In the fall of 2010, I packed most of my belongings into my car and left Wisconsin in search of a warmer climate and new sites. I was also in need of distance from the girl I loved but really I had wanted to get out of the state anyways. I was 24 at the time and my car was a good companion, providing me with the freedom to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I made my way down to Florida exploring many of the great states in between and after just a month down there I drove across the country to San Diego, where I still live today.
My car has always been my life. I grew up in a small town thinking that a car was my pathway to freedom. I never contemplated for a moment the idea of not having a car. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to own a car I thought? From the time I got a car at age 16, through high school, through university, and past that I couldn’t imagine my life without a car. And it wasn’t just the practicality about getting around either. My car was a huge part of my social status.
Then in 2011, I started to learn about what was going on with our environment. I started to learn about all the harm I was causing to my body and to the environment with my simple daily actions like the food I was eating, the water I was wasting, the chemical-filled soaps and shampoos I was putting on my body, the trash I was creating, etc. I really started to get into sustainability and started to pay attention to my actions.
It wasn’t long before I started to think about my car and started to feel uncomfortable pumping fuel into it. Not only all the money I was burning but also how I was contributing to war, oil spills, climate change, and pollution. I decided to take responsibility for my own actions and not put all the blame on the corporations or government. I had to take responsibility for a small portion of all this destruction since I was a part of it. I believe participation is perpetuation so I knew that if I continued to pump gasoline into my car that I’d help the system I didn’t support to continue.
It wasn’t just about the environment though. It was about money and my health as well. I calculated that I was spending about $7,000 per year on my car and I started to think I could do better things with that kind of money. In 2010, I traveled the world for 5 months and saw Africa, Asia, and Europe for the same cost as owning my car for a year! To me, that was a much better usage of $7,000 than just having a car.
I started to really contemplate selling my car. Being the very rational and logical guy that I am, I made a pro’s and con’s list of selling my car. Here it is:
-No Insurance or registration to pay ($ saved)
-No maintenance or repairs to pay for ($ saved)
-No parking or speeding tickets ($ saved)
-No gas to buy ($ saved)
-No more risk of car accidents
-Exercise- my daily life will be more physically oriented rather than sitting in a car oriented. I will bike or walk more often.
-My life will be much simpler without all the bills, the time put into the car, and the rushing around town
-I will Reduce stress from traffic, bills, and time spent on and in the car
-It will force me to be more efficient when I do have a car to use
-I will be less likely to go out and buy stuff without a car
-I will shop locally near my house rather than going to the big box stores like Wal-Mart
-I will be living in alignment with my beliefs. It is as simple as “I know it is bad, so why am I doing it?”
-The money I save is more valuable to use in other areas such as food, leisure activity, adventures, travel, and at my home
-The freedom lost of being able to go wherever, whenever.
-Having to get around in bad weather
-Challenging to go on business calls and training sales employees
-Not being able to transport things
-Not having the easy ability to go on trips with sporting equipment like my Paddleboard
-My car looks good and I won’t have that anymore
-No mileage write-offs for work
-I won’t have it as an asset anymore
I felt that the pros vastly outweighed the cons so just a month or two later I sold my car. With some of the money I made I bought a really nice bike. I wanted to be comfortable riding and to get around the city smoothly.
I also got a membership to car2go, which is an electric car share program in San Diego. With car2go all I need is my membership card and I have access to hundreds of cars across San Diego. I just get in, drive where I want to go, and park it. It’s like owning a car without actually owning a car. They are in 30 cities around the USA and internationally and I can use my membership in every city. Besides car2g0, there are dozens of other car sharing programs across the United States that make it easy to live car-free.
It’s been 4 years now and I’ve never looked back. Everything I put on my pros list still holds true today. I adapted my life to being car free and every adaptation I made really worked out in my favor. None of the cons have negatively affected me at all.
Even the pros were vastly underestimated. My lifestyle has transformed so much by not owning a car and it has led me to a life full of health and happiness. Selling my car truly bought me my freedom in so many ways. I knew I’d save that $7,000/ year by getting rid of my car but the financial gain has been so more. It also made all the other environmental changes that I wanted to make so much easier. I wanted to stop shopping at Wal-Mart for example but with a car it was so easy to go there and with a trunk it was so easy to buy a lot of stuff. Without a car and a trunk I don’t think I ever shopped there again. I wanted to go to the farmers market rather than buying a cart full of groceries at the big box stores and that became easy without a car. Rather than buying food in huge quantities I bought it fresh in small quantities at the store or farmers market nearby. I wanted to get my physical activity just by carrying out my daily activities and without a car I started to bike all of my errands. I canceled my gym membership and got into the best shape of my life when I adopted this way of getting around.
More and more I’ve surpassed my own expectations as well. At first, I didn’t even think I could ride over the bridge from Ocean Beach to Pacific Beach. I did that and then realized I could ride my bike all over San Diego. Then I got the crazy idea to ride my bike all the way across the USA. I got a bamboo bike for this trip though, and I made it 4,700 miles across the United States in one summer!
The next summer I decided to do it again and it was one the best times of my life. Often when I’m feeling down I can hop on a bike and instantly start smiling.
After all that riding 5 miles to the store or 10 miles to a friend’s house really is no big deal. I have a bike trailer and panniers so I can even haul loads around town.
Occasionally I do still drive and I often find it to be the angriest time of my year. I’m a very happy, calm guy but it doesn’t take long in traffic before I start to curse under my breath. It was easy to hate the world when I was stuck in traffic. Now that I ride a bike instead I’m pretty much always happy whether it’s cruising past traffic or on the open road.
In the USA, it costs about $9,000 per year to own and drive a typical sedan. The median income for the middle class is $51,000. So with some simple math, you can see that 17% of the household’s income goes to the car. That means every bit of work in January and February is just to pay for the car. Even crazier if you look at the median income for an individual (approx. $27,000) then January, February, March, and most of April for an individual go to just paying for the car! Besides all that time spent working for the car a huge amount is also spent sitting in the car. Americans spend an average of 614 total hours driving a car per year. In a lifetime, that’s 4.4 years in the car. This is the type of information that made it a no-brainer for me to ditch the car and go for the bike. This is a perfect example of living in the rat race. I walked out of that rat race about five years ago and selling my car was the most effective step in attaining freedom from the mundane.
Ask most San Diegans and they’d say you NEED a car to live in this city. The public transportation is only fair and the city is really, really spread out. I thought I couldn’t do without a car here too but I proved myself wrong. Every location and every situation is unique whether it’s the freezing cold or sweltering heat, tiny town or big city, the USA or anywhere abroad. You can ALWAYS rationalize needing a car. But I’m confident that life can be done without a car and life can be much better without one. Living carefree is a lifestyle choice that changes you at the core. There are so many options out there and where there is a will there is a way.