Green on the Go: Living Car-Free with a Baby

Audrey\'s very first stroller rideI’ve managed to go my whole adult life without owning a car.  When I was pregnant, I wondered if I’d finally succumb to automobile ownership, but I’ve found I get along just fine.  In the first few weeks of parenthood, I plopped my daughter into a sling and stepped out the door. 

At three months, she took her very first stroller ride, and at almost two and a half years she still takes a spin in it almost every single day.  I have found the stroller indispensible for a car-free lifestyle–jaunts around town are entertaining for the baby, and the basket provides some storage space for books or groceries we pick up along the way.  We enjoy what I like to think of as a European way of life: Instead of driving to the store every week or every other week and filling up an entire cart full of groceries, I stop by every few days and pick up the items I need by foot.

My husband does have a car, but I have only driven it once, and that was to take him to the emergency room (long story).  He does commute to work by car, and I have to admit that I rely on his chauffeur services to run to the store for particularly heavy or unwieldy items.  Yes, I am grateful that I don’t need to walk down the streets with a 24-pack of Seventh Generation toilet paper or a ten-pound bag of flour!

In many ways I’ve had to revolve my life around not driving.  It’s no coincidence that we live within walking distance of shops, libraries, restaurants, and coffee shops.  It can definitely be inconvenient to rely on walking or bus-riding, especially with a fussy baby.  A few times a year the weather is bad enough to keep me stuck indoors all day long.  Also, my hour-long bus commute to work would take a mere twenty minutes by car.  This may seem like a waste of time, but I use the bus ride to read or grade papers.

Despite the inconveniences and drawbacks, I love remaining car-free.  I hate driving and am thrilled to live a life that doesn’t require getting behind the wheel.  We save thousands of dollars by not buying a second car, not to mention all the time and money we save on gas and maintenance.  My husband’s commute by car is terrible for the environment, and I rely on the bus to get to work two to four times a week, so we can’t claim to be carbon-neutral.  However, we are able to cut back on our combined carbon emissions by running most household errands on foot.  On those bad days when I’m standing in the rain with my toddler in one arm and a bag of groceries in the other, at least I have the solace of knowing I’m doing the planet a small favor!

 

Check back soon for my tips on taking babies on public transportation.  And for more Works for Me Wednesday ideas, go to Rocks in My Dryer.

Comments

  1. Wow Rebecca, that is very impressive! I have to admit I love my car and I love the mobility and it is very hard to give it up. But I live in one of the greenest cities in the US, there are 2 major bus lines within 2 blocks of my house, grocery stores, fresh local produce and parks are short walks away. Other than my commute to work (no public transport and too far to bike), I SHOULD be able to give up my car, but it’s like breaking a bad habit, worse, it’s like quitting a vice. You are lucky that you never started. Geez, sounds like I’m talking about quitting smoking – in a way I am! We have been riding the bus more and the kids love it. But it does make every trip 2 to 3 times as long. In 2 weeks we are going to the coast to stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for a few days. I am seriously considering taking greyhound instead of driving. Am I crazy???

  2. After all these years, who would have thought that I would find a kindred spirit on the Internet? Most peopel do not understand my decision to not drive and to walk nearly every place I go. I have never driven a car and have walked nearly everywhere with my kids (or taken a bus), depending upon where we have lived. In the last town we were in, the kids and I could easily walk to the library, two grocery stores, a movie theatre, Target, ballet lessons, the doctor, vet, orthodontist, dentist, and so much more. We moved three years ago and now things are a lot more difficult to get around to, so we find ourselves staying home much more. I miss those days of freedom, but we have adapted. When my babies were little, the stroller was my best friend. It was amazing how many groceries and other items I could haul around town, just in cloth bags or in the stroller. Like you, I rely on my husband to make those trips to Costco for me, or get us to other places that are too far for us to walk. In this day and age, I am so glad that I have not become dependent upon a vehicle that consumes $75 or so dollars of gas a week. It is my dream to one day move back to a location where I can be much more independent again. Thanks for sharing your story!

  3. You rock, we had one car for our baby’s first year (you can hook dry cleaning to a backpack if you’re tall like me) and those little s hooks are invaluable for hooking grocery bags to the stroller. Way to go and I hope you keep it up! We now have a 2nd car (school commute for a couple years but now local again — one block walk!) but I daydream about cutting back to one again….

  4. It’s inspiring to hear someone is making it work without a car. Mine is on the fritz and we have no money to replace it, so when it’s done we may have to go without a while.

    🙂

  5. It’s awesome to hear how your family makes the one car thing work! I really applaud you for that. I can imagine you probably catch some criticism from others for this decision though? I would love to just have one car! We bought a Prius this year, and I hear from people all the time how they couldn’t possibly make do with children in such a small vehicle. It baffles me why we all think we NEED a SUV or minivan (or a car at all!) once we have a child. (Of course, my first child hasn’t been born yet, so perhaps I’ll be singing a different tune before long… I hope not though.)

    My house growing up was in a very ideal location for walking (close to grocery store, library, community center, pool, school). I never realized how amazing that was till now. This worked out great for my mom because she HATES to drive. But now that I’ve grown, my own house is not in a very walkable location. Actually, my town in general is not very walkable (suburb of Nashville). It’s a considerable walk to the grocery store, library, etc. 🙁 I’m often trying to rack my brain to figure out how I can making walking places more a part of my life with my child, but I just don’t know that will work. Especially since it gets so hot here in the summers.

    I envy you. You’re a smart cookie! I wish we had thought out the location of our house a little more before moving where we did…

  6. Bravo to you!! You are such an inspiration. I came from Bangkok where there are a lot of cars but also a lot of public transportation. I remember going around town without car. But here, I have to admit that I will get lost if I don’t have my car. I don’t want to just blame the government for not working harder to build better public transportation. I think we are to blame as well for not trying harder to go without car. We are thinking about selling one of our car (we have 2 cars) and buy a vespa instead. I also think that the zoning law here makes it harder to have mixed development where people can live and work and shop at the same place. But I see more of these development building so I’m excited about that.

    Thank you for being a good example!

  7. Eileen, YES, you are crazy to consider going to the coast on the Greyhound! I would go by train or coach (something nicer than Greyhound), but not Greyhound! I have had some crazy experiences to inform this opinion.

    Michelle, I am also glad to hear of a fellow-non-driver! We are moving soon, too, and the thing I am most concerned about is the walkability of our new place. We turned down a few places because I just didn’t know how I would make car-free living work. It is difficult when you feel trapped. . . . what have you done to adjust?

    Mamabird, thanks for the S-hook tip. I am amazed by how much I’ve carried with the stroller, even though the basket on mine is not large by any means! I’ve pushed it to the post office with huge boxes perched on the back and on the top!

    Niki, good luck trying a car-free life when yours finally dies! Don’t worry, it’s great!

    Amy, I had the opposite experience: I grew up in a more rural setting. We could walk all over the neighborhood and even mountains, but we couldn’t walk to the shops or anywhere else. (Although we did walk to school, now that I think of it.) I was amazed when I moved to various cities and towns and could simply walk everywhere I wanted. Now it’s a priority for me to live near shops, bus stops, etc.

    Amy Q, you’re right. Most people are just not in a position to go without a car. Once you’ve become used to driving everywhere, it becomes less important to live near shops or public transportation. People move out to big developments nowhere near the heart of town, and then a car becomes a necessity. That’s great that you’re seeing more “mixed developments” where people can shop/live . . . it’s a start!

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone! Keep them coming!

  8. LOL Rebecca. Sounds like there are some good stories there. I don’t think the train goes to Newport unfortunately. Coach? What is that? Like a stagecoach??? now that would be fun!

    My (crazy but loveable) aunt has been trying to convince me to take a vacation across the country on greyhound – apparently she did this with her FIVE kids when she was a single mom. And my own grandmother, the closet environmentalist before her time, never even got her driver’s license. When she came to visit us she always took the greyhound and once every summer we would be sent up to visit her on greyhound. I think I must have been 6 years old riding the bus by myself. Times were different.

    We are definitely planning a train vacation to Seattle sometime mid-summer. I will let you all know how it goes.

  9. rebecca's mom says

    When we moved to Seattle 11 years ago we made a conscious decision to cut back to one car. My husband takes a bus to work downtown. My work requires the car but when lightrail is finished I hope I can use it some of the time for work. We moved to a 5 star energy efficient home just off the lightrail line and will be able to get to the airport in a flash. Rebecca is an inspiration to us to be more thoughtful of our driving habits.

  10. sara's mom says

    I don’t think living in a family where your husband has a car counts as car-free…it just means you have one car rather than two.

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