Could you live without a car?
I’ve driven a car for my entire adult life, and I’ve become dependent on that sort of lifestyle. For nearly 10 years, a car has helps me get up into the mountains on the weekends, drive to field hockey practice in the evenings, get to work, and run errands on a daily basis. So I was a little apprehensive about not having a vehicle when we moved to Germany. And after 5 months without a vehicle, I can’t say that I don’t miss having a car, but it’s a lot easier to adapt to a car-free life than I first anticipated.
Going without a car seems normal in Europe. Whether it’s a crowded city or rural countryside village, people in Europe walk and bicycle a lot more. It’s so much easier than trying to find parking (old buildings = no underground parking), plus the last time I checked, gas was around the equivalent of $1.90/litre ($7.20/gallon). And what’s most remarkable is that people of all ages are walking or bicycling around the cities – it’s not just for youthful, fit people. I’ve seen men in expensive suits and women in sky high heels riding bicycles in Prague, old women peddling with a basket full of groceries, and “cool” teenagers in skinny jeans riding their hipster fixed-gear bicycles.
Transit also appear to be much better in Europe than in most North American cities. The networks reach farther, and systems are generally quite good in smaller cities.
Additionally, those Europeans that do own cars, usually drive small, economical cars. It is extremely rare to see a mini van, SUV, station wagon, or truck parked on the street. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that a 4-door VW Golf, or Suzuki SX4 is considered to be quite big over here. Our “small” cars in North America are spacious, family-sized cars in Europe. People drive tiny cars like the Fiat 500, Mini Cooper, Smart Car, and scooters are everywhere!
There are so many pros to going without a car: not having to pay for insurance or gas or repairs, it’s better for the environment, and I’m getting exercise every day. From where we live, it takes 35 minutes each way to walk downtown, 20 minutes to the grocery store, and 40 minutes to the train station.
That being said, I do miss the freedom of having a car. Last weekend we wanted to go to IKEA, but it took us over 2 hours roundtrip just to get there (2 trains + 3km walk each way), and then we had to lug what we bought with us all the way back home. Plus, when we go grocery shopping, we can only buy as much as we can fit into our backpacks – meaning we go shopping at least two or three times a week. Transit is somewhat expensive if you take it irregularly, and when it rains or gets too hot or too cold, you can forget about riding a bicycle. It’s the worst.
Even though I’m enjoying life without a car (for the most part), and I will definitely ride my bicycle a lot more when I’m back in Vancouver, I don’t think I could go completely car-free. Living in the suburbs of Metro Vancouver, too much of what I like to do is car-dependent – and I’m willing to pay for that.
Do you think you could ever ditch your car completely?
Author: Krystal Yee
I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.