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.
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?
It 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.