5 Awesome Things About Living Car-Free

After selling my car last summer and living without a car for an extended period of time for the first time since I was 16 years old, I was surprised, frustrated, excited and scared at various times throughout the process. Initially, the process was a bit difficult as I learned to make my way through a city that is very unfriendly to anyone living without a car. However, as always, I learned to adapt after a little while and I began to appreciate the opportunity to save a ton of money (my car was costing me $500/mo at that time) and at the same time live a slower paced life. I was spending significantly less and getting much more. After a brief relapse earlier this year, I’m now car-free once again and appreciating all the different aspects and nuances of this lifestyle. I just wanted to share a few different awesome things about living car-free.

1. You can’t buy a ton of groceries.

Try buying two cart loads of groceries and walk/bike/bus them home. I guarantee you won’t do that again. I’ve never been the type of person to aimlessly walk around the grocery store and load up on things I didn’t go there for. I’ve always gone into stores with a purpose and more or less stick to what I went in for. However, living without a car simply reinforces this. I only buy what I can I can carry in my hands and/or my backpack because I have no choice.

2. The savings are all that and then some.

What can I say here? I’m saving at least $500/mo and I’m basing that on what I was paying for a used Pontiac G6 (I’m including gas, insurance, maintenance in that calculation). If you buy a fairly nice car, like an Audi A4, and you buy it new you’ll be paying much more than that when you add up all your transportation costs. A monthly bus pass is just over $50 where I live, and my little scooter costs less than $10 in gas to operate. The savings add up quickly.

3. You stay fit. 

Walking/jogging/biking to locations like the grocery store or bus stop are little tiny calorie burning moments that I wouldn’t have if I had a car. When you own a car you naturally tend to park as close as possible to wherever you need to go and you tend to drive to locations even if they are within walking distance. Not having a car forces you to use your feet.

4. You enjoy your surroundings.

I’m not a big tree hugger or nature freak, I promise you that. But what is good for nature is good for you and me. I tend to enjoy nature and the weather much more when I’m walking in it instead of driving through it. When I’m driving a car to/from work I’m simply trying to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, which usually involves darting through traffic, timing lights and using my accelerator pedal gratuitously. Now I take my time and enjoy the birds chirping, the greenery around me and I love seeing the clouds slowly pass by. I don’t know how or why, but I really see so much more around me when I’m walking to places I need to go. Even riding my scooter, I tend to watch everything around me much closer. Not only am I trying to avoid getting hit by a driver more interested in tweeting than driving, but I’m also enjoying the breeze hit my face and the sun in my face.

5. You become more social.

When I’m driving in a car, I’m typically jamming to some tunes and I have the radio cranked. I can tell you what I’m not doing: talking to other people. When you’re in your car you can’t be social with anyone because a lot of the time you’re driving by yourself. You’re driving to/from work or to/from the grocery store or to/from the gym. Even if other people are in the car it’s people you already know: your family and/or friends. But, when I’m riding the bus I open myself up to many more experiences for better or worse. Believe me, I’ve had more interesting experiences during the last 9 months of riding the bus than I ever had in a lifetime of driving a car. You meet all kinds of interesting people and who knows; you might forge a long-term friendship. Although there are quite a few dangerous/shady people that ride the bus everyday, there’s also a load of interesting and funny characters who get on and share stories or pass the time by with jokes.

After this is all said and done, I’m not saying I’ll never own a car again. For now, however, I’m really enjoying the cost savings and other benefits that can’t be measured in terms of dollars and cents. It’s allowed me to really be aware of, and enjoy, my surroundings and live a much different lifestyle. Everything slows down a bit when you’re living without a car, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I currently live in a city that’s not particularly easy to get around in without a car, but I’m doing my best to make it work!

What about you? Every try living car-free?

Thanks for reading.

Photo Credit: foto76

Comments

  1. Chad says

    I’m also about to make the change to biking to work. Won’t go carless since I’ve got a wife and 2 kids under 5, but biking to work will be fun. It will make me feel young again.

    • says

      Chad,

      That’s awesome! I hope the change serves you and your finances well. It will definitely make you feel young again, and it’ll be great on the wallet.

      Best wishes!

  2. says

    I enjoyed the post!
    I will consider this as I continue my journey of cutting expenses and balancing frugality with a meaningful life!:)
    I thinking I might try to cut down hard on driving, and try to use the bus as often as I can in the interim…
    Best wishes DM!

    • says

      Joe,

      Thanks for stopping by. Always good to hear from you.

      Definitely give the bus thing a try as you try to limit the driving. Worse case scenario, you saved a little money and gained some experience. Best case scenario you find a new, and cheaper, way to get around.

      Keep in touch!

    • says

      Karunesh,

      Sounds like sound logic to me! A car, in my opinion, is definitely not an asset. It’s most certainly a liability that continues to depreciate in value while it simultaneously increases your capital outlays (repairs).

      Take care!

  3. Robert says

    Unfortunately going car-free isn’t even a remote option for me. First I live 45 miles from work. This allows me to earn a decent living (I’d earn about half as much if I tried to find a job close to home, assuming I could find one in the computer field) while keeping my living costs down. My 15-yr mortgage & escrow for a 3 BR TH costs less than the cost to rent a 1 BR studio apt. close to my job, and I’ll have it paid off in less than 12 years.

    The second problem is that I am pretty much required to have a car for work. My employer owns a number of properties around DC (hotels, office buildings, etc.) and I often have to run out to some of these unexpectedly to deal with problems. I can’t really take the DC metro beause of the equipment I often have to take (stacks of PCs and monitors, etc.)

    That said, my car costs are not all that expensive. I purchased a 2001 Sentra last summer for less than $6k cash. I’ve kept complete records of what I spend on the car, down to the infrequent runs through the local car wash. My cost per mile to operate the car is about 16 cents, but I am reimbursed 55.5 cents per mile for work (rate set annually by the IRS.) I probably spend about $225 a month on gas for over 2000 miles a month in driving, but get about half that back in tax-free mileage reimbursements from my job.

    I really couldn’t go car-free, but I’ve managed to make it as relatively inexpensive as I can. Buying an older, inexpensive, high MPG car vs. a new car (made that mistake years ago, never again) makes all the difference. While I drive about 90 miles/day, getting 34.2 MPG average since I bought the car last July means that my daily costs are not all that bad. And even with the increase in gas prices, it only works out to about $1 a day more for gas than what I was paying before the gas prices started going up.

    • says

      Robert,

      I can certainly understand where you’re coming from. Not all situations are created equal and you’re obviously not in a position to where getting rid of a car is possible right now. But, nobody designs our lives but ourselves. I try to always take every decision I make seriously and consider all the benefits and drawbacks to anything I do. Working far from home at a job that requires a car would be one of those decisions that I would have to weigh considerably.

      Best wishes!

    • says

      Yea I’m with Robert on this one. I drive an old honda civic across the country for my job, for the last 2 years ive avegeraged 11.6 cents per mile and my employer re-imburses me 55 cents. This re-imbursement is the fuel I use to get me started with investing. Its bonus money I wasn’t expecting anyways.

    • says

      MCF,

      Having a car is certainly nice and I’m open minded to having one again in the future if my situation warrants it. For now, I’m really enjoying the excess capital I don’t spend on a car as I compound that early in my life. Maybe down the road after that capital has already compounded many times over I’ll consider having a car again.

      Not every situation makes it possible to go without a car. But, if the possibility ever opens up for you I would definitely consider it!

      Take care.

  4. says

    This article was really firing on all cylinders! I haven’t had the need for a car in over 4 years due to the absolutely mind blowing public transpiration system here in Tokyo and Japan itself. I admit that I do drive a bit when I visit home but on this next trip I’m going to try and force myself to bike more when the opportunity presents itself.

    • says

      The Kechi One,

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

      That’s great that you live in a city that has such stellar public transportation. Of course, on the flip side one tends to pay for that ease of getting around through higher food and housing costs. I guess there’s no free lunch?

      I’d love to visit Tokyo some day. It seems like a really vibrant and exciting city. And, I love sushi!

      Keep in touch!

  5. says

    You describe nature freaks and tree huggers as if being one is a bad thing.

    I’ve definitely noticed point #4 after years of riding my bicycle to/from work. I feel more connected to my neighborhood than I did when I was commuting by car.

    • says

      The Executioner,

      I didn’t mean to offend anyone, and I don’t think of nature lovers as bad people. I simply meant to convey that I’m an unbiased person when it comes to nature and, yet, I still really enjoy the nature-oriented benefits of living car-free.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the more pronounced connection to your neighborhood since riding your bicycle to/from work. I think the slower pace of life is intimately rewarding.

      Best wishes!

  6. Anonymous says

    I would give you 4 reasons to not be car free. Applicable to any of the 99% of cities with crappy public transportation.

    1. Your world expands beyond work, home and the grocery store. Have friends that live farther out? No problem. Want to go to an activity that occurs when buses aren’t running? No problem.

    2. Stop wasting time with multiple trips to the grocery store. Go once per week with a list. Also, stop wasting time standing around for a bus, which in most cities shows up whenever, rather than on time.

    3. Not showing up to work with frostbite, drenched with rain, or reaking of sweat.

    4. Minimize your chance of getting mugged/raped/robbed/stabbed/etc. Buses in many cities are scary things.

    • says

      Anonymous,

      Living car-free certainly has certain disadvantages, as does everything. Almost everything in life has advantages and disadvantages as there is no free lunch. I would agree for the most part with your list above.

      I’m not sure if living car-free is a permanent end all-be all decision. For me it’s a nice way to save some extra cash right now, but I’m not sure if I’ll live without a car for the rest of my life. I think a lot of the disadvantages you list above could be mitigated or reduced.

      For instance if you need to get somewhere far out or when the buses aren’t running you could rent a car or take a taxi. Or, my 49cc scooter will get me anywhere in town (albeit slower than a car).

      Multiple trips to the grocery store aren’t really a factor for me. I don’t buy for five people. If you have a giant family then I would suggest getting some type of bike trailer. My scooter and backpack can fit food for at least 3 days.

      Showing up to work sweaty is one reason why I don’t bike to work. The scooter, however, works quite well. If it’s raining out I take the bus. So I don’t show up wet or sweaty.

      Getting mugged or stabbed is not something that I can really account for. I live in a relatively safe city. If I felt that uncomfortable with my surroundings I’d probably move somewhere safer. This is another reason I currently rent.

      Hope that helps.

      Best wishes!

Join The Discussion!