How to Live The Simple Life, Car-Free Living

Are you tired of driving to work and getting stuck in traffic?

Wasting away hours and days of your life in a car just isn’t a great way to spend your life. Every day I could be wasting 45+ minutes each way on my commute to work which adds up to ~8 hours per week of commuting that could be cut out. Add in all the other activities that we all participate in, and we have 10+ hours of car time each week. I don’t know about you, but car time really isn’t very productive. It just seems like a waste of useful hours, especially if you are the driver.

As a passenger, you can read, work on the computer, check your phone, etc. but as the driver, all attention needs to be focused on driving. I have had enough close calls riding my bike to work to know that drivers need to be paying attention and not have their eyes and mind off the road.

You could be free of all of these the hassles of driving by getting rid of your car or downsizing your families fleet and have a simpler life.

Why Live Car-Free

When the topic of giving up a car comes up in conversation it almost always leads to how it is not possible. Regardless of how close the trips are that most people take, they think that a car is a requirement for modern day life.

For the main benefits of car-free living, check out the guest post I wrote on The Frugal Gene.

Most Trips Are Short

The League of American Bicyclists did a survey back in 2009 called the National Household Travel Survey. What they learned is that 30% of trips are 1 mile or less, 40% of trips are less than 2 miles and 50% of trips are less than 3 miles. This means that 50% of all trips could be cut out in favor of biking or walking. 3 miles does not take any time at all on a bike, maybe 15-20 minutes and walking would only take an hour or so.

Think about how many trips you take to drop the kids off at school, to go to friends houses, to get groceries, etc each week?

Chances are, that most of these trips are close. I recently saw a statistic that 80.7% of Americans live in urban areas. If that sounds a little exaggerated, it is. Urban areas according to the 2010 census were any town that had a population of at least 2,500 people. Even in a town of 2,500 people, you have all the services you need within a short distance which can afford the ability to live a car-free lifestyle.

Rent For Longer Trips

For those trips that you want to venture farther, you can rent a car. I grew up in a household with 4 cars for 2 drivers. It was slightly ridiculous, yet we still rented cars when we would drive from North Carolina 600+ miles South to Florida to visit family. Renting a car is easy and in the long run will be much cheaper for the few long trips you need to go on than buying and owning a car.

You can also take the train or bus for longer trips. I think the convenience of the car is what has captivated Americans into thinking they have to have them. They are fast and they always leave when you are ready. You do not have to wait for your car to leave. Trains and buses leave from fixed stations instead of your driveway so they are not quite as convenient, but the affordability of them can outweigh the negatives.

How To Live Car-Free

Now that we have established that living car-free is not impossible and seems to be plausible, let’s figure out how to actually live car-free. There are many facets to living car-free that need to be taken into account.

Living Close

Living close to your circle of friends and to town is essential for car-free living. To live without a car you need for places to be convenient to get to by foot and by bicycle. Depending on your fitness, this could be anywhere from within 1 mile to 10+ miles away, though I would suggest living closer than 10 miles to town. The closer you live to town the easier living car-free will be for you and the more likely you are to succeed in your commitment to a car-free lifestyle.

Bike Commuting

When you go car-free you are not giving up your freedom of movement, you are giving up that huge wallet suck that drains all the dollars out of your wallet for gas, insurance, and maintenance. You are instead exchanging it for the same freedom that is afforded by the bicycle.

Picture credit to Ian Cooper

Take a look at the Netherlands and Denmark, 2 of the most advanced civilizations in the world. Both countries have a high percentage of people that commute by bike. The Netherlands surpassed 50% of trips by bicycle rather than by car in 2006. When I traveled in Denmark, I got to experience first-hand the types of people that commute by bike. Even the suit-wearing businessmen were riding bikes to work.

It just makes sense.

Bikes are faster and more convenient than a car is in the city. You can get closer to where you want to go and park pretty much anywhere.

With the proliferation of city bikes from companies around the world commuting around the city has never been easier. The city bikes cost ~$1 per hour and you can leave them anywhere. You then pick up a different one and take it to your next destination later on, or you can just ride your own bike.

The ultimate commuting bicycle with a large rear rack, full fenders, clearance for large 700×35+c tires and drop bars.

Bikes For All Trips

You can use a bike to complete all the different types of trips in your local community. Different trip types may require different bicycles, but they are all possible. I currently have 6 bicycles (maybe my frugal gene doesn’t apply to bikes 😉 ) that all serve different purposes.

The different trip types that need to be able to be completed on a bicycle in a car-free lifestyle include:

  • Taking the kids to school
  • Grocery shopping
  • Going to work
  • Going to a friend’s house
  • Hauling gear

All of these trips can be done on a bike, but not necessarily the same one. Here is a selection of possibilities for bike commuting:

This bike has all the storage capacity built right in. You can find these typically used in Europe.


Pull one of these trailers and you have no excuse for needing a car when hauling locally.


Take your kids to school on the bike. Carpool has a whole new meaning! 😛

As you can see, there is a bike for every situation. Do you need to have all these bikes to live a car-free life?

Certainly, not! These are just options to get your brain thinking about the possibilities afforded by living a car-free lifestyle instead of the excuses of why not to live car-free.

Public Transportation

If the bike doesn’t appeal to you, or it is just a nasty day outside, you can always take public transit. The first real wave of Americans to go car-free were the city-dwellers of New York City. It just doesn’t make any sense to have a car there with the cost of parking and the insane traffic jams.

Public transportation made the first generation of car-free Americans possible. The public buses and subway system of big cities bring all of the city within range when living car-free. Though a bicycle does too, public transportation has the benefit of not being as physically taxing as riding your bike.

Getting groceries on your bike or walking is a hassle, but on the bus, you can take a seat and set your grocery load down while you are in transit towards home. Living in China, I see many people pulling these super cool grocery carts that can be loaded up on the bus or pulled behind while walking to make car-less grocery store trips easier.

Photo courtesy Amazon.

Public transportation is the answer for many of your worries when it comes to car-free living.


Last but not least in the methods of living without a car is good ol’ walking. The human body is an amazing machine that is capable of so much more than sitting in a car and then walking a few steps to your desk where you sit for the day and then repeat to go home.

The average person walks a measly 5,000 steps per day. Imagine now, if you get rid of your car how many more steps you would take on any given day?

Even walking slowly 1 mile will take only 30 minutes, so if you live close to the grocery store, market, school, etc you can walk and be there with no trouble at all. The excuse many use for why they are not walking is that the sidewalks are no good. I understand that the sidewalks may be non-existent where you live, but you are still allowed to walk against traffic on the side of the road.

Walking on the side of the road is really no more dangerous than riding your bike with traffic. Basically, all you have to do to be safe is follow the law:

  • ride your bike with traffic
  • walk against traffic
  • Don’t be stupid (don’t act erratically)

If you follow these simple rules then walking to your destinations is safe and easy. Don’t let the doubters talk you out of a car-free life.

But I Can’t Give Up My Car

I know it is hard to imagine a life without a car. They definitely have their uses, and long distance travel is the one that is most reasonable to me. You can get the majority of the benefits of a car-free lifestyle by just leaving your cars at home. Cars should only be used for long-distance travel anyways. You can even talk to your insurance about lowering rates because you are a low mileage user.

Going car-free is hard, there is no doubt, but it can be done.


Cars are seen as convenient and as a status symbol. However, when you become frugal, you no longer view cars as so convenient. Cars can conveniently spend all of your money for you, create stress, and waste valuable time you could be using more productively. Biking and walking, on the other hand, are free activities that will help to keep you healthy and happy.

Ultimately, going car-free is a very personal decision, but one that is entirely possible. Think objectively about your life and see if you can go without a car. Even decreasing your family’s fleet is a good first step towards car-free living. Live the atypical life and let go of the car.

Are you car-free? Contemplated going car-free? Let me know in the comments. 


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  1. Living without a car makes my life so much easier. I lived overseas for a few years when I was younger and realized how much I was relying on a car in the US. Once I got back I made the conscious decision to live in a place I could live without a car…cheaper, keeps me more active by walking and biking, shop locally and less impact on the environment. It’s tough if you have to commute to a job but can be great to retire to a place where you can live car free…
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