Monday, December 6, 2010

Starting My Third Year Without a Car

It never occurred to me that I could live without a car until I decided to become an ''Empty Nest Expat.'' Such is the constant brainwashing of Americans that the American dream must include a car.  Had I known how fantastic it is to not own a vehicle, I wish I could have given it up much sooner.

I sold my beloved Saturn red coupe the month before I left to go overseas.  A Saturn was the perfect car for a woman to own because it was possible to buy the car without negotiation and to pay for three years of maintenance up front. Saturn's innovation was pricing the product visiably so buyers didn't feel that it was a contest with the car salesman to see who could 'best' the other in deciding on a price.

As a Saturn car owner, all I had to do was drive the car into the dealership every 3,000 miles to get the oil changed.  My favorable opinion must not have been universally held because the Saturn brand went bankrupt a year after I sold my car. Even loving the car as I had, I didn't appreciate how much nicer life is without one.

Moving to Prague, I was able to enjoy a very simple, cost-effective transportation system at the low cost price of $22 a month.  This enabled me to have a wonderful quality of life because I could easily go home for lunch from most places in the city and I didn't have to devote any of my time to gassing up, car washes, or getting my vehicle maintained. I also didn't have to devote my time to being stuck in traffic because public transportation always had a dedicated lane, metro tube, or tram track.  Better yet, I no longer needed to earn the money necessary to own a car.  This opened up more free time.

I have lived in two subsequent cities since then: Madison, Wisconsin in the United States and Istanbul, Turkey.  In both places, public transportation works just fine and a car is superfluous.  I never want to go back to spending money on something I don't actually value!

When I get in a car now as a passenger (a very rare occurrence) I'm always struck by the stress that the driver is experiencing.  I am thrilled to give up that need for control and have the freedom and lack of stress created by leaving the driving to others.

I would never have learned this without moving to another culture because my own consumer culture constantly reinforces that I should own a car.

14 comments:

Jill said...

I totally agree!

I love to complain about Korea, but public transport around here is awfully convenient. I'm kind of dreading going back to a place where I actually need a car to function... why can't everywhere have awesome public transportation?

Michael said...

A great thing about Prague without a car is that you can have a couple of beers and get home without breaking the law. (The alcohol limit in Czech Republic is 0.00% BAC)

Karen said...

What? The alcohol limit is zero? Wow, what a mind-blowing concept. You must be 100% capable of operating a two-ton vehicle. See the things we learn when we experience another culture!

chaplain.cz said...

Whilst I brought my British right-hand drive car to Prague, because of the city's brilliant integrated public transport system, I very rarely use it to move about town except occasionally to get bulky things from the supermarket. Last winter I put petrol in it, (or 'gassed it up' as you would say!)in December & didn't do so again until nearly the end of April.

Michael's point is also an extremely valid one. Prague public transport means no worries about drinking & driving.

Ashleigh said...

Hey Karen...great post...it is very interesting. I submit it isn't as easy in the states to do it, but I sure wish it was. I have enjoyed the trains and metro in Europe so much, it really makes me think I'd like to livve in a major city in the states. I thinks that's the only way to live without a car, either in a major city or a really small town...great post...

Karen said...

Ricky, if I had stayed in Madison, Wisconsin something I would have investigated there is the community car program where you can use a car in two-hour increments or longer. That sounds like it would be a perfect program for you too given that you made a tank of gas last for five months!

Ashleigh, my vow to live without a car wouldn't work everywhere in America, it's true. Luckily, there are still cities out there with affordability, great public transit, and great culture.

Karin Shepherd said...

Living in Greece, on a small island requires nothing more than a scooter! No cars for us! We are now visiting our children in Oregon and Pennsylvania. We are renting cars because here they are needed. Haven't driven one in 18 months (last time we were here) and for some reason was nervous if I remembered how....but it is amazing how quickly it all comes back. Have to say that I long for my scooter and little traffic and those days in Prague when the Metro, trams and trains took us wherever we wanted to go. Cars, Bah! Humbug!

Connie said...

I love not driving a car anymore! It's been almost five years now, three due to living in New York City and two from traveling all around. I never miss it at all!

CZECH POINT 101 said...

Hi Karen, Great post. My wife and I made it for 5 1/2 years without a car in Brno until our second child made it very impractical. We love the public transportation in Czech Republic! Nathan

Martin Horský said...

Hi Karen,

I went the other way - grew up in Prague, then ended up as a refugee in the States in my 20s. As a single person living and working in a city you like, going w/o a car works (look at Seinfeld). But nothing beats raising a family in an American suburb or a small town - all thanks to a car. Glad to hear you had fun in the old home-town!

Martin

Vlastimil said...

You simply cannot give up your car in US unless you live in NYC. The fact is that in Prague the public transportation is very good so it does not make any sense to have car.
In NYC the public transportation is quite a challenge but it is a nightmare to have a car. So, in Prague, you simply pick the sweetest deal, in NYC you pick the less of the nightmare :)
Of course, if you live in Czech somewhere in middle of nowhere, it is quite good to have a strong car. Forget Saturn :))

Karen said...

Hi Martin (love that Czech first name by the way), I haven't seen enough Seinfeld, glad to know he doesn't own a car on the show. You should get a translator widget on your blog so us Americans can read what you're saying about us! ;-)

Vlastimil, but you *CAN* live in other places in America without a car like I did in Madison, Wisconsin. Indeed, a city that would not be navigable 100% by public transit would no longer be competitive for my business. Cars are a hidden tax I'm not willing to pay anymore.

Eva Z. said...

I have lived in Czech Republic for 23 years and although the public transportation is really convenient, no worries about couple of drinks, no looking for parking (in EU this is a real problem, the lack of parking), no need for a car at all...have you been there in winter? When all the trams and buses are all wet and freezing? In summer, when most of the people smell like sweat and other things? When there is some problem and you are waiting in sleet or heat for half an hour? When you are so sandwiched that you can barely breathe? Yes, it really gets old...I am so thankful for my beautiful, clean, good smelling, private car here in the US!

Danille Folson said...

Indeed, cars are very important source of transportation. But sometimes, your location has a significant influence in owning a car. For instance, if you're living in Canada (where cyclists are everywhere) or SEA countries, it would be ideal if you just rent a cab or take a bus if you're residing in this location. On the other hand, owning a car becomes essential and a smart choice since you can use the vehicle for emergency purposes and for long road trips.

 
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