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Moving Without a Car, and Other Tips for Going “Car Light”

It’s been over a decade now since I decided to try living without a car. At the time, I was in college and the vehicles I could afford seemed to break down almost as fast as I could repair them. I switched to getting around on my bicycle and immediately found that I had less stress and more spending money.

As time went on, my income improved but I kept finding new reasons not to drive: saving money, saving the climate, and saving my sanity when I lived in the city. It’s true that I have not always been able to go completely car-free. Sometimes I had job commitments that I just couldn’t fulfill without a vehicle, especially during the years I worked construction. But overall, I’m proud of how car-light my life has been. 

My lifestyle is fairly uncommon here in Southern California, and I often feel myself having to defend it. One of the more common comments I hear is: “I could never give up my car. What do I do when I need to move?” This argument always struck me as spurious, but I’ve heard it so many times that I think I need to address it.

I suppose I understand where the question is coming from. It’s true that we Americans are a mobile society. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average 30-year-old can expect to move at least five more times in their life. But is it really worth making payments on a car—not to mention paying for maintenance, insurance, parking, and gas—just because you may need to move every few years?  

And when you actually move, how useful is your personal vehicle actually going to be for hauling things like furniture and appliances? Even for a short move across town, you’d be better off renting a moving truck. Better yet, hire some professional movers and let them rent the truck. Not only do the pros have stronger backs than you, but they have experience (and insurance) to deal with any problems that might arise. Meanwhile, the personal car just becomes one more bulky item that needs to be transported.

I know this advice seems simplistic, but it highlights one of the big differences between the car-owning philosophy and the car-light philosophy. As an automobile owner, we try to pick a vehicle that will do everything for us. The same car is supposed to fit all of our needs for commuting, hauling cargo, and vacations. No matter how much money we spend, we always wind up with a compromise. Then we’re stuck with it for years.

Car-light people, however, have the freedom to use whichever equipment they need for the job. If I need a moving truck, I rent one and return it when I’m done. If I need a pickup, I can get a nice heavy-duty one from the local home improvement center for an hourly rate. If I’m going on a trip somewhere where the train doesn’t run, I rent a sporty little compact car for the week. I always have the right vehicle for the job. 

Even when I don’t rent vehicles, I still have choices. Within my neighborhood, I usually just walk. If I need to go farther, I can bicycle or hop on a city bus and let the driver worry about traffic while I read a book. If I need to go into the city, I take the train, then get directly onto the subway at the station.

Car-driving people, on the other hand, have invested so much (financially and psychologically) into their cars that they feel that they need to take them everywhere. They have given up their options. Personally, I like the option of arriving at my destination calm and rested, instead of stressed from fighting traffic and late because I couldn’t find a parking space. Likewise, I like the option of using some of the money I save by not having a car to hire professional movers when I need them. Keep your options open.

Kevin A. Straight is an MBA candidate at the Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Riverside.

 

 

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Comments

I live in New Zealand. A nation welded to car ownership. I live without one and do so very successfully and don’t think I miss out on any quality in my life. I even exercise a strange joy in juggling too many bundles of groceries on the bus as part of the weekly shop ritual. However, I am fascinated by the almost aggressive response from people – as if my comfort with walking, cycling and public transport are disingenuous and that I am in some way deluding myself.

Posted by Peter Rowlands at July 13, 2013 at 5:11pm

I’m only 22 and I live in the suburbs of New York City and I don’t know anyone here who doesn’t have a car, though obviously most of my friends in the city don’t. I hate having a car for all the reasons mentioned (money, environment, and the stresses of traffic and parking, especially with urban driving). But where I live, the bus and train stations are several miles away and they only run on commuter schedules, so you physically can’t get around without a car. I feel like the only solution is to move into the city… but I feel like hating cars isn’t a good enough reason to move somewhere.

Posted by Amanda at February 13, 2013 at 10:14pm

I’ve been car-free for nearly 10 years. I like the point the author makes about having to constantly defend my lifestyle. People are even hostile toward me when I tell them I bike, walk, and use public transit (I live in Pasadena, CA).

I think it’s important to remember that cars are a major source of revenue for the US- from buying cars, gas, and repairs. The media teaches us that having a car is part of the “American dream” and if we don’t own one we’re not successful or just plain losers. I believe as other likeminded people learn this isn’t true and we can live our life’s car-free that we’ll see a shift toward sustainable/walkable cities with better transportation options.

Posted by Sean Bleakley at January 31, 2013 at 9:14pm

I have a sub compact car for over 11 yrs and only have 70,000 miles on it. I rent a car or truck any time that I need to travel long distance or move. I also travel by bus and light rail whenever approprtiate. My bike also takes me places when the weather is good, People ask me, “Why do you ride the bus or take the train when you have a car?” I tell them that, “I take mass transit because I can, not because I have too.”

Posted by lou at January 18, 2013 at 2:58am

I am so glad that I read this article since I’m moving in 2 weeks and our hand-me-down car is acting up. I’m commuting by bus every day and only using car to weekly grocery shopping. I’m going to try car-free living once the next car repair comes.

Posted by VeggieLover at January 17, 2013 at 8:38am

I also live in southern California and haven’t had a car in over 7 years now. It’s tough, honestly, since public transportation is spotty at best and is super expensive. (A few days ago I hopped on the bus and was shocked to learn that the day pass had just increased to 7 bucks, from 5 in December—sheesh)! Anyway I’m in much better shape than my neighbors who use their car to get to the corner store. A walking and biking lifestyle is better for our health, our planet and for learning to slow down and be patient. Thanks for sharing your story—I’m glad that I’m not the only dork who goes car-less. : )

Posted by Stacy at January 16, 2013 at 3:33pm

I gave up on cars entirely a while back. It’s too much hassle,expense, and repair. I get rides from friends sometimes, but honestly, it’s only ever been a hassle when the weather is utter dreck. On the plus side, I’m less stressed out, have more money, and I’m in much better shape. I can now walk up to 33 miles in 8 hours. But I have to say, it’s much easier for me since I don’t have a ton of time constraints.

Posted by Thevail at January 5, 2013 at 7:43pm

This blog validates what I do daily! I’m 50 years young and teach at a high school in Florida. I live 6 miles from the school and ride my bike to and from work everyday! My students and colleagues can not understand why I do this when I actually have a car. My response to them is …BECAUSE I CAN!

Also….I teach en advance course in environmental science and my daily mantra is LIVE LIGHTLY ON THIS EARTH! Saving resources, saving money, stress-free and physcially fit! BIKE ON!

Thank you for sharing your blog. I’m not alone in the biking world!

Posted by brezapiercea at January 5, 2013 at 11:25am

Ha! Love the pic. I once moved several blocks away using a borrowed shopping cart someone had abandoned on a street corner. I was able to move my entire encyclopedia set & antique book collection with no trouble at all. Of course we had to make several trips back and forth, but what an adventure! We did have a relative w/truck help to move the mattresses & an entertainment center. My couch was pretty lightweight & we just hoofed it on over to the new digs.

Posted by WanderLust at January 4, 2013 at 3:07pm

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