Guest Post - Car-free in Australia

8:00 AM

This Guest Post comes from Wanderlady who I have connected with via Twitter. I'm so glad to have connected with her and learn more about her family's journey to car-freedom. I asked her to share her story because I selfishly wanted to read it, and I think it's important to share as many stories about living without a car that I can here. Hope it gives you all some more inspiration. Enjoy!

A great big "Thank You" to Wanderlady for sharing her story! 

:: By the end of this month, our family will have celebrated our first year of living car-free! And when I say car-free I mean we no longer own a car (we traded it in on a cargo bike and two road bikes) but we do use public transport as well - buses and taxis - so technically there are still automobiles involved.  We are a family of five, I am a solo mum now with four daughters: an 18 year old, 16 year old, and the younger two (4 and 5) who ride in the cargo bike, either in the box or on the child seat behind Mamma. We live in a small country town where public transport is… well it exists and it’s adequate. (And my definition of ‘adequate’ and ‘sufficient’ has become a lot broader over the years!)

Rewind back to when I was in my 20’s and I was living a “normal”, hectic, fast-paced life. I lived in a major city, had two children, a job, worked part-time at the school and pre-school, went to a weekly Mum’s group and studied part-time when I could. I drove the kids to weekly swimming lessons and piano lessons and choir practice. I got up at 5am every day to exercise (I did 7-minute laps of our small block as the children were still in bed at that time – but if they needed me they only had to stand at the front windows and wave me down) and went to bed around 11pm after doing all the housework. I went out a lot with my friends (when did I find time for that too?).   Basically I was our society’s definition of successful. And I was exhausted! But I thought that was normal – every woman I knew was exhausted. And they were all running as fast through life as I was.
I got very sick in 2003, and was diagnosed with early-onset Lupus. Deep down I knew I hadn’t been looking after myself, so I rejected the diagnosis and asked the Doctor to give me some time and re-test me. He agreed to three months, and I did everything I could to slam on the brakes of life, and for the first time ever, started to focus on taking care of ME. I realised that I was the best friend and protector I was ever going to have – so I started doing for myself what I would have done for a friend in my situation.
I had finished one work-stint and didn’t apply for any more. I took the kids out of school and started home-schooling. I stopped getting up before dawn and went to bed earlier. I started focusing on what I was feeding my body instead of just eating in a rush to get onto the next thing. I slept! At the end of three months, my blood test showed a massive improvement, and the doctor cautioned me that I was on the knife-edge, that I had to be very careful from now on or I would be pushed over into full-blown illness. So began a long journey of educating myself about health, and slowing down.

I grew up reading bible stories and had always been fascinated by the simplicity of life back then. People walked everywhere!  Some lived in tents and had very few possessions. And I know that all over the world people still live like that. Something in me began to long for that kind of simplicity, where I wasn’t running from one thing to another 18 hours a day. So my mantra became “Simplify”. Whenever possible, I began cutting things out of my life that I began to see as unnecessary or detrimental, and that process never stops! I am still constantly letting go of ideas, possessions, attitudes…even people when I can see that they are doing me more harm than good.
When financial stress became unbearable at the beginning of 2013, I applied “Simplify” to transport as well. We sold our car and bought the three bikes instead. I had already experimented with car-free living back in 2006, for a few months and I knew it could be done. Admittedly I had been living in a major city then, with fantastic public transport and services, but I was also much busier then. And in fact, I only went back to owning a car because it upset people so much! It upset my ex-husband so much that he offered to help me buy a new car! So I allowed the pressure of public opinion to convince me that I was wrong that time, though my lifestyle said the opposite! (and to be totally honest I didn’t regret that choice because I got a little soft-top Suzuki Vitara that I loved zipping around town in with my girls. It was so cheap to run and fun to drive – and the number plate had HOB in it so we called it The Hobbit!)
I did the maths before I took the permanent leap last year – and can say it has been proven. The money I was spending on petrol (about $40 a week) is more than enough for public transport costs – so we usually end up with nice little surpluses in the “taxi jar”. The money I had set aside for car services, tyres and maintenance is way more than enough for bike services or repairs, and what I had spent on rego and insurance is put aside for the occasions where we do want or need a car (for trips or showing visitors around) – and hiring one for just a couple of days is usually a lot less per year than rego alone.
What has amazed me about living car-free has been how much more life has slowed down. I expected time pressures to increase, with longer travelling times now, but the opposite has proven true. I expected to be running late for everything and physically worn out (in a good way) from having to get around on a bike. But actually, because I know I can do less in each day, I plan less, and have let go of so many more peripheral things that I once thought were so important. So life has become even more peaceful and gentle. I plan better too, making sure I get all errands completed in one trip, so there’s less need to ‘run out quickly’ to do things! (And yes, I do forget to return the DVD’s; - I either go for another quick solo ride or pay the tiny overdue fee. Then again, our DVD shop owners are so nice they usually just grin at me and say don’t worry about it!) We hardly ever eat take-away anymore, because it was always the easy ‘cop-out’ option, but it’s no longer an easy option if you have to jump on a bike at 6pm to pedal down to Maccas. (But we do still love delivery pizza night!)

The biggest challenges I’ve found in living car free is in things that I don’t really want to be doing anyway. For example, I can’t get to the nearest big shopping centre easily (two bus changes with lots of waiting time between) for a big Saturday shop. So, seeing the positive side – that’s a lot of money and stress saved!  I can’t do lots of shopping and pack it all in the car and drive home – it has to go on the bike or in my granny-shopping trolley if I’ve walked – so that’s more money saved. I walk to town to get locally grown produce once a week. As retail shopping around here is pretty dismal anyway, I had already become an expert at online shopping. Most times I take advantage of ‘free-delivery’ promos, and when I can’t – the money for delivery is usually less or equivalent to my petrol + store mark-up costs. I try to still shop online from Australian retailers, so my way of looking at it is that I’m helping the economy more by spending my money (that used to go to imported petrol) on Aussie made/Aussie grown!
The weather here can be pretty brutal in winter – driving rain and freezing wind. It doesn’t snow this close to the ocean, but whatever gets wet freezes over pretty quickly at times. I have a big weather cover for the box on my cargo-bike, and wellies and wet-weather gear for me, but when it comes down to it, we usually just don’t bother going to whatever it was! It’s just too cold. If it’s really necessary I call a taxi or catch a bus. Maybe that’s lazy but honestly, there are so many things in life that I need to apply my energy to, I’m not going to feel guilty about doing whatever needs doing to arrive at my destination warm, dry and rested!  And yes I’ve still been caught out in unbelievable weather and had to shelter in a coffee shop where they let me spread out my soaking outer garments on chairs, and stand shivering under their heaters. (I was too embarrassed to take off my wellies and pour out the litres of water into the gutter! I just sloshed home.) But hey, times like that just make great stories to laugh at later.

And in summer when it’s hot – if we need to arrive somewhere fresh and nicely dressed, again we take taxis. But sweating is so good for you that I don’t mind getting soaked through with perspiration the rest of the time. I keep wet wipes in my bag and a deodorant or perfume if I’m going to be around people. Sweating is great for you but not acceptable in our country!
But for us, the challenges of weather and shopping are far outweighed by the huge benefits to my health with all the extra exercise and time spent in the fresh air; the huge decrease in stress from not driving and watching petrol prices; the slower pace; and the massive savings financially. The teens love it – they have both declared that they personally don’t want to own cars now either. The fourth one loves the bike too, she thinks it’s fun, but third child complains about it all – she says she wants “walls and a roof” when she travels – but she is the one who loves luxury and ease. We take buses and taxis a little more often to give her a break from the horror of things like wind and sun. 
Plus, we all know that our massive consumption of resources in the west can’t continue like this forever - I often wonder how long we can sustain our car-centred culture. So I feel like I’m getting a jump on the inevitable, which is another great incentive. I can’t recommend it enough! I’m so glad we made the jump. ::

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