one.
      Funny you should call it a grieving process. My husband and I were both a bit down after buying the car. Lasted about a week – I think we were mourning our no car days.
      I’m all for doing things that make sense for your current lifestyle. Until the last two months not having a car wasn’t impacting us in any big way. But things changed and a car was what made sense.

  • As Celeste L. says, we also tried “everything from two cars to no car”. At the time when it was necessary to have two cars, I found owing two machines stressful. Since we moved to an area which is walking/cycling distance to school, work, shops, park, health centre, the seaside etc, we only have one car. Last year we tried the car-free life for a few months, and found that it did not work for us. Unfortunately, I have a lot of touble with my legs, so at times I just need the car. My husband almost never uses the car. Other than that, as we are paying for the tax and insurance, we take the car for longer trips too, or to give lifts to my kids’ friends to birthday parties etc. Last year we drove just over 7,000km.

  • When I begun having kids, I never owned a car. I have four children, at one point, my ex husband did purchase a car, but he only used it during weekends. The reality is that I did all groceries, and shopping without the car. I didn’t know how to drive and was actually afraid of even trying. After my divorce I did realize that I needed to get back to school and work. I learned how to drive and got a very old and used car, but it got us five from point A to B. I can’t say that having a car its a must, as I did just fine without it with four kids and by myself. But the reality to me is that having a car impacts where I can go to work. It also enables me to make last minute decisions I would other wise not do, like for example a trip to the beach. At the same time, having a car can be costly. I do currently have a huge bill, as my insurance went up. I toyed with the idea of giving it up for this summer, but not sure we can get used to our old ways. CAR= convenience ON FOOT= need for planning. We are not known to plan much specially with my job.

  • I too am eager to read the rest of this story! I have to say that I pretty much hate cars – I sorta consider them to be a necessary evil. At this point I drive around 1000 miles per year, and the vast majority of it is for the benefit of my cats – trips to the vet or the pharmacy across town, or hauling cases of cat food or 50 pound bags of kitty litter.

    I suppose I could probably accomplish all of the above with either delivery fees or taxis, but I’m not entirely sure it would be cost effective since my car is long paid for. I’m guessing it costs me around $500-$1000 annually for insurance, gas, repairs and maintenance – which works out to a ridiculous amount of money per mile. But there’s also the emergency factor to consider. I just worry what would happen if I needed to rush a cat to the emergency vet and didn’t have a car, or if (heaven forbid) there was a fire or something and we had to evacuate at a moment’s notice.

    How do you car-free people deal with situations like that?

    • I am with you on the eager to know the rest of this story because I recently had to accept the idea that I just can’t afford a car after a repossession of one and the car I still have that got hit by another driver that led to the purchase being bad. Resentment and longing for justice is another issue but the topic of this story is about a carless lifestyle… and I have cats and an active toddler living now a little out of the city to feel confident at the moment…

    • I know this is an old post but once I read something involving cats I can’t just not make any comments :) Oh the kitty cats!
      We (my husband, 1 cat and I) moved from the Rocky Mountains to England for husband’s grad school and we sold everything including both cars. We live in a small to medium size town with direct buses to the city centre but I choose a vet clinic that has the best reviews which happens to be the closest to me (but not within walking distance). Interestingly it’s not on a direct bus route. Each time I had to take my boy to the vets I asked friends for a ride or just paid for a taxi. Because of his age and health problems, he has been to the clinic quite a few times and we’ve been living here for only 11 months! Luckily, none of these visits were serious medical emergencies which is quite amazing since he had some last year.

      Vet emergencies still worry me, not only because there aren’t any 24 hr vet hospitals where we live now, but I have vivid memories of when my other cat had cancer last year before we moved here. I had to leave work early many times, drop him off/pick him up from the hospital, go to a pharmacy many times, and the list goes on. Caring for someone terminally ill is exhausting and I can’t imagine having done it without a car especially because public transportation there wasn’t the greatest either. The truth is I’m sure I would have figured something out to take care of all these errands without a car. It’s just a bit difficult to picture the *how* in our minds when we are so used to having a car conveniently at our disposal at all times.

      I purchase cat food and litter online and I don’t have to worry about carrying any of that. I try not to think about all the things that can potentially go wrong otherwise I would go crazy. I wouldn’t worry about a possible fire escape plan other than having a 72 hr emergency kit ready for you and for the cats.

      Sometimes I still worry (especially because we are trying to have a baby and I think about the inconvenience of not having a car to go the hospital) but these things are conveniences and not needs. It’s hard to break away from the American way of living where “the more the better.”

  • That is great you went for so long without a car. Honestly I could not deal with not having a car. At one point my spouse and I tried to get by with one car, and it drove me to make him buy his own car. Maybe I don’t like to share, but it was stressful to have to negotiate when and who needed it more, and at times our schedules collided. Basically I live in a rural-ish town, we have absolutely *zero* public transport, and my job requires me to drive (walking to work it not an option) On the upside, I am self-employed and my driving enables us to be able to maintain a “normal” lifestyle (including cable LOL) and we each pay for our own cars. While it is an expense, it is one I am committed to maintaining. But I do love to see the other side, so thank you for sharing our experience. I’m curious what kind of car you got . . . !!

  • We are 1 year with no car (with 2 kids in Luxembourg), and reading about your move and living without a car (back when it happened, and since then) has been a big inspiration for me. Thank you so much.

    And yes, looking forward to hearing more.

  • My dad is car-crazy so I suppose I took it for granted as a child that we had a car; he grew up in post-war Germany and it was a status symbol for him to learn to drive at 18 and own a car.
    My mom grew up carless in Britain, not uncommon in the 40s and 50s. My dad encouraged my grandad to buy a car in the late 60s. Until then, he and my granny had first a tandem bicycle (with sidecar!) and then a motorcycle with sidecar and went camping all over the UK! At home, everything was reachable on foot or by public transport, other travel was by train.
    My dad thought my mom should learn to drive. After many false starts and trauma, she finally passed her (Swiss) test when she was 42, just before my first child was born. But she’s never been that keen on driving and her mom never learnt, either. Now in her 70s, she no longer bothers with driving.
    Although I was lucky to live in places with good public transport in Britain and Switzerland until my late teens, I still took driving for granted. However, later on I began to realise that if you are fortunate in your living location, it’s simply not necessary, and certainly not if you live in a city! We now live in a small town (22000 inhabitants) and have such good public transport networks that I wouldn’t necessarily need a car (I do now have a very tiny one!), and when we lived a few miles out of town, I still went for a year or so without one at one point – with 3 kids. However, that was only possible because our village had a good infrastructure of general store, butcher, dairy, post, bank etc. and the kids were able to attend activities at the local school or nearby – the advantage being they all soon learned independence by bicycle! My middle daughter is 22 and still hasn’t bothered to learn to drive, neither has her husband (23), even though their living situation (now in Britain) is more challenging for the carless – it’s still manageable for them, tho’.
    My eldest daughter lives more rurally, has 2 kids, an enormous dog and lots of activities farther afield. She and her husband need 2 cars for convenience – though again. there is good public transport, (but with that handful?)! It’s extremely reliable in Switzerland!! Our youngest travels to work daily by train and bus; she’d like to learn to drive when she turns 18 but it will be a long time before she can afford a car and she doesn’t really need one, and in any case, it’s expensive to learn…
    My husband needs a car for work because he works away a good deal. However, we live on an excellent train route, so meetings at strategic places can be arranged by train and he loves this alternative – he can nap or work while he travels and doesn’t need to pull work out when he gets home again 😉 In an ideal world, he would always do this! Many people here in Switzerland do – but it has to do with our great networks and infrastructure and probably isn’t possible for everyone. Another major concern for the last 30 or more years here has been the ecological problem of vehicle traffic, way ahead of many other countries, and much of the population is extremely eco-aware.
    As we head towards retirement, I think we will need even less in the way of car transport. Perhaps just the one tiny one. We do so much by train, now, it’s great!

    • Great to read about all of these different scenarios in one family.
      My family has similar variations. We all live in different communities/cities and have different needs for jobs and family life.

  • Thanks for your interesting perspective. It’s very different from mine, which is what made it so enjoyable to read.

    I guess it all comes down to values and priorities. I value freedom and independence above just about everything else. So as long as I pay for my cars in cash (meaning there is no debt dragging me down), I see a car as a tool I can use for ultimate freedom of movement.

    What’s more, I don’t enjoy big-city living. I prefer a suburban lifestyle, and my husband and I take our children on many short trips that focus on history, the outdoors and adventure. Without a car, we couldn’t enjoy those enriching experiences together.

    • I value freedom and independence above just about everything else.

      So interesting. I think we value the same things but fulfill them differently. For us, not having a car to maintain or worry about was a source of independence and freedom. The restrictions, work and time involved with using public transport never really phased us (actually, we enjoyed the extra challenge!) – but I know for a lot of people it is a huge hassle and having a car is much easier.

      • A lot also depends on where you live. There is no public transportation in my area. And I have no desire to raise my kids in the crowded nearby cities that do have public transportation. So freedom and independence are not possible in my area without a car. :)

  • Wow – 2 1/2 years!! That is incredible. Our family lived for one year as a one car family and I thought that was a great accomplishment! I found it to be rewarding in a number of ways (financially, mentally, physically). However, as we live in the Suburbs, at least one car was a necessity. Great post!

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