On Not Owning a Car

I got my license when I was exactly sixteen years old and thirty days, on December 31, 2002. To say I was excited is a gross understatement.

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Pulling out of the garage in my first, a 1993 Mitsubishi Eclipse. (Yes, I learned to drive a manual from the very beginning!)

Driving is a rite of passage in the US. Teenagers eagerly await the freedom and autonomy that comes with obtaining a driver’s license. I was no different, and I had parents who purchased me a used—but still functional and nice—car. I drove it everywhere: to school every morning, to work after volleyball practice, to youth group, to my friends’ houses. I loved driving when I was in high school.

Some people hate driving; some people will always love it. My love of driving started off strong, but faded over the years until I now loathe driving long distances and stay in the house to avoid getting in the car.

Which is why living in Europe opened my mind to a whole new idea of mobility—walking. (I promise, I did walk before, just not as a means to get from Point A to Point B.) I loved walking to work as a Conversation and Language Assistant in 2011, especially since it meant I lost weight without even trying. I had a long commute on the bus, which I didn’t like, but I did enjoy the morning quiet, and the break after a long day.

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These sorts of views don’t hurt.

There are times when walking isn’t as fun: when it’s raining, when it’s bitterly cold, when it’s so hot you sweat just from standing outside … but most of the time, I enjoy walking, and I think it’s the best way to get around, from a health standpoint and an environmental one.

So, Mario and I are moving to Madrid, as you know. He gets there Tuesday. I get there Thursday. We won’t have a car. Is it weird to say the idea is oddly freeing? I know, someday we’ll want one, no matter where we are. Our life will be full of getting from Point A to Point B. (That’s what you get when you’re in a relationship with a foreigner.) However, owning a car is just not a smart decision for us right now. We don’t know what country we’ll be in in five years, let alone what city. We don’t want to pay astronomically high fees to park our car that we’d only use once or twice a month anyway. (Driving in Madrid is not my idea of fun!) So we made an almost-unspoken decision to forego a car. Let the walking commence!

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Walking the streets of Toro.

But for now, we’ll be carless. We’ll use public transportation, including the metro (Madrid’s metro is widely renowned), buses, and trains. We’ll probably be healthier and happier because of it.

If you live in Spain or somewhere else in the world besides the US, do you own a car? Why or why not?

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25 comments

  1. Here in Fargo, being a one car family is the best we can do (and quite a rarity here!) But I do miss the days of not having/needing one. At times a frustration, but yes, oddly freeing.

    1. Being a one-car family would be difficult — and even more so once you have kids (if you plan to do so, I mean). Shuttling them back and forth from school, sports, and other activities would be not so easy if you only had one car!

  2. Living in Europe ruined me as far as having cars go. I find driving to be rather…annoying, and wish I didn’t need a car at all. Boo! Madrid is the absolute BEST place to live sans vehicle, however. When I studied abroad in Madrid, riding the metro was honestly one of my favorite things to do.

  3. As much as I enjoy blasting music in my car, I LOVE not having to drive when I’m in Spain, especially because of all the insane traffic and long commutes I have in L.A. Even though my commute to school last year was over an hour and a half each way, the combination of walking + public transportation was so easy, and I loved sleeping and reading during my commute. Not having to drive is also fantastic when going out at night!

  4. I’ve never liked driving so living in Spain was definitely my cup of tea. I was able to travel by bus, train, and plane without a car and it was awesome! Now that I’m back, I’m forced to drive a car again. I don’t have a lot of highway experience–in fact I just went down to NC for a friend’s wedding in a car with some friends. I told them loud and clear I was not comfortable driving that long a distance and I didn’t share with the driving duties. I felt kind of bad, but I think they understood. I will have to eventually conquer my driving fears… but for now I prefer to drive the least possible!

  5. I’m really hating that aspect of being back in the States…being so reliant on a car. I really do miss walking everywhere, even in the Bilbao rain. Best of luck to you guys!

  6. I have always enjoyed walking places. Living in Seoul, one of my favorite aspects of life in a major city is excellent and inexpensive public transportation. There are over a dozen subway lines in Seoul, several of which go up to 100km out of the city, and still only cost US$1-3 a ride.

    There are way too many cars on the roads and not enough parking spaces (apartment complexes don’t even have sufficient parking for residents). Throw in the universal disregard for traffic laws, and there is no way I would ever drive here.

  7. I have loved not having a car for the five years I’ve lived here, and can finally bike to work. However, I’ve heard that laws are getting tougher with cracking down on non-lisenced drivers, which include us Americans with them. I’m taking a course, thanks to a very specal suegra who got me a deal with her buddy – for free!

  8. that’s one good thing about Europe that I don’t like about the Us (in general), we don’t need to use a car. we have good public transport (better or worse, depends on the city but good overall in the Union) and we like walking. In Seville it is a nightmare in Summer but I get the bus for bigger distances and hotter times and then walk. I miss it when I don’t!!

  9. I am here in Madrid now :) Someone said “why dont you get a Vespa” and I thought – oh!! I love Vespas… and then I realized that part of the treat of living in Europe is all the walking and public transit. Once you get settled we should meet for coffee! Also I’m off to Milan, Verona and Venice next week – any tips?

  10. I loved living in Madrid and I walked everywhere! I had an hour walk to/from school each way – it would’ve been faster and easier to take the bus, but I always wanted the fresh air and experience.
    I am fortunate that now I can walk to/from work and walk most places during the week and only take my car out on weekends for errands or trips to see family.
    In Chicago I paid a lot to have parking but knew it would be impossible to take my dog on Amtrak to go and spend time with family!

  11. There’s a whole history behind the automobile in the United States and why the culture surrounding it is the way it is (it basically comes down to: this country is really, really, really big and therefore a car is the only way to get anywhere), but I do wish we’d get some better public transportation options here, it really is atrocious overall. I will admit that I’m jealous of that aspect of living in Europe.

    What percentage of people in Spain would you say own a car? Since they don’t really need to, in order to get to work for example, because of the availability of public transport, what would you say their primary reason is?

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  12. I live in Madrid, and I’ve never thought of using a car. The public transportation is great, even better than in Chicago where I’m from. Even then, in Chicago, I only used the public transpo.

    PS. Be careful of pickpockets though!

  13. I think not owning a car is one of the best things about living in Europe. Madrid has awesome public transportation, and it’s just SO much easier not to worry about driving or parking.

    In Barcelona and Sevilla there are city-wide bike programs that I’m obsessed with, but Madrid doesn’t have one, does it? Either way, biking is a great way to get around and surprisingly fast.

  14. I’m moving to Spain this weekend to start work as a language assistant and I am looking forward to ditching the car VERY much. I think part of it is just the novelty of public transportation (me growing up in suburbs & all)–I’m taking the cercanias line in Madrid to the train station, the train down south, and then a bus to my town–but at the same time I’m looking forward to walking EVERYwhere. Keeps ya warm, I guess. :P

  15. I live in Maryland, and it’s pretty necessary to have a car where I am. I do love walkable cities with great public transportation.

  16. Well we lived in London for 5 years without a car and never missed it, I think having a car in a big city which has good public transport is not necessary if you don’t have a family. Now we’re in Madrid and have a family things would be very difficult, especially with a baby if we didn’t have the car, so many things to carry around with you and Madrid is a city where it’s always good to get out to the Sierra once in a while.

  17. I lived in Europe for 16 months and didn’t drive a car for a second. At first it was tough, and I could not understand how people over the age of 16 did not have a driver’s license. When you think about it, we are very very spoiled in North America and we have material things we simply don’t need (like cars!). Personally, I think eliminating cars would make us healthier and open our minds to the reality of the world.

    Since my return to Canada, I have started walking and riding my bike as much as I can in order to remain healthy and active. It’s how Europeans remain so skinny!! My advice for weight loss… lose the car.

  18. I’ve been living in Madrid for 4 years now. I love the city, my favorite right now. I think it’s a perfect place to live.

    Now going to the subject, I never had a car here! And I’m not planning on getting one! I live in the center of the city so I think it wouldn’t be wise to have a car; I can easily move to anywhere in a few minutes either walking or by bus/metro. If I’m in a hurry I’ll use a cab, which will get me to my destination in a few minutes and I won’t have to worry about parking.

    There are a few times where I wish I had a car, but this happens once every couple of months. It is wiser I think to rent a car on those times where I need it, and enjoy my life without a car. Not owning a car I think gives you freedom here, because you don’t have to worry about where it is, how much you can drink, where did you park it… You don’t have to suffer the stress of driving, and you can walk and enjoy the beautiful scenery of Madrid while you get to your destination.

    On the other hand, it’s not weird not to have a car. So, for example, when it comes to dating, it’s not like in the US where you usually pick up the girl at her house with your car. Here you just meet somewhere and then you walk!

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