As a teenager, learning to drive was something I looked forward to with great enthusiasm. I thought about all the things people usually think about when getting their first car like being able to go wherever I wanted and being more independent.
When I finally had the chance to take driving lessons, they turned out to be some of the most anxious experiences of my life.
I remember stalling right in the middle of a junction and a dozen other drivers witnessed it. Another time I lost control of the accelerator pedal while turning a corner and barely missed hitting another car.
Yeah, I was awful at driving. By the end of every session, I would feel stressed out, mentally fatigued and nowhere near as excited as I was before. Because of this, I decided to stop taking lessons.
Honestly, there was little to no need for me to learn to drive anyway since I enjoyed walking so much and was more than happy catching the bus to college.
I put learning to drive on hold and focused on things that I felt were more meaningful to me with strong faith that my life will be just fine without owning an automobile.
Whenever people asked; “When are you going to learn to drive?”, my answer was usually something like; “If or when my life reaches a point where it sucks to be without a car, maybe then I’ll learn to drive. But right now, things are great.”
I never thought anybody else would give much care or thought to my decision to live car-free
But to my surprise, there were many people who totally disagreed with me. So much so, that they would do their absolute best to discourage me by suggesting the negative ways that not having a car would reflect me as a person (at least in their opinion).
Some would call me lazy, others would say that I’m immature and lack independence.
Often people would make condescending statements to point out my apparent limitations but phrase them like innocent honest questions. I’d be asked things like;
“How are you going to get a job?”
“What if you need to travel?”
“What are you going to do if you get a girlfriend?”
All as if car ownership was a mandatory requirement for these things.
But what always bewildered people most, was that I was happier living without a car.
As I write this today nearly ten years later, I still live car-free. I don’t own a car nor do I have any intentions of owning one.
I’m in good health and get around on my own two feet ninety percent of the time. I pay my own rent and don’t burden anybody else financially. I also happen to be in the most meaningful relationship of my life and no such vehicle was ever needed.
The idea of owning a car has become so ubiquitous in society that many people literally cannot even imagine living without one. Certain cities are constructed around car owners and neglect the minority of people who would be happier if they didn’t have to own one.
There’s also a great deal of social pressure too given that car manufacturers often use their adverts to spread the idea that owning a car will somehow give you a better reputation and higher social status than other people.
Despite popular belief, owning a car is not for everybody and the benefits that people may use to sell car ownership to you, might not be as beneficial to you as an individual.
Now, I’m not suggesting that it is somehow wrong to own a car. Despite my views on driving, I understand that having a car does have certain obvious advantages for some people.
But though few people talk about it, there are also disadvantages to owning a car and advantages to living without one.
I’d like to talk about four ways which your life could improve as a result of living without a car or even if you simple chose to drive less.
Most people assume that owning a car will save time. This is a fair argument given that you don’t have to wait at a bus stop or train station and yes, cars typically move faster than people can walk.
But what most people don’t consider, is that when driving, your time and attention is devoted to the road and all the hazards that come with it such as people crossing, traffic lights, roadworks or anything else that might creep out when you least expect it.
The level of concentration needed while driving can actually defeat the object of saving time.
Because the time spent behind the wheel is often unproductive and in some cases unenjoyed.
Then of course there are all of the other occasions such as refuelling, cleaning, maintaining, being stuck in traffic and dealing with all the legal aspects that come with car ownership which take up even more of your time.
Now lets talk about how your time would look if you opted to use public transport instead.
While traveling by bus or train, you’re in full control of what you choose to do during the journey.
If you want to be productive, you can. If you want to do something enjoyable like reading or watching a video, you can. If you’re feeling tired and would like to use the travel time to rest or stare in amazement at whatever scenery you pass, there’s no reason why you can’t.
While many people will disagree, I believe this to be the best and fullest way to travel.
When driving, it’s almost impossible to do anything productive or enjoyable with the same focus. Sure you can play music or chat with the person next to you but you can never give them your full attention without the risk of being in an accident.
Many people will tell you that public transport is often late and unreliable and in many ways they’re right. No method of transport is without flaws. The same goes for buses, trains, walking and yes, cars too.
Cars get stuck in traffic just like buses do and if traffic is the reason why a bus is late, it’s likely that being in your car won’t solve the problem.
There are very few (if any) health benefits to driving a car. In fact, some studies show driving to have a correlation with increased blood pressure, higher cholesterol and even obesity.
On top of this, driving is generally very stressful.
Although TV adverts often portray driving to be a blissful experience as you glide along a long solitary road somewhere in the South of France, the reality is that very few people ever experience driving in this way.
Whether your car is brand new or rusted and ready to fall apart, you will spend more time stuck in a traffic jam during rush hour, slamming your breaks on because somebody pulled out in front of you, honking your horn at somebody who should’ve given way or an infinity of other things that are nowhere near as pleasurable as the advert promised.
In contrast, walking serves as a low impact workout that can help you maintain a healthier weight and reduce your stress levels.
You also claim back full control of your mind and thoughts since walking requires very little concentration and mental resources.
This is great for creativity such as when you’re trying to generate new ideas, or for problem solving if you’re facing a particular challenge that you’d like to find the best solution to.
Probably the thing I value most about walking personally, is it’s ability to reduce depression.
Quite often, I’ve turned down lifts and chosen to walk instead even if it took me over an hour to reach my destination. People would look confused, some even seemed to feel sorry for me. But the truth is that I always felt better after the walk.
Even if it takes you a little longer to reach your destination, consider what walking can give back to your mind and body that a car will more than likely take away from you…
Most people I know consider their car to be their second biggest expense from their house.
Since owing a car became the status quo, many people regard the large costs of running one to be an absolute necessity.
In situations where I’d tell people that I’m not happy spending so much money on a car, nine times out of ten they would tell me something like; “But you need a car!” in a tone that made the conversation sound like it was about primitive survival. Politely, I’d usually reply; “Not if you arrange your life so that you don’t need a car.”
Many people overlook just how expensive driving really is. Besides actually buying the vehicle itself, you also inherit other expenses too such as;
• MOT (for cars in the UK)
• (And possibly more that I’ve missed…)
If you choose to walk instead, instantly you’re saving money since it’s free, doesn’t cost you a penny and probably never will.
While public transport usually isn’t free, it’s arguably more affordable than owning a car. This is especially true if you can arrange your life so that you only have to use public transport for a small percentage of your time.
For example, when I moved home, I intentionally chose a place that was within walking distance of my job. I also made sure my home was near a bus route so that I could easily visit my parents every week and not too far from a train station so that I could travel long distance if needed.
One of the best things about this financially, is that you pay solely for the service of getting from one place to another and you generally don’t have to worry about any of the expenses mentioned above.
Unless you truly get a lot of value and meaning from your car, you’d likely gain much more fulfilment if you put your hard earned cash towards something more important to you.
This is probably the most controversial and debatable topic of car ownership.
Ask anybody who owns a car how they felt when they first learned to drive and almost certainly you’ll hear one word over and over again; free.
Again, I’m not denying that having a car has certain benefits because they do.
But to say that owning a car will give somebody freedom, is not accurate.
Besides how expensive owning a car is (which can reduce your financial freedom), they also come with a great deal of responsibilities and obligations that arguably contradict the idea of freedom.
When your car breaks down, by most laws you cannot just abandon it and walk away (no matter how frustrated you may be with it). In this scenario, a car is actually more restricting than freeing especially when you’re on the way to something important like a job interview.
Many people will argue that public transport breaks down too and they’re right. ALL machines break down at some time or another.
The difference however, is that unlike when a car breaks down, public transport gives you the option to get off and walk.
Another reason that cars don’t truly represent freedom, is that you must abide by the rules, laws and systems of the road.
You certainly can’t travel faster than what is permitted (unless you want a speeding ticket) and if you miss your exit on the motorway (freeway if you live in the US), it’s not like you can just pull a U-turn without endangering hundreds of people.
While walking (and often cycling too), there are much less restrictions on where you can go and very few rules and systems to follow. If you feel like straying away from the main road and taking a detour by the river or through the park, there are few things to stop you from taking the scenic route.
Then there’s the issue of storage.
To state the obvious, cars are very large possessions and require a large space to store.
If you’re the kind of person who favours small apartments over large houses (like myself), sometimes car storage can be an issue if you find a place that appeals to you that doesn’t have a garage, driveway or any kind of place to park.
While out and about, you certainly don’t have the freedom to park wherever you want to (unless you want a parking ticket) and often when you do find a space you have to pay for it!
With more cars on the road than ever before, just finding a place to park can be difficult and time consuming.
When travelling, very few scenarios are as liberating as getting off a bus or train or arriving by foot and immediately being able to go out and explore a new place without hinderance and without hesitation.
Does this sound more like freedom to you?
If you’d like to experiment with a car-free lifestyle there are certain things to take into consideration (which I may write about in detail in a later post).
Here are some important questions to ask;
• Are the places you need to be within walking distance of your home?
• Are there public transit services that can get you to these places if they’re too far to walk?
• What in your life makes you reliant on a car?
• Is there anything that can be changed?
If the benefits of what you’ve just read sound appealing to you, then living without a car might just help you live more simply and more happily.
Regardless of what the majority of society may tell you, choosing not to own a car does not make you any less human than somebody who drives a Mercedes nor does it limit and restrict you in the ways that people think it will.
Whatever choice you make, I’ll respect your decision.