I have searched the internet for discussions on this subject and I have found that most of the questions come from people moving to the USA from more walk-able countries and not wanting to give up their lifestyle. Once you have lived without a car, it is hard to return to life inside a tin can. Unfortunately, most of the answers they get are from Americans who haven’t actually tried to live without a car, but are trying to imagine it. Often they will say that you have to live in New York City, Chicago, or some other large city to do this. That is completely NOT true!
In some ways, these answers also show that these people don’t understand what life is like without a car in other countries. The noise pollution of giant American cities are so unpleasant that I wouldn’t want to walk much in giant cities. I hate crowed sidewalks and pushy people as well. In a quieter, smaller cities you hear birds chipping, notice the plants and flowers around you, read shop signs and notice community events, you feel more apart of your environment, energized by the exercise, and connected to your community just by being in it rather than watching it pass by a car window. You don’t deal with traffic jams, road construction, an overly hot or cold vehicle that you have to wait on before the interior temperature adjusts, long commutes, finding the one last parking spot in the entire shopping complex, toll booths, parking fees, gas stations, mechanics, and a tiny cramped interior space for hours of your life.
The most important consideration for living without a car is your daily commutes. You can live in a sprawling city without a car as long as your job is just down the road with good sidewalks and a grocery store, church, and restaurants are reasonably close for walking or biking. Big shopping excursions can be done with friends, mass transit, or a rental car during the weekend. Enterprise rental cars will actually pick you up (or so they advertise) or if you are lucky, you may have a rental place nearby. I tend to do most of my shopping online. This excludes shoes which MUST be tried on if you are going to do lots of walking in them! You can even order groceries online in some places in the USA! This change of lifestyle from driving to walking or biking may mean one has to move, but usually those who are asking these question are ready for a big change. To live in the USA without a car you have to research ALOT and be very intentional in where you live. Google maps street view is your best friend!
How do you have a social life? If you live near your job and church, often you also live by the restaurants and hang out places those people go to. Even if you don’t, people are often very happy to give you a lift when you don’t live very far from a place they frequently go normally. Having lived in the country in Texas for years before going the Scotland, I was already used to a 45 minute commute to town to do anything including work and church. If you changed that to walking, everything within a 3 mile radius is easy walking distance. If you are biking, than an 8 mile radius becomes an option. If you start searching google maps, you may be surprised at how much stuff is located within that distance in a typical American city downtown area. Even if you are not in a downtown area, you may live near a strip mall or shopping center that has everything you need. Often you can do things much closer to home than my example distances, and most likely you will really what to make a 45 min commute a rare thing. The main issues that make some places more difficult to travel than others is the existence of sidewalks and the issue of very steep hills. On google maps you will want to scout out the WHOLE route you will be taking because, for some reason, sidewalks just disappear in the most awkward and dangerous places.
Going without a car may mean that your housing is more expensive because you are in a downtown area or nicer community near your job, but considering that the average American spends nearly $8000 dollars (based on the American Department of Labor Data) on car related expenses a year (payments, gas, insurance, maintenance, repairs, and taxes) and nearly 100 hours a year in the car commuting to work, the savings in money and time often far exceeds the housing difference. You also don’t have to worry about gym membership because of your more active lifestyle. Potentially, it could also save you in long-term medical expenses if you had a sedentary lifestyle without gym membership.
You may think that having the option for a rental car would have you getting a car every weekend and replacing your car payment with rental fees. I find this often doesn’t happen. People usually don’t go out every weekend and since your social life is near your home, you won’t see a need for a rental car as often as it may seem at first. Plus, when you do decide to get a rental car for large shopping trips and errands or to go on vacation, it is pretty nice to go in a shiny new rental car which you can get with various deals and special offers. You may drop $200 a weekend a month (at the most typically!) on rental and gas (depending on your area and the deal), but most people just spend that much monthly on car insurance.
I have seen people talk about the weather and climate of various parts of the USA as being a discouraging factor, but with all the great outdoor gear for hikers and with stylish Europeans dressing for their various climate considerations, you just need to be equipped. You will need to have good shoes, a good rain coat, and a good winter coat (if applicable) at the very least. It isn’t like you wouldn’t own shoes and coats if you had a car, but without a car you will want to search out good quality. I would suggest looking at various hiking stores or outdoor sport places (Northface, LLBean, Sports Authority, REI, etc…). You may also be able to find appropriate gear at a biking shop if you will be biking as well. I also want to make a note that you don’t have to wear ridiculous biking clothes to commute by bike. I rarely have seen any Europeans doing that and I have no idea why American don’t just wear normal clothes? In practice, I find that skinny jeans and tight clothes are very uncomfortable for long walks and biking, but there is no rule on that. If fact, during summer, I find that a dress or skirt is the most comfortable option. I also enjoy looser jeans, khakis, long shorts, all with thin cotton shirts. This is just personal taste though, but don’t forget to use sun block, especially in the South!
If you noticed, I did not cover buses, trollies, subways, trains, or any other form of mass transit. The main reason is that where I live in Ocoee, FL, USA, these thing are unreliable or none existent. If you find a good place to live that has these available then that is a great bonus, but I believe that it isn’t essential. It does seem that cities that have these also seem to accept the car-less lifestyle more. Where we are living, it seems like only students and poor folks walk. Because of this, you have a type of persecution from people such as store owners not wanting you to enter their store with back packs or large bags to carry groceries. You also get quite a lot of people staring at you as they drive by as though you are an alien from outer space. I have even had church folks make faces at us “poor folk” for biking to church. At least that is what their faces seemed to express, but then again I think a lot of people here have naturally sour expressions.
The fact is that, a car is optional even in the USA. We need to question our assumptions of our life styles. We feel compelled to spend our money in certain ways because everyone else does. Don’t get stuck feeling like you have no options in various areas of your life. Make an intentional choice to either live with or without your car because you love that lifestyle. The good life often mean going against the norm so that you can enjoy every moment!