The Freedom to Live – Without Owning a Car

I’ve often toyed with the idea of ditching my car. For two years in Egypt we managed just fine with public transportation and our bicycles. We did the same our first year in Ethiopia. But then, the convenience of the car won out and we bought a car with the idea of using it sparingly. Intentions are the best of things, but sometimes… well, sometimes they don’t quite pan out the way we envision.

It didn’t take long for me to ditch my bike and start relying on our car for grocery shopping. I told myself it only made sense – I was hauling groceries for four people, after all.

And then I hear about people who manage without a car and the ideas start churning again… For this post, I’ve asked Cheryl and Roland Magyar from  Hand Crafted Travellers to share their reasoning and experiences in going car-free.

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cheryl and csermely on the road

Cheryl uses her bike or public transportation to get around.

Living out in the countryside without a motorized vehicle might make some people gasp, hold their breath for a moment, or even outright call us crazy. Yet here we are, Cheryl and Roland Magyar, owners of a 5+ hectare plot of organic land/pasture in Southeastern Hungary, living without – you guessed it – a car.

For six years now we have been biking our way through life, riding into the village for simple groceries, riding the 25 km (round trip) to the Friday market in the neighboring village, once a week to pump artesian drinking water into our containers so that we may continue cooking and baking from the comfort of our own home. All of this pedaling is in combination with the use of the regional bus which goes to the city of Szeged, just a 45 minute bus ride away.

In part we chose our location based on the desire to never own our “own” vehicle again.
It wasn’t always this way, at least not from Cheryl’s perspective…

Growing up in a suburb of Chicago, a place with a pretty good public transportation system, I found myself just twice in fifteen years on a train into the city. Closer to home it was just the standard yellow school bus that picked my sisters and I up at the end of the street. The furthest I ever rode my bike was around the block and I made countless circles around the magnolia tree in the backyard. In retrospect, I may have not even known that people all around the world were commuting in so many other ways! My immediate family has always had cars, more than one, sometimes three. It was only expected that at the age of 16 I knew how to drive – and I did. And I loved every minute of it!

After college graduation I moved out west to Oregon, driving my Jeep happily through many states. Roland and I drove down to Las Vegas to get married not so many months after our first date some eleven years ago. We drove up to Seattle with all of our belongings and went on countless hikes in the Cascades. Driving has many fond memories for me, so you are wondering, how could you give it all up?

bikes in the countrysideIt happened like this: we were getting ready for our big move abroad and the Jeep was just a car to be donated with over 230,000 miles under its hood. Our second car also had to go and I was left standing at the bus stop with my vacuum cleaner and all, heading to work for the first time in my life by means of public transportation.

Then something clicked. What if I could live without a car?

The thought entertained me for days and nights before the move. Mentally I had to prepare myself for the freedom I was to discover.

We moved to the farm, bought a couple of bikes, found them uncomfortable, searched some more and we finally found our match. A fleet of one speed bicycles with wide tires for navigating the sandy roads of the flat-landed puszta. Back racks for hauling basketfuls of squash, sturdy handlebars for carrying 12 liters of water each trip and a comfortable grip for the sometimes bumpy ride.

I learned to appreciate the slower pace of moving about the landscape, to see chicory flowering by the side of the road, to see mushrooms on the forest floor, to feel the chill on my ears and know that the wood fire was heating up the kitchen, waiting for me at home. Driving may get you where you need to go at a faster speed, but when speed is not your focus of life – riding a bicycle is a great way to go!

From Roland’s point of view, riding a bike now fro’ and to the farm is nothing but the natural extension of his past into the present and well… into the future.

I remember often being taken to the kindergarten in my home village in western Romania by my great-grandfather on bike, sitting in front of him on a padded, but otherwise flat child seat and holding on to the same handlebar as him.

I also remember getting my first deep wound from my two-wheeled children’s bike that you had to continuously pedal with, because there wasn’t an “idle cruise” setting for the pedals (forgive me for not using a more proper technical jargon here) – my foot slid off as I was racing somewhere from home. And I was nearly run over by a kind acquaintance in a car, riding the same solid-tired bike, not having been taught about the rules of how to cross a road.

It’s also a fond and perhaps quite unique memory of mine, the whistling of bikers at street corners to announce their approaching that still rings in my ears. My guess is that nowadays most people would find it objectionable to be whistled at – a practical technique nonetheless when your bell breaks down or gets stolen.

My immediate family, meaning my parents and grandparents, never owned a car until five years ago, a purchase brought upon them by the perceived(?) necessity of moving abroad for a longer period of time. And quickly it – pardon me: she even got a name. Rozi. Now it already has a younger sibling named… you get the point.

But back to my adolescence for a minute: I have to claim that not once in my earlier life did I feel that not having a car was a handicap. Of course, it’s easier to claim such a thing in Europe, even about the communist era infrastructure. When my parents, my sister, and I moved to town, besides still owning a bike, we took advantage of the different means of public commute – trams and occasional buses within city limits and buses or trains for long distance.

We often went on shorter family hikes or vacations getting off the train and walking the last segment of the trip. I went to so-called pioneer camps almost every summer in my elementary school (1st through 8th grade) years, sometimes across the whole country, but at least half a country away. Always by train and by organized charter buses closer to destination or more frequently just walking as a group up to the camp site.

In my later carless adventures I sometimes employed the help of a local farmer’s horse-pulled cart and yes, hitch-hiked a fair share in my life, too. One might say: well, wait a minute, that still is riding a car, only using someone else’s. Yes, but in that sense it is quite close to the concept of car sharing and carpooling. For a long time they even used to charge or at least accept money in return for picking one up. Even later on, this tradition eventually led some into the black market taxi-ing business, but that’s a different story.

After gaining a reasonable amount of experience in driving cars, vans and pick-ups with or without a trailer during my five years in the U.S., I have to say, I am very happy not to have the burden of owning a car, that – by the way – gets to spend proportionately much more time sitting in a parking lot depreciating, then actually being driven, in motion.

Don’t get me wrong, I cherish the basic concept of mobility, but I am willing to give up on some of the individuality aspect of spontaneously going to places by car, be it a rational choice or an infatuation with ownership provided possibilities. So in longer term, both Cheryl and I are eager to find compatible partners in reasonable proximity to our home to co-own a vehicle and share, therefore, all the associated responsibilities with.

Further down the future I expect to see those truly green cars making their show on the market that are built exclusively of non-toxic materials that are either recyclable without quality loss or safely compostable. And all that offered at an affordable price. Those times are coming.

But even then we will be happily biking wherever and whenever we can. Hopefully on eco-bikes.

You can follow Cheryl and Roland’s adventures at www.handcraftedtravellers.com
and on their Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/Handcraftedtravellers

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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16 Responses to The Freedom to Live – Without Owning a Car

  1. Mike Vermeulen October 18, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    In 2001 I sold my car to go bicycle touring for 12 months. On return, I decided not to get a car “right away”, but instead keep riding the bike most everywhere and rent if necessary.

    Now more than 11 years later and I still haven’t found it necessary yet. I’ve made some choices of living close to work and places I go frequently. It is rare I rent a car and a lot less expensive than maintaining and insuring a car.

    I’ll still buy one eventually, but not in a big rush yet.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Mike Vermeulen, You definitely have to make lifestyle choices to go without a car. We are now living in a place that we could do it, if only the kids’ activities weren’t so far away.

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  2. Shannon October 18, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

    My situation is a bit different but not unique necessarily. I had wanted to drive, it seemed simple (oh say that again, its not simple even after 12 years of driving experience and transferring to one state so far) after driving my mom’s van twice (and freaking her out) I never drove again (I was 15) I decided one day to try driving but I had to get professional driving lessons and after 3-4 drives (of course I got a learner’s permit) a friend helped me for a year and I did pretty good and I forgot about bicycles since then.

    I had to ride my bicycle everywhere I went, shopping, going to someone’s house, etc When I moved to Washington I had nobody so when I wanted to buy lots of foodstuffs guess what? I carried it all on my bicycle (I’d carry a shopping cart FULL of stuff on my bicycle (and how I did it? I don’t know). I was destined to live this way for the rest of my life because of my vision impairments until the day I took my driving test.

    I still need a motorized vehicle, it helps me get to places that are quite a ways and i can transport equipment, gear and people all at the same time when I need to.

    I would actually like to go back to riding a bicycle again, but I am now reluctant to do it because of the attitudes of car drivers in general in the USA really affects my safety and the police are not very proactive about it.

    I’ve come across lots of wonderful things about being able to use bicycling to transport quite a bit (as with the folks who run this website would know :P) if I could just do it; I would immediately consider purchasing a trailer for the bicycle which would be awesome as the right trailer can actually hold as much as your typical trunk of a 4 door sedan; but you have to be physically fit to pedal that much weight behind you.

    When visiting friends and family its still beneficial to have a motorized vehicle because I can still transport my bicycle and its gear too :).

    [Reply]

    Cheryl Reply:

    @Shannon, We have toyed with the idea of having a trailer too, to be able to carry more food or water at once…someday it will become a reality.

    * Thanks Nancy for having us over to write!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Cheryl, I definitely think a trailer is a good thing. You can haul a whole load of groceries in one of them! Thanks for the wonderful post!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Shannon, There’s no question that motor vehicles come in handy at times!

    [Reply]

  3. Lana October 19, 2012 at 4:31 am #

    You lived in Eygypt, seriously???? Wiw. I want to go there sooooo bad

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Lana, We did! We were there for 2 years. Egypt is a delightful place – we loved our time there!

    [Reply]

    Lana Hope Reply:

    @Nancy Sathre-Vogel, so would you say a female needs to go with a friend there to be safe? (I travel alone frequently.)

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Lana Hope, We lived in Egypt in 1993-95 and I traveled alone to Cairo every weekend (I needed to visit the chiropractor so spent every weekend there). I never had any problems. That said, it is now 2012 and things might have changed. In other words, I can’t answer your question.

  4. Laurel October 20, 2012 at 12:53 am #

    I was petrified of the thought of not having a car when I moved to Germany since I’ve always had one. Fortunately the public transportation is excellent here, so it hasn’t been a problem. When I lived in Calgary, Canada though, having a car made life much easier since the public transportation is terrible.

    [Reply]

    Lana Hope Reply:

    @Laurel, you live in GErmany? waaaay cool. I was there this summer. Public transportation is a lot better than the states. I was at places wehre there were no tourists, but I could still find buses between trainstations and things. Not like where I’m from in Texas.

    [Reply]

  5. Simon October 22, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    The day I left my job as a manager in the corporate world, I gave back the key of my car (one of the ‘benefits’ for working 15 hours a day). I never bought another car since then and have never traveled that much, no matter if far or close.

    Having to rely on public transportation may be tricky because not all places can be easily reached, even in Europe. It turned out being a great opportunity to discover new places I would maybe not have visited otherwise.

    So far, I have no regrets of my old car. I feel free from the costs, the traffic and parking hassles and it’s just wonderful.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Simon, There are advantages and disadvantages to every decision we make. Overall, we need to make the choice with the most benefits.

    [Reply]

  6. Annie Andre November 15, 2012 at 2:13 am #

    Loved reading about your decision to not get a car even after your bike adventure ended and you returned home. We live in a town now where we employ on teh bus and bikes and foot scooters. It’s so liberating and it really makes you think about what you need when you go out. I mean there is only so much you can carry in a bag or on your bike when you go to the grocery store right?
    Such a big change when i used to jump in our truck or car to go down to the grocery store for Basil. Now i just plan better. :) Foot pedaled power does that to you.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Annie Andre, It’s amazing how lazy a car makes us. When you don’t have one, you don’t even think about it – but the second that car is sitting there….

    [Reply]

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