How One Woman Ditched Owning a Vehicle for 17 Years

RelayRides blogger Amanda L. Grossman shares how to live a vehicle-free life through the story of one woman who lived car-free for 17 years.

I grew up in the middle of nowhere on a dairy farm located several miles from the heart of Amish country. The nearest movie theater was 25 minutes away, the nearest mall was over half an hour, and going grocery shopping each week was like commuting to a job. The natural progression towards owning a vehicle was simple and practically a necessity: find a job close to home so that your parents/older sibling can drive you and pick you up, save up money for an older car, celebrate your 16th birthday, get your learner’s permit, pass your driver exam, and obtain a car as quickly as possible.

So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that there were people in the US who do not own a vehicle. In fact, my Aunt Anita was one of them. Over the course of 17 years she made other arrangements while living in public transportation-friendly Washington D.C. Because of where I grew up—not owning a vehicle was unthinkable—I was quite curious to ask about my aunt’s experience living car-free.

Here’s what I learned from our conversation together:

Why Did You Decide to Forego a Vehicle?

Owning a car has its perks as well as its disadvantages, both of which Anita experienced in her 17 consecutive years of not owning a vehicle. Yet Anita decided that foregoing a vehicle was not only a viable option for her, but also the better one. Anita explains, “Not owning a vehicle was possible because there is an ease of not needing one in the city. We were able to walk to work and all shops, restaurants, libraries, movies, services, or take a bus (later Metro subway) to further locations.”

Aside from the convenience of living in a city, Anita points out other reasons why she decided to not own a vehicle. These included, “no additional costs, either planned such as insurance and registration, or unplanned like new tires, accidents, and tickets.”

Learning to use nearby resources, not making unneeded trips, and planning outings added a simplicity to her life. Anita found out who her real friends were (hint: the ones that would come and visit her or offer to pick her up from public transportation). Ride-sharing also provided a way to make new friends, such as when Anita would ask in a class she was taking whether or not someone was driving in her direction or past a subway station and could offer her a ride.

Cons to Not Owning a Vehicle

While Anita clearly felt that there were more advantages to not owning a vehicle, she pointed out the cons as well. These included inconveniences like, “depending on public transportation, restrictions of scheduling activities, and lugging groceries far and occasionally in bad weather.”

Not being able to get around the biggest con—depending on public transportation to get to a place she needed to regularly travel to where there was none available—was the deciding factor in her eventually purchasing a car.

Logistics of Not Owning a Vehicle

So what did Anita’s life look like without a vehicle? How was she still able to get where she needed to go?

Anita’s work was just 1.5 miles away from where she and my uncle lived, so she generally walked (great exercise!). Occasionally she would catch a ride or take the bus part of the way. My Uncle Andy would walk about 1 mile to the subway, and then ride that to his job downtown. Eventually, he worked from home.

Everyone likes to travel at some point, and Anita was no different. When they wanted to get out of the city, she explains, “We took the subway or bus to the station nearest friends in the outlaying metropolitan area and they’d drive in to pick me up. We also took the train to NJ or PA where I’d be met. We took the subway or shuttle service to airports and I’d be picked up at the station or airport. If we needed to rent a vehicle, we walked up to 2 miles to the rental store, or took a bus or subway to rent cars.”

Unfortunately, a peer-to-peer (P2P) rental agency like RelayRides was not available during the time that Anita was vehicle-less. But it’s available now! If you are thinking about ditching your vehicle (or not buying one to begin with), then check out RelayRides for a convenient and cost-saving way to rent vehicles for out-of-town weekend getaways, business trips, and anything else you can think of.