TL;DR: I've always loved my car and the freedom driving brings; I thought ditching my car would be "less-than", but it's opened up an amazing new lifestyle; 8 unexpected things I've gained from living car-free.
I've always loved having a car. As a teenager, I learned to drive early around the backstreets of our semi-rural neighbourhood, then got my license - and my first car - at the earliest possible moment, around 3 months after I reached the age of eligibility. I loved driving and always will. I loved the freedom of jumping in the car and just going, anywhere I wanted, uninhibited.
Funnily enough, it's the same feeling of go-anywhere freedom that I get now, living without a car. In fact, I prefer to characterise our carless lifestyle as "living car-free"--emphasis on the "free".
Last year, we knew we'd be moving to a crowded, inner-city suburb of Sydney in early 2019. We knew we'd be living on a tight budget and that parking would be a hassle. So we tentatively decided to take the leap and leave our car behind in Brisbane when we left.
A few months before the planned move, our then-car combusted and the decision was decisively made. We were officially car-free.
At first, I thought it'd be a hassle not to be able to jump in the car and go wherever I wanted. I immediately signed up for a GoGet membership, my security blanket for when I needed to access a car. (Note: I've never used it.) I thought living without a car would be less-than. I definitely didn't expect to GAIN anything. But here's what I got from living car-free:
1. Great legs. No, seriously. The first week we lived in Sydney, my legs were sore allll the time. Walking 1.5km to the grocery store and carrying home a couple of full bags felt like a huge challenge. Power walking huffily up the street for the merest errand really took it out of me at first. But soon, previously insurmountable distances felt like nothing. I couldn't believe how fit I got, how quickly, and how much I actually enjoy just walking around.
2. A sense of agency and power. Knowing that I don't need to rely on a car or even a bus or train to get me where I need to go feels incredibly powerful. The ability to get through my day and all its necessary tasks under my own steam is a big deal. As a woman moving through the world, I'm used to physically fearing for my safety and making myself smaller so as to take up less space. Now, as a walker, I stride through the neighbourhood with confidence. This is my turf. And my legs can take me anywhere I want to go.
3. Bucketloads of extra cash. The cost of owning a car is a blindspot for many of us, since we take it for granted as a necessary cost of living. What if you just let that go? Add up the cost of petrol, services and repairs, insurance, plus any repayments you're making or the sheer amount of cash you spent on the car originally and will never recoup. You could save literally thousands of dollars every year. And for the times when you "need" a car, what's the cost of occasionally hiring a car for a weekend trip to the beach, borrowing a GoGet van to move a piece of furniture, paying for delivery or getting the occasional Uber home after a late night out? It's nothing compared to car ownership.
4. Peace of mind. We live in a street where cars are regularly sideswiped (space reasons) and broken into (local demographic reasons). The other day I saw a parked hatchback literally CRUSHED by a council garbage truck that didn't have space to manoeuvre around it. As a non-car owner, I will never again have to worry about getting in an accident or having something stolen from my car. I'll never make a car-related insurance claim again. And I never have to worry about trying to find a park, anywhere I go!
5. One less thing to clean and maintain, equalling more time and headspace. Not that I cleaned my car before (that's on my list of "things I don't believe in"), but I still had the decency to clear out my banana peels and used tissues (both of which I generate constantly) each time I left the car. All those minutes I used to spend filling up at the petrol station, wiping my windshield, filling my tires and getting the car serviced? That's time I own now, buddy.
6. Extra alone time. I now love public transport. Buses and trains are an enforced time to switch off (since I don't have to watch the road, I can literally close my eyes) and spend some time inside my own head. I usually use this time to listen to amusing podcasts or catch up with friends on the phone. Yes, I'm the person who holds an irritating one-sided conversation on the bus. Not sorry.
7. Love for my neighbourhood. We can live in neighbourhoods for years without really living in them. Home is just a place you go to sleep at night, making the dash from driveway to door without making eye contact with the neighbours. When's the last time you wandered your streets? Or walked to a local coffee shop? I know every inch and angle of my local patch, every park and pothole. Being out in the streets, up against it all--and conducting most of my life within walking distance of where I sleep--has quickly made this brand-new place feel more like my home.
8. Lightness and freedom. I thought that driving myself anywhere equalled freedom, but it's nothing to the sense of spontaneity that comes with not having a car at all. Just walking out into the street and going somewhere? Amazing! I thought it would be inconvenient when I wanted to carry stuff, but it's just taught me to travel even more lightly in my day-to-day life. I know exactly what necessities I need and how to pack them. I'm always ready in five seconds and keen for anything.
Losing our car was one of the happiest life-decisions I've ever made. Don't think of it as a sacrifice to save the planet; open yourself up to the joy and goodness it will bring into your life. (But also, we need to save the planet. So if you think you could live car-free, even if it's hard, I'm imploring you to try.)
P.S. In case you haven't already thought about it, my take on why we need to just stop driving all the time.