Living (Well) Without a Car


I never imagined that our family would one day be without a car of our own.  I still remember 4 of us (we had only 2 children in 2000) selling my Honda Accord and getting into my husband's truck to drive from Corpus Christi to San Antonio, Texas to buy our Toyota Sienna minivan.  We'd spotted it on the internet (yes, there were actually cars listed online for sale back in 2000…we were VERY progressive!) and drove up to buy it.

We had that same minivan, complete with DVD system that we installed in 2005 after the VCR one broke, until the end of July last year.  It served us well, taking us from Texas to Georgia to Arkansas to North Carolina to Florida and every spot in between.  We brought home newborns in that van, had children get sick in that van.  It was great…and hard to part with. 

So when we began our adventure, one of the first things I really missed was the freedom that comes with having a car.  Landing in Atenas, Costa Rica made it a bit more challenging because it is not a big town and finding some things we wanted or needed involved either lots of walking, taxis or a bus trip into San Jose.

But after I got over the initial frustrations of being car-less, we actually figured out we can do just fine without a vehicle of our own.  I remember taking the bus for the first time, by myself, with all 5 children and wondering if my sanity would hold out.  In spite of almost getting sick on the bus due to motion sickness, we made it and I didn't lose anyone.

Walking and an occasional taxi became a way of life in Costa Rica and continues for us here in Mexico.  Thanks to all the exercise I am getting, I have lost a good 15-20 pounds of extra weight I'd been carrying.  What a nice perk to moving overseas, huh?  Here is a before and after set of pics to show.  I hate to even display the one from August, but it's reality!  Even my rings fit looser.

Before (taken Aug 2011):

After (taken Mar 2012):

The savings of not having a vehicle were amazing.  We did own our minivan, so we didn't have any monthly payments to make.  We only had to cover insurance and gasoline.  But for our family to take a bus trip to San Jose was 800 colones per person each way, or about $1.60 per person, $11.20 one way.

Occasionally I would take a taxi home from grocery shopping because the bags were too numerous and too heavy and that usually cost 600 colones or around $1.20.  When we were staying in San Jose, the grocery stores were a bit further away and those taxi rides averaged around $4 for a 5-10 min ride.

In Mexico, I can take the bus or walk to Walmart.  The bus is around $1 or 12 pesos, depending on how many children tag along…and the 12 pesos covers 2 of us.  And then I take a taxi back home and that's around 45 pesos with tip, or around $3.40.  If I go to the local market, I take the bus and, again, it's around 18 pesos.  I load up my little shopping bag on wheels and then walk to a taxi stop and take one home for 65 pesos (including tip) and that's around $4.50.

There have been SO many times when my husband and I have looked at each other, with 5 kids on crowded buses, and said to each other, "We're CRAZY!"  And we thought we got funny looks when we went out as a family in the US!  HA!  There's not many gringos with this many kids that take the bus with the locals.

We have never felt like we were in danger while taking buses…sick, yes, but danger, no!  Taxis are different because the driving in San Jose is CRAZINESS and they're so aggressive.  We had a few close calls, but always arrived safely.  Now, we did have an incident just last week when my daughter got off the bus and an idiot driver decided to pass the stopped bus on the right hand side…the side passengers get off!  She was a bit shaken up, but was unscathed, thankfully.  And now we know to exercise extreme caution when getting off buses.

We can't help but think there are MAJOR lessons being learned by our children through all of this.  They are gaining confidence, aren't afraid to sit by a total stranger on a bus, know how to look both ways VERY carefully when crossing the street and run like the wind when it's time to cross! 

Sometimes we feel like we're on the hit reality show, "The Amazing Race" when we're the only gringos on the bus.  I think we'd totally kill it on that show because we have learned how to get to where we need to go on public transportation and, frankly, aren't intimidated by it like we once were.

I can't imagine moving back in Florida (or anywhere in the US) without having to buy a car.  It's just not feasible.  I know there are places in the US where we could live without one, but since we're NOT big city folks and have gotten to REALLY dislike cold weather, those places aren't appealing to us.  Going back to FL for a short time before coming to Mexico was a bit of a challenge without a car, but my parents were very gracious and we were able to use their car for anything we needed during our visit.

Will we ever have our own vehicle again?  Who knows, but it certainly hasn't hindered us much when it comes to living outside the US.  No, we can't go on little day trips or excursions as easily as we could if we DID have one, but the additional expenses don't justify owning one at this time.  It's funny, but I think some folks thought we were nuts when we sold my husband's truck (when we lived in NC) and had only 1 car for us to use.  I mean, how could a family with 2 parents survive on only ONE vehicle???   It took some adjusting and careful planning of schedules, but it worked out just fine.  And that's how it's been moving to Costa Rica and Mexico.  It's taken some adjustments, but we do just fine without a car…or two.

Have you ever lived without a vehicle or are you considering going without one now?  How different has life been if you don't have a car, but used to?

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2 Responses to “Living (Well) Without a Car”

  1. BlueSkiesShining Says:

    My husband and I have never owned a car, and don't even have driving licenses (we plan to at least get our restricted driving licenses in a year or two). We got through undergrad  because we lived in a big city within walking distance of campus, and ordered everything through Amazon Prime (which is free for one year for college students, but we were happy to pay for it afterwards). Our apartment community  had a convenient mailing center that held all the packages for us, so we never had to be home for them! The city had nominal cost of public transportation when we needed it, with a monthly pass. We never felt we missed anything – we just walked to where we needed to go, took the subway and buses, or very occasionally a taxi. Even the occasional cost of a taxi did not justify the high cost of actually owning and taking care of a car.
    Now my husband is going to graduate school, and I am working from home. The mailing center setup here is even more convenient, because we live on the first floor, the same floor where the office holding the packages is located. Also, we are in walking distance from my husband's graduate school and there is free public transit!
    Also, we compared prices on Amazon versus those at stores like Whole Foods, Target, Home Depot, etc. We were amazed how we came up on top for our cleaning supplies, organic dry foods, etc with Amazon Prime. Basically all our bulk essentials, especially in food and cleaning, were cheaper on Amazon Prime. 
    I don't keep a closed mind, my husband and I do make a weekly trip to Whole Foods using the bus (my husband has the main muscle power to take back all the heavy food items). I often compare the item prices in-store to those on Amazon.com. We only make one essential trip to a store, and that is Whole Foods, once every week. If we wanted to, we could order even the fresh eggs, milk, fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy online in bulk..but haven't found such products meeting our price and quality expectations online. There are local farms you can commit to and get a good price with weekly deliveries; however I haven't found an organic farm meeting my expectations in my area.
    Amazon Prime really saves on high quality products! Oh, and there is Vitacost too. Depending on where you live, they deliver relatively quickly, sometimes their prices are cheaper than on Amazon (vice versa as well) and they have cheap single items so you don't have to order on bulk. They do have a 40-45 dollar minimum for free shipping, but it is easy to meet.
    Also I have never bought a single electronic item in-store, whether it is a cellphone, a tablet, an air purifier, a dehumidifier..you name it. I read many reviews online on and then make a decision.
    Amazon has great return policies, which I have never had to use.
    The only thing I will ever buy in a store, are clothes because I want them fitted well and have been surprised by defective items from some clothing retailers. Sure, these places had good return policies..but getting to a local branch store is not always easy, plus if I had to go to the store to return something, then I might as well have only gone to the store? Though I know some people order clothing items they can only find online (or for which the best price is online), then try them out at the store and return them if they don't like them.
    Also, I am a clean freak. I need to disinfect surfaces everyday with disposable wipes. If I had a car, I would have that much more to worry about especially if it were a bigger car (since the smaller cars cost so much up-front). Add on top of that, the ongoing cost of car insurance, maintenance and gas.
    I do have the fortune to have friends who have cars, but I absolutely never ask them for help for chores for free. I handle my groceries and packages on my own. Sometimes for pleasure trips I hop in their car, but I find ways to make it up to them later (a lunch at my expense, for instance).
    Oh, and if you have to live without a car, never ever live in a suburb!
    I am more of the big city type. My husband and I also don't plan to ever have kids. 
    I am not saying I will never buy a car, just that it is not a priority right now. If I do buy a car, I will invest in two – one very small one, and one large one for ferrying around relatives.

  2. BlueSkiesShining Says:

    I must add, I place ownership of a car in the category of a luxury for me, not a necessity. Having a car makes it easier to sightsee in most US cities, because you can hit those ten or fifteen places much faster with a car than with a bus. But there must be cities that are even more progressive with their public transportation that the one I live in; I certainly don't live in the northeast for instance.
    A car is a luxury item. If I need to go outside my smaller city to a nearby county, the distance is only 15 minutes one-way by car. By bus, this distance translates to 45 minutes one way.
    Also, while I am functional without a car, there is no denying that if I had a car I might see this area more. I just adapt and find other ways to live my life, find other ways to entertain myself. I don't think my life is inadequate, especially since I place car ownership in the category of a luxury. I don't see myself as ever relying on a car for essential and traditional shopping, and I even make luxury purchases of electronics from Amazon. 

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