On Living Without a Car

Any student reader will smirk at this post – and rightly so, because which student ever needed a car?

But the majority of you, I might guess, are non-students who probably own or have access to a car. The fact that you read this post means that you have probably thought about the environmental impact a car has. Or maybe contemplated how it would be to live without a car. Or even considered even selling yours, only to find that you need the mobility, speed, flexibility, and all those benefits that lets you keep hold of your car.

I only owned a car once in my life, which was while backpacking around New Zealand (can you still call it backpacking, or is that already… “trunkpacking”?). I wouldn’t have traded the mobility I gained and the money I saved for anything back then (I also slept in the car). I sold it when leaving this beautiful country, and that was the end of that episode.

Still, even though I only had my own car for those brief months, I always had access to one all my life, first on my parents’ backseat, then my friends’, then my partner’s here in the UK. For pretty much all my life, I always had someone I could ask for some motorised assistance, sometimes out of necessity (late night lifts), sometimes because I was uncurably lazy (broad daylight lifts).

And then (I cannot say it was suddenly), my boyfriend sold his car. At first, it was a great relief, as it became increasingly financially problematic to maintain a car while being on a low income. Now it’s just over a month later, and how does it feel, not being able to rely on a motorised vehicle at your disposal?

The brief version is: It’s great!

The long version is:

Our circumstances allow for being car-less, which means keeping hold of our car was just foolish. We live in a town with fairly good transport links. I can go to all major Scottish cities with relatively low effort, and relatively moderate prices. I have a small supermarket within 5 minutes walk, and a larger one about 15 minutes away. The town is adapted to students and offers low bus fares to go to university and around town. Overall, the infrastructure is favourable.

But that’s not all.  We live in the town centre, where parking is notoriously bad and costly, which means that (while we still had the car) we took on parking about 15 minutes walk away. Yes, 15 minutes to get out of the pay-and-display zone. No resident parking either. It generally took longer to get to the car than just to walk where ever we needed to go. Having a car which was so hard to reach made using it a different kind of consideration. So we sold it.

And now? We are rocking it bicycle style! Since my last post of buying a beautiful second-hand bike, it’s been quite a lifestyle change. Suddenly (I use suddenly in a rather loose sense here), we had to use our bikes for everything. Commuting, visiting friends, going to the cinema, day trips, grocery shopping, everything.

And riding a bike is, hands down, the most enjoyable and satisfying mode of transport ever invented!

Let’s break this up (pretending to know what I’m doing):

Owning a car vs. relying on public transport vs. muscle-powered transport

Carss

Pros Car:

  • Greater reach (several 100s of km per day)
  • Faster going outside high traffic areas
  • Flexibility to use it at any time, at night, in more remote places
  • Can transport groups of friends or furniture
  • Doesn’t require any preparation (such as getting your helmet on, checking timetables, etc.)

Cons Car:

  • Very costly in the long run (insurance, tax, MOT, petrol, and when something breaks..!)
  • Parking charges suck – if you can find a space
  • Rush hour sucks, too
  • Pollute the environment (why isn’t this at the top of the list?)
  • Supports oil industry (which in turn finances, among others, crazy oil sheiks, causes global warming, and even supports terrorism…)
  • Makes you more anxious and aggressive than any other form of transport
  • Doesn’t allow you to multitask or drink alcohol
  • The only thing that’s more likely to kill you than a car (and old age) is chronic disease

PT White

Pros Public Transport:

  • Someone else does the driving
  • You can use the time to work
  • You can still drink alcohol
  • Fast in large cities due to bus lanes, fast in the countryside due to train tracks
  • More environmentally friendly (especially trains)
  • Don’t need to pay attention (and get annoyed by) the traffic

Cons Public Transport:

  • Can be expensive in the short run (individual tickets can be very expensive)
  • You have to consider timetables
  • Usually don’t run as frequently at night or weekends – may leave you stranded somewhere for hours
  • Customer Service can be terrible

Bikes

Pros Cycling:

  • Relaxing and refreshing mode of transport
  • Usually faster than motorists in heavy traffic
  • Which is very satisfying
  • Cost nothing to use, and very little to maintain
  • Is increasingly supported by the government and businesses
  • Can ride at any time (nights, weekends, etc.) and anywhere (paved and unpaved roads)
  • Costs nothing to ‘park’ and you’ll always find a spot
  • Very social activity – there is many cycling-related communities

Cons Cycling

  • Can still kill you (provided there is distracted drivers on the road with you)
  • Not as fast – in absolute terms and especially in rural areas
  • Cannot transport heavy objects or friends
  • Can cause sweatiness and exhaustion
  • You have to dress appropriately (that’s not to say you cannot wear a dress on a bike – you can!)

Convinced yet?

Let me share a few pieces of advice on how to manage without a car of your own:

If you live in rural areas or suburbs, would you consider to move closer to your work or transport links? Being able to walk on foot in emergencies can make a huge difference.

Grocery shopping with bikes is quite manageable. Remember to take a backpack and bags that fit comfortably on the bike while cycling. Your most valuable purchase will be a pannier rack, and eventually investing in pannier bags makes shopping a breeze.

If you commute with public transport, inquire whether there is seasonal tickets with usually a significant discount over regular fares. Over 60s get a free travel pass on public transport, most bus companies have student discounts, and some even have reduced rates for those on low incomes – making it more affordable in the long run than keeping a car!

On robot mode, taking the car anywhere you go? You know the old advice: walk or take public transport if your destination is close-by. The one golden piece of advice (I involuntarily lived by) to reduce your car usage for short journeys: Park 10 minutes away by foot. If you have to walk 10 minutes to get to your car, it’s probably quicker to walk those 10 minutes to where you need to go. Only exception is unloading the groceries – but after that the car has to leave.

Sometimes, public transport or cycling just can’t get you to those remote locations. Or can it? What about combining both? Just recently, my boyfriend and me decided to visit a castle that was kind of “hard to reach”, and where we’d usually opt for going by car – only this time we didn’t have one! Instead, we took our bikes with us on the train to the nearest station, and cycled the remaining 15 minutes. Thus, a 1.5 hour castle visit ended up being an enjoyable and relaxed day trip in which we didn’t only go there and back, but also explored the surrounding area, all with lowest emissions.

Everyone’s circumstances are different, so if you really live in a rural area, there is no shame in keeping your car. Consider other ways to make it just a little more environmentally friendly: suggest car-sharing to colleagues, make fewer, more focused trips, and re-discover your local area to find access to things you would usually drive to (farmers markets for supermarkets, anyone?).

So what about traveling? Well, unless you have a holiday in Greece three times a year (and provided you don’t already live in Greece), there is countless ways to go on holiday without a car – I could even argue you can cut a lot of stress and frustration by opting for trains, busses and bicycles.

And if you choose to cycle:  PLEASE invest in a good helmet and lights. Don’t trust in drivers to see you. And welcome to the club! 🙂

Have you got any other tips on making car-less living easier? Please share them in the comments, so I can extent this list!

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10 thoughts on “On Living Without a Car

  1. Nadine says:

    Yes, this post is AWESOME. Good for you for taking on the cyclist life. I was born in Germany and visit my famjam there every year; they have such a healthy cyclist culture there, which is amazing to see (and of course their bus and train systems are always on time, but, as you said, it CAN get costly). In big cities such as Hamburg, it makes little sense to even own a car, and most of my friends and family do not. Everything is accessible by train, bus, walking, or bicycle. Of course, there are still many cars in motion, but it is not the favoured transportation (again, as you said, driving in cities also contains costs of parking, which can be quite ridiculous).

    Canada being my current home is geographically not very kind to cyclist! We do cycling for activity, not for errands, as our distances can be quite vast. We have to often choose our vehicles for getting places, and for hauling stuff. However, the last two years I have been extremely fortunate because the school I worked at was just a five minute walk down the hill. This has saved me so much in fuel. Hopefully I have the same luxury next year, but we shall see. I do love my bike, and I’d like to use it as more of a commute vehicle; I’ve seen some great attachments for the back of a bike to hold “saddle bags”.

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    • Annika says:

      Yay! My parents at home in Germany were actually cycle touring before I even thought of it – it almost seems a national sport back there (after football, of course 😉 ). I’m very happy I hopped on the bandwagon, and I do hope that all my future employments and commitments will allow me to keep it up!

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  2. Brian says:

    Just today I sold my car. I’m so used to cycling most days it became pointless to own one… but sad to sell it because I do enjoy driving and have owned a car for over 15 years. There will be occasions when it will be an inconvenience not to have a car, but I know those few times do not justify the annual expense.

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    • Annika says:

      I definitely agree with the annual expense of just owning a car (without driving!), and I am happy that it is becoming more and more do-able for ‘ordinary’ people to actually choose to go without. Even places to far for a bike are, fortunately, better and better covered by public transport.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Greener Daddy says:

    And what about an electric car ? 🙂 Basically for some reason we still need a car to drive children to sport activities, go back to paris 50km far from our house even if we could spend time on public transport. But I agree with your article. By the way if we should live in a city we will have no car too

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    • Annika says:

      You have a valid point, and it’s the same with everything. There is no black or white / “car vs. no car” / right or wrong. If you need to travel long distances, and you have considered all options (which it sounds you have), there is no shame in using a car. It’s the same as buying (plastic) packaging when there is no package-free option. However, as I said, we always need to consider the repercussions of our actions, and which other option are available for us. I do like electric cars, and although producing a new car uses up a lot of labour and resources in the project than, say, a second-hand car, it will probably make up for itself in the resources (i.e. petrol, etc.) saved once you use it for a long time. Another thought coming to mind is the source of electricity you use to charge it, as oil- or coal-based electricity (obviously) should be the last option to choose from. There is so much to consider, but as long as we try our best to make informed decisions that we can defend, we can be confident that our actions make a positive change 🙂

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  4. ecogalwaygirl says:

    For grocery shopping I use a 2 wheel pull-along shopping trolley which is so much easier than carrying heavy bags 🙂 So that makes grcoery shopping without a car easier, because I think that is something a lot of people would think of as really difficult to do if you’re car free 🙂

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    • Annika says:

      You’re right, and to be honest, my first few trips to the supermarket were a little awkward thanks to my inconsiderate planning… If you think that you can fit one week’s shopping into a 20l backpack, you are WRONG 😀

      I went through quite a few different solutions, including: making fewer shops, more often; taking my boyfriend along to carry some stuff in his backpack; using a little basket on my pannier rack alongside the backpack; and using proper, small pannier bags. Of all these, I like most the solutions which include not having to carry anything on your back (i.e. basket or panniers). But for households with more than two people, carts or trolleys are a quite good solution.

      Sometimes, though, the best solution is to re-think your shop itself and buy less food in the first place. In the UK, on average, 20% of it goes to waste anyway! A little mindfulness about what is absolutely essential to buy and what not might do some good 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Annika says:

      Hi Stefan! What you say is 100% true as I find me and my boyfriend have developed a great deal of hunger whenever taking a trip now (as opposed to car rides). It’s a perfect workout for people like me who detest the idea of working out. In this way, I commute cheaply while “accidentally” getting fit 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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