How Being Car-Free For 14 Years Has Impacted My Life

When I was 16, I got my first car — an old 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit convertible. It didn’t have power steering, the windows fogged up when it rained, and you had to manually wrestle the top down. Plus, there was no light that went on when it was low on gas, so it was often a guessing game as to when I needed to fill up. Needless to say, I ran out of gas a few times. But I loved it. That car took me and my friends to school, as well as to all my after-school commitments and part-time job.

I had the Volkswagen for about a year or so, and then I got a different car. And when that car died in college, I got a third car. I drove that third car throughout the rest of college and after I returned home. It took me all around the freeways and streets in Southern California, because if you want to go somewhere in Southern California, you need a car.

But in 2003, I moved to Boston to attend law school. I left my car in California, mainly because I didn’t know how to drive in the snow I knew I’d encounter in Boston, I knew I wouldn’t be driving to school, and I wasn’t interested in roughing out the Boston traffic.

And I haven’t owned a car since. I’ve been car-free for about 14 years, and since moving to Boston, I’ve lived in Washington, D.C. and now Seattle. And I’ve done it all without an automobile.

My main reason for not owning a car is that I don’t need it. Luckily, the cities I’ve lived in all have reliable transportation that gets me where I need to go. Over the years, I’ve learned to navigate public transportation systems and to read bus and subway schedules. Sometimes, yes, you have to take more than one bus to get you where you want to go, and it may take twice as long. But I can get to Home Depot just the same as everybody else.

But that’s not the only reason that I’m car-free.

It’s cheaper.

I don’t have the expenses of a car. I don’t pay for gas or upkeep, or pay car insurance. I don’t have to pay to park my car in the garage at work. Similarly, I don’t pay to park my car at home, as I live in an apartment building, and the only option available for parking is in a parking garage with a monthly fee.

Not having a car allows me to focus on other things.

I don’t have to worry about whether my car has enough gas to get me to work. I don’t worry about paying car registration by a certain date. I’m not concerned that my car will get broken into. When I was looking for a new apartment to move into, I didn’t have to bother with finding a building that included parking. Just having one less thing to think about made my search that much easier.

My commute is much more peaceful.

I don’t deal with navigating and driving in traffic. I don’t have to hassle with the driver in the next lane over that won’t let me merge. Instead of driving, I am relaxing and zoning out. I’ve read numerous books while riding on buses and trains, and listened to countless podcasts. Occasionally I’ve even fallen asleep, which I heard is not a good idea to do while driving.

*****

There are some downsides to not having a car. It’s difficult to haul large items on the bus or subway. When I went to Ikea, I only bought a plant, because that was all I could carry. Not having a car has also taught me that I have to prioritize at the grocery store. When I go to the store, I take my two canvas bags, one for each shoulder, and I shop with the hand-basket. I know that when that basket fills up, I have all I can carry on my walk home.

Not owning a car means that I am at the mercy of the bus schedule, which keeps me on my toes. If I miss the bus in the morning, then I have to wait 15 minutes for the next one to arrive. If I know I need to be somewhere at a certain time, I make sure I check the schedule so that I’m not late. Occasionally this means that I am super early to things, but I’d rather be early than miss the beginning of something, or make my friends wait.

I like being car-free, and sometimes I challenge myself to see how far I can go on the bus. I keep my driver’s license current to use for photo ID, but seeing as how the last time I got behind the wheel of a car was at least six years ago, I don’t see myself driving anytime soon.

Perhaps one day I will buy another car, but for now, I am enjoying being car-free.

Shanna lives in Seattle and spends her free time reading, scrolling through Instagram, and watching Project Runway.

Image via Unsplash

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  • Jack

    This is great! I also love not having a car. But re: groceries…invest in a rolser!! You can bring more home, and save your back 😀

  • Wolf

    I’m 29, and never had a car. When I got a new job, I chose my new apartment so I have a 30min walk to work. I don’t even depend on bus schedules anymore. I walk past grocery stores, clothes and stationery shops, drugstores and pharmacies, on my way home from work. I have everything I need.

  • Summer

    I’ve been car-free for almost two years now and while it’s been weird for me as a former “car person” who loves to drive, it has also been SO GREAT. Just like you said, I don’t have to worry about gas or auto insurance, I don’t have to worry about parking or mechanical issues; I even feel unburdened by the total lack of liability on the roadways, which is something I never thought twice about when I did have a car. My husband has a car through his company and we do use it for road trips, IKEA, etc (he’s always the driver), but I often go weeks without being in it as there’s just no need. Our city is extremely walkable and has excellent public transportation. I did get a license here in Germany and I renewed my soon-to-be expiring SC license last time I was in the states because it’s nice to be able to drive legally, just in case, but unless I find myself with an actual need for one, I still don’t have any plans to buy a car.

  • Adriane

    I’ve been very tempted to go car free, but my city is not walking/biking friendly nor does it have a good public transportation system. Oh well.

  • Anna Yugova

    So great! I didn’t own a car before moving to the US. In fact, I hadn’t been behind the wheel for 3 years or so. I just moved to Boston and am thinking about selling the car instead of trying to bring it from where I used to live, which will buy me some more time to job search. You just reaffirmed me in my decision. Thank you!

  • Beck

    Car sharing services like Zipcar, Maven, and Car2Go are perfect for trips to places like Ikea that are not super accessible by public transport and you have to move big things!