22 July 2014

A Car-Free Life

We went out for a walk the other day. No surprise there! We knew all along that we were not going to get a vehicle when we moved here and in spite of the fact that a couple of people suggested that we will change our minds, I don't see that happening for a number of reasons.

There are many practical reasons not to have a car. We'd have to buy one, for starters, and wonder what kinds of problems we'd be dealing with. The last vehicle we had in the US was Old Red, our 24-year-old Ford Ranger, which took us up and down the west coast, from Oregon to Mexico and from Oregon to Alaska and then back again. Then it transported us from Oregon to Maine. It's been a long time since we had to go car shopping and I see no reason to start now. I don't even like cars or driving. In addition to the purchase price, it would cost a fair bit in time and money just to drive the thing--maintenance, repairs, registration, inspections, taxes, insurance, parking--I cannot imagine how frustrating it would be to deal with the bureaucracy involved with car ownership here. All of that for what? Bill has even said that he would not want to drive here. That is something, since he likes driving. I hated driving, even in a traffic-free place like Fairbanks, so it's no surprise that I would be extremely anxious if I had to be on the roads with the drivers I see here. I get enough of an adrenaline surge just trying to cross the street!

Beyond those practical considerations, though, is my own personal sense of ethics. I understood over a decade ago that car culture wasn't sustainable and in fact does a lot of damage to the planet. In the US it is harder to live a car-free life, though there are certain forward-thinking places where it is more possble. These are mostly urban areas and I am not an urban person, so I wanted to see whether I could do it in a non-urban setting. And I have done it for the past 10 years. Let me be clear that I never thought, nor am I suggesting, that everyone should live as I have chosen to live. I do think that everyone should live a thoughtful life according to their own sense of ethics as far as it is possible, but everyone will end up in a different place. I am talking about what works FOR ME. I think that at some point, change will be forced on communities and the people in them, and we are already seeing some of that happening, but everyone needs to do the best they can wherever they are. For me, in my situation as someone without small children, who hated driving anyway, who prefers a minimalist lifestyle, and who chooses not to live a hectic, busy life anymore, eliminating a vehicle was something that made a lot of sense. We began by getting rid of the second car in Fairbanks. It needed brakes or something and I told Bill that I didn't want to get it fixed and keep paying to insure, register, and drive it. We gave it to some friends of ours. We still had the truck, which did not have an automatic transmission. I never learned to drive anything other than an automatic, so I could have learned or simply stopped driving. I happily chose the latter. When we moved to southern Oregon a few years later, I opted for a state ID instead of a driver's license. That was a decade ago and I have never regretted it. Even Bill was converted when we parked the truck for a couple of years and walked everywhere. As a photographer, this changed his whole way of seeing and looking. He was still a little nervous about the idea of being completely without a vehicle, but one of the reasons I wanted to move to Europe was the better public transport options which make it even easier to be car-free.

There have been a few times here when it would have been more convenient to hop in a car and go somewhere, but those are particular and one-off experiences. Overall, it's much cheaper and easier to call a cab or take a bus when we need or want to go somewhere farther than walking distance. Next month we'll be visiting Letterkenny for a few days and will be taking Burke's Bus to Galway and then Bus Eireann from there to Letterkenny. It will cost us 85 euro altogether, for both of us, round trip. I doubt we could drive it for less money and it will be far less hassle to get on a comfortable bus and let someone else navigate the narrow roads.

Beyond the practical considerations, though, we find that a walking lifestyle is very appealing and satisfying in other ways as well. We get to slow down and observe our surroundings in a way that we would not do in a car. Because we walk all the time, we allow for the time it will take to get somewhere, which automatically slows us down. The more we pay attention to what is around us, the more we notice the little things. When we leave Baillinrobe in the spring, we will have seen some of the surrounding area from bus windows--much like we would have if we had a car. But we will know some places here in town very, very well from having walked by them so many times and observing how they change as time passes. Our car-free experience is much different than it would be if we were automatically jumping in the car to go to Tesco or something. When we are out and about we can decide to go down one road or another just to see what's there, so we are seeing spots we never would if we were driving from point A to point B. We notice little things. The other day we were walking in a small neighborhood and saw how each entryway had a narrow vertical space on the side. This person has their planter there, but another house had firewood neatly stacked all the way to the top.
We noticed black and white flags all over town, and managed to figure out (by studying shop windows and signs on posts) that this is something to do with rugby. Now we know that the RFC we see in news stories and stuff refers to a rugby football club.
I enjoy looking at all of the beautiful foliage and flowers blooming in front gardens all over town. I have no idea what most of these plants are called, but I enjoy watching as they come and go at different times.
I quite like the flowering bush in the back in the photo above. I have no idea what it is, but it is quite striking. The foliage has small reddish veins and I like the flowers even before they have bloomed. I've discovered that I am partial to spiky plants!

For longer trips, there are good bus services here. Bus Eireann goes all over the country and into Northern Ireland. There are companies offering regional bus services as well. These services are well-used, which is good to see. There is also a national train system.

In every town we have visited and here in Ballinrobe, there are people walking around. This was one thing we liked about Brunswick, too. Some people park their vehicles and walk around to do their errands--they have to "pay and display," even at the library!  Many just walk though and either don;t have a car or they leave it at home.

It's wonderful to be here and to discover that in this way at least, what I hoped would happen has in fact come to pass. We have been vehicle free for about 4 months now and have not had a problem. We've been able to do exactly what we want to do--explore our current home up close and personal and still go elsewhere when we want to do so.

I've been trying for years to craft a life that is, as much as possible, in line with who I am and what I believe. I have become much more mindful and thoughtful about how I live and what I do. Walking is a part of that life practice. This life is still a work in progress, of course, but it is a happy thing indeed when a plan comes together :-)


  1. I agree that a car free life has a lot of benefits. If it was me, I'd be car free mostly, but hire a car for a coup,e of weekends a month to go exploring. There are many, many places (most of it, probably) that you cannot see by walking or in a bus.

  2. From my perspective, choices will always have to be made anyway. I will never see all of the island and that's fine. I wouldn't see it all if I was in a car, either. There are plenty of places to go using public transport. When I factor in the rest of Europe, which again doesn't require a car, I know that I will not run out of interesting places to visit :-) If I ever feel deprived, then I can consider options, but I doubt it will come to that.

    I am a homebody anyway, I like to go other places once in a while, but I would never want to spend too many weekends being a tourist--that would make me cranky. That said, we are going to look into walking clubs when we move, which would allow us to see various nearby places by carpooling. That is more my thing--going out for a walk and then coming home!