Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Reality of a Car Free Existence: The Challenges We Face

This June, Father's Day weekend to be exact, my family and I will have been living a car free existence for four years. With the realization that our car was spending more and more time parked in our parking stall, my husband and I opted to save the money we were spending monthly on insurance and sell the car we had purchased together fresh out of university. It was definitely an emotional decision along with a practical one. That car had taken us on many road trips, including the big one that brought us to Vancouver from Ontario, and was the car we brought our children home from the hospital in when we began the adventure that is parenting. While we haven't ever looked back with regret, I have to be honest that there have been some challenges along the way.

Our first and only car covered in bugs
after driving across the country when
we moved to Vancouver
We don't ever think of ourselves as being stuck in one place because we don't own a car. However, we don't have the same freedom to just up and take a road trip that we did before. Things like trips to Vancouver Island or down the coast in the US become a lot less spontaneous, especially when we have to think about whether to use our car share or a rental car, where we pick it up, car seats, etc. Something I miss a lot is camping. I spent every summer of my childhood riding in a car with my parents and siblings to our favourite campground, and many of my fondest memories as a child stem from those trips. Sadly, because we don't have easy access to a car, the last camping trip we took as a family was in 2009, when my son was just five months old. Nowadays, any trip takes a lot more planning, especially if taking a train is not an option, as well as justifying the expense of renting a car that may only be used to get us there and back, and sit unused for the remainder of the time.

We also find ourselves very much at the mercy of the weather when planning our transportation options without owning a car. If it's sunny and gorgeous outside, of course our first choice is always our bikes, which we have found to be the easiest way to get around Vancouver. But on days when the rain seems endless, or the rare days when the city is blanketed with snow, we have to opt to walk if we're going somewhere nearby, like school, or transit, in the case of my husband and his commute to work. Neither are unreasonable options, and we choose both quite readily, but on those particularly wet days, when no matter what footwear I choose my feet still get soaked, or my husband is stuck like a sardine on the hot bus to work, owning a car would sure make things a bit easier.

An unexpected challenge we face from time to time is coordinating with my daughter's friends for play dates. Luckily, most of her school friends live nearby, or at least on the route home for my husband, making it easy for a pick up on his way home. However, there have been times when we have had to rely on the kindness of other parents to get our children to birthday parties, preschool or home for a play date. Each time, those helping us have appeared gracious to lend a hand, and a carseat, understanding our choice and our situation, but there are times when I can't help but feel a bit guilty needing to ask for the help in the first place.

Thankfully, not owning a car means it may be a bit
longer before we have to deal with this challenge...
teaching our kids to drive!
With all these challenges, we have taken steps to overcome them as best we can, the main one being membership with a car share program. It has been very handy for those instances when only a car will do. We have come to be quite reliant on public transit, and have managed to start learning the least troublesome routes to get to where we're going. Sometimes that may mean going the long way around, but in doing so, we've gotten to know how to get around our city better than we ever could have in a car. And for our longer trips, we are always quite excited by the prospect of hopping on a train and watching the world go by from the comfort of our chair, not having to worry about the stress of traffic. We will certainly still have many challenges to face along the way, but after four years, we're getting pretty good at figuring out how to get past them and onto our next adventure!

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