Thursday, 2 September 2010

These Boots Were Made For Walking...Going Car Free!

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Just shy of a month ago, I moved abroad. I left my little eco friendly car behind (no room for it on the plane you see!) and arrived car-free, but not quite care-free. The decision to go car-less for as long as possible was both purposeful and intentional and while I had a small moan yesterday on my blog, the reality is, I have found it a very blessed experience. I suppose, for me, owning a car is like owning a TV, it provides opportunities, but it is very easy to over-use. If a car, or TV, charged $10 for a 30 minute use and you had to pay to drive/watch I would probably find it easier to choose to walk when the car is in the driveway or find something else to do rather than stare at a screen...but alas "free" at point of entry is too tempting at times. And while I didn't own a car from age 17-24 I have gotten a tad too comfortable with the convenience of it all!

The weather has been hot, well over 100 degrees each day, yet my commitment to walking everywhere has meant I've simply found a rhythm which works for me, a rhythm which makes me be more purposeful and sacrificial, which chooses priority over apathy. I walk to a pool and swim (to exercise and cool off), walk to shops, job interviews, visit friends, run errands, go to the bank, volunteer or pretty much do anything else. Most of where I need to go is no more than about a 75 minute walk each way and to be honest, walking has opened up a whole new world. While I'm in a smallish city on my walks I've seen deer, beavers, raccoons, groundhogs, robins, blue jays, cardinals and an adorable yellow bird I've not yet been able to name. Friends of mine who go the same route in their cars have never, in 10 years (compared to my month), seen any such beauties. Through walking I've met people, happened on community farmers markets, found new places to explore and felt an incredible connection not offered by the disconnect which is an easy consequence of using a car to get from point A to B, B to C, C to D. I've noticed that many people are happy to "go for a walk" but not to "have to walk" to a specific point. Many people have asked me how I've walked in this heat and the answer is, I try to accomplish tasks early in the morning (which has provided a natural rhythm to my days), I wear long sleeves and a hat, I drink water and when it gets too much I simply "pull over" and find a new place to explore for a bit of a breather! I've also found that walking everywhere has made me need to be organized, I can't simply "nip to the shops" when the shops are a 65 minute walk each way, so being purposeful about my time has become a necessity!

The reality is, at some point I may "need" to get a car, because in my line of work 90% of jobs advertised list one as essential for being hired. Many years ago, I remember seeing a neighbour who lived 40 feet (1 house away) from the postbox drive down her drive and stop at the postbox, collect her mail and drive back. I asked her if she forgot something and she said she simply couldn't be bothered to walk. I hope, my couple of months with no car makes me choose to connect when possible rather than disconnect, helps me keep with the simple, frugal and green commitment of walking whenever possible and makes me less like my old neighbour and more like the person I am today.

While I know for many a car is a need, if for some reason I find a job which doesn't require a car, I am seriously considering trying to go a year without. When you add up car insurance, tax, petrol, break-down cover and (for many) the car payments, compared to my two working feet it seems like a very expensive want...or I could find some sort of a pay as you go system, $10 for 30 minutes which I think would mean I choose my feet a whole lot more and sitting behind the wheel a whole lot less.

Have you ever gone without a car out of necessity or circumstance? What did it teach you? Did you find it a simple, green and frugal choice? Have you ever cut down on your use of your car and how did you keep yourself motivated when it was there to be used?


Aiming4Simple said...

Good for you! I "did without" owning a car from ages 17 to 23 and again from ages 24 to 30. Those were among the best years of my life (and many of them spent abroad).

Joyful said...

I don't own a car because I don't drive. I do have a driver's license but doctor says not to drive a car because of health issues (it is not a strict order). I walk to many places but take a bus to farther places. I would never walk 75 minutes one way to anywhere but I will walk 30 minutes.

I am fortunate. Well actually I choose where I live based on the shops and conveniences I will need or want to use. I can shop and use facilities in my neighborhood without going farther afield.

I am thinking that there may be a car coop in your area. You can check on line and join up so that you can have a car when you need to use it. This would save you a lot of money. Best wishes!

Anonymous said...

Remember to include the cost of a car when calculating your "true salary" for a job. In other words, if the job pays $50,000, be sure to deduct the $5-10,000 a year it costs to have a car (most people forget depreciation when working out how much it costs to own a car, but it's a real cost).

You may be better off finding work you can walk to or some kind of freelance work you can do from home, rather than subsidizing an employer.

Sparkless said...

When I lived in Vancouver for 5 years I didn't own a car. The bus service was awesome.
Now I live in a very small town with limited bus service and rural roads. Walking is not always an option especially in winter. You can ride a bike in the warm months but it's out of the question in winter. So we are a one car family. We live walking distance to work and shops though so only use our car when necessary. Some days the car doesn't move from the driveway.

urbanadaptation said...

I've been car-free for five years now, and it's been great. I do walk a lot and I frequently bike where I need to go, but I also get a bus pass with my university tuition, so I make good use of that.

While I could probably technically afford a car, I really just see it as a big ongoing expense - car plus gas, maintenance, and insurance all add up - and so I've chosen to go without. If I need one, I rent, but I very rarely do.

I realise that I'm lucky that I can do this - there are any number of situations where this just wouldn't work, but for now I'm very grateful that it does, and that for now I can keep living my life without a car.

Turling said...

I live in the Los Angeles suburbs. On a hill. In housing tract where the houses all look the same. It's huge. It's a 20 minute walk to the main street, and then another 15 to the first of any sort of shops. The option of not having at least one car, is not an option. Also, I work 15 miles from home. I do wish we lived in a city where walking was an option. My wife and I always say if/when we move to San Francisco, the car is gone. We'll rent when we want to leave the City.

venue X said...

Have you read Planetwalker by John Francis?

He walked everywhere and rode his bike for 22 years and didn't speak for 17 years. He's dedicated his life to environmental causes. He has attended school without speaking.

Well worth checking out (I did, from the library).


Looby said...

My SO and I just bought our first car at the ages of 30 and 29.
It's a little hard to resist the option to jump in to go for messages but 5 years here has taught us we can we to most places on foot or bus. (SO needed the car for his job).
Mostly though it has allowed us the opportunities to explore parts of the countryside we have not managed to get to before, lots of new hikes and walks to try. We are also going to try and incorporate buying meat and eggs directly from some local farms when we are out, there are a few that do that, I just need to check them against the BCSPCA approved list.
We've had the car less than a month so the novelty still hasn't worn off!

Anonymous said...

I live in England and our house is on a street with unallocated resident's only parking. That means that if you get a spot outside your house, it probably won't be there if you pop out for 30 minutes and you'll end up parking halfway down the road.

I hardly ever use the car anymore because I don't want the hassle of finding somewhere to park, especially at busy times! So that's one way to cut your usage :)

We live about a mile from my daughter's school and walk or bike most days. But we often pass people who live only a few minutes walk away, getting into their cars to drive! I would never do that, even in torrential rain!

Bethany said...

I got my first car at the age of 16 and never really thought about going without until the past few years. Two years ago I moved into Boston and my (now)husband and I went down to one car between the two of us. I had a car available if I needed it, but it really wasn't my car. Between that and Zipcar (where you can rent by the hour) I was fine...until recently.

My job moved, and while I can still cycle or bus to work, it's kind of a trek. I don't know if I'll ever completely know if it was culture or convenience that pushed me over the edge, but I'm on my way to pick up my new car today.

I had a pretty efficient car before but I found the simplest, smallest, most efficient car I could this time. If nothing else, my two carless years refocused me on living a more sustainable life.

Even if you end up getting a car, it never hurts to have spent some time without. Good luck with the job search.

Laura @ Getting There said...

When my husband and I were young we couldn't afford a car, but we didn't mind too much. We both had bikes which we rode everywhere. When we went grocery shopping, we walked to the store and then took a cab home.

Now that we have 3 children, I don't feel that we could manage comfortably with no car. It would be such a hassle to have to walk everywhere with them, in any weather. And my husband's current job is too far away to ride a bike as well. But I don't think we'll ever own two cars--one is definitely enough!

Tread Softly said...

My husband and I share a combined 69 years of being car-free, and we love it! It affects everything in our lifestyle, from what jobs we work to where we can live, but every choice has ultimately had a positive impact on our health and happiness. Go as long as you can without a vehicle, it's so worthwhile!

Rosa said...

I haven't been 100% car-free for very long at a time - a year here, a year there - but the only real impact it had was on out-of-town trips.

We still bike most times/places, and because we've been doing it so long and base our planning on the bike, it's easy.

Happy Mama said...

I was car free the whole time I was a student and the first couple of years I lived in Glasgow. I resisted buying a car for a long time as everything I needed on a daily/weekly basis was within a five mile radius (home, work, shops, bus station, train station, park, swimming, cinema). The luxury of inner city living!

My mum basically forced me to take her old car and I was a bit annoyed with her at the time.
Looking back, though, although I THINK I was car free, I used to borrow hers whenever I needed to carry heavy stuff from Fife to Glasgow, or ask her to visit me when I needed to buy DIY stuff etc. I guess she was actually subsidising me that way and giving me her car was making me grow up a little bit and pay for the petrol/insurance/tax to give me the convenience of access to a vehicle?

I can't imagine not having a car where we live with four small children. Cycling isn't an option in our hilly town and most of the town facilites are at the other side of a fairly secluded town-wide park.

I think it's possible in a city but not as easy in a rural or small town environment?
Karen )Scotland)

Georgie said...

I'm 27 and have never driven a car; my mother is 65 and has never driven one either! My partner owns a car, so we do have a 'family' one, but generally we only use it on the weekends. We have three kids: we live 10 minutes' walk from the primary school and when they go to high school they will go on the public bus by themselves. I live 25 minutes' walk from the CBD, 15 minutes from the supermarket/post office, and our area is well-serviced by public transport. The swimming pool and library are about 30 minutes' walk with hills, which is a little tough in summer, especially for my 4yo (if I push him in a stroller then I have to wear the 2yo,which is tough on ME). I am getting a Taga bike/stroller to hopefully make trips like that, and further afield, easier. It's $2000 but that's a lot cheaper than using a car all the time.
To live this close to everything we have compromised on house & yard size.

Jessica said...

If I lived in a better area I would. I'm in Utah where it gets in the high 90s in summer and as low as the teens in the winter. If it were just me, that'd be ok but it's hard with a baby...not to mention a bad back! I did have to walk him to a pediatrician visit in July because my husband had the car (and the stroller in it). It was 3 miles uphill and took about 50 minutes to get there. I try to walk when I can (for instance I'm about 1.5 miles from the craft store so when I needed to go last week I walked. We're also about 2/3 of a mile from a grocery store and walk there when we need smaller non-Costco-sized products) but for longer distances I use the car.

louisa @ The Really Good Life said...

I've never had a car of my own and have reached the age of 31 without fully learning to drive (I've taken lessons and could drive in an emergency, but legally can't drive on my own). This is a bit of a chicken/egg situation: because I don't drive, I've always chosen to live in places with great public transport links/nearby shops, and because of those facilities, I don't need to learn to drive.

Using public transport buys me reading/crocheting time, and around cities, buses are usually as quick as cars (since no one is going anywhere fast, and buses often have shortcuts/dedicated bus lanes).

Ken Rockwell included some great info about the cost of commuting in his "how to afford anything" article -

Walter Jeffries said...

Car free? Well I'm sort of car free. We have one vehicle. It is our delivery van for transporting pigs to the butcher and then meat to stores and restaurants. My wife does the driving. I go almost nowhere. I'm a homebody. She calls me her hermit on the mountain. It is a looong walk to even get off our farm never mind go 'somewhere'. I can go for months without leaving the mountain. I guess I'm essentially careless.

I do have a tractor though for heavy lifting, snow plowing for the milk truck, moving hay bales, etc. Almost half the year is white here.

Jobsearch said...

Living without a car can be pretty tough, especially where public transportation is frequently lacking. People most often choose housing that is near their place of business.

Kika said...

We choose to live with one vehicle. I live in a small town with no public transport (taxis only). If it came between food and a vehicle, of course I know we could survive without wheels but our quality of live would suffer considerably. Also, living in a small town, we are often forced to travel into the nearest city (two hours away) for medical care. I really feel for people who don't have a vehicle in situations like this. Of course, there is a greyhound bus but I can't imagine with children, especially, making all trips in this way. It would be very inconvenient and rather costly (I have safety concerns about it too). I prefer our moderate choice of one older, paid for vehicle, and choosing to walk plenty as well.