Carless in California am, unexpectedly, undergoing a social experiment. I am living in California without a car.

“What utter madness!” I hear you cry. But, it’s true. And, it’s by choice…kind of.

When I returned here on New Year’s Eve, I expected to be buying or leasing a car within a couple of weeks. In previous years I have driven from Alberta to California, but this year I chose to stay in Alberta for Christmas. After that, the roads became too dangerous for me to drive, so I flew. The original plan was to get an old car to use while I’m here and just park while I’m away.

A very kind family member spent a lot of time looking into the possibilities for me, and came up with some really good deals on leased vehicles. The more I thought about it, though, the less it made sense to me.

Firstly, I hardly ever need a car. I can walk downtown and I can walk to get groceries. The number of times per week I regularly need a car is precisely one, and that is to visit with my sister and to have coffee with friends. I also sometimes meet her and her husband at the theatre, but I can walk there, too.

Secondly, I wondered about the wisdom of having a car (whether bought or leased) that would sit in the underground garage here without moving for the six months or more that I will be back in Alberta. I strongly suspect it would not be good for the car. Also, guest parking spaces are rarer than hen’s teeth, so it will be nice for my guests and my roommate’s friends to have a place to park.

Thirdly, every year I fill out a “Closer Connections” form for the US government. It assures them that I will be returning to Canada because, apparently, they don’t want me to stay here too long. One of the questions on the form is where I keep my car. If I had a car here, AND I have property here, AND I have family here, my closer connection to Canada becomes less clear.

By virtue of dithering over the leasing option until the special offers expired at the end of January, I did not take that opportunity. Also, because the Canadian dollar value is very low right now, transferring money to buy an old car is out of the question. (As I write each US dollar costs me $1.40, which hurts me to even write about.)

Already, I have discovered the primary disadvantage to being without a car and that is the absence of spontaneity. I can’t suddenly decide to visit a family member or or walk around a lake somewhere. I have to plan ahead, and I have to make alternative transportation arrangements. Until now, my sister has kindly driven me to and from my weekly coffee klatsch, but she is quite reasonably unwilling to be my chauffeur all the time.

When we talked about it, I told her to act just as she would if I had a car. If she has a sudden inclination to go out for dinner, she should just call me and I will get a ride-share car. I have not actually done this yet, but I have heard good reviews of the service. In this area, it is very inexpensive so I will be interested to know how much I might spend on it every month as compared to the cost of a car lease. In addition, I am perfectly willing to use public transportation or to rent a car for longer journeys. I just have to get my act together and actually do it.

As I transition into this new way of thinking about getting around, I have to rid myself of the notion that because I don’t have a car I have to stay at home. It’s a work in progress, and I will report back to you when I have more information. Right now, though, I have to get my walking shoes on. I need to buy milk.


Image source: BioMed Central


  1. You don’t realize how important a car is until you don’t have one. Here in Australia you can join a club called GoGet, where you just get a card, and you can pick up a car from a pod when you need it and pay for the hours that you use it. It is a good idea because much more convenient than having to go & sign up for a hire car every time you need one. Of course it helps if you live in the inner city where there are plenty of cars available. Even so it might not be economical if you only used it for part of the year.

    • There is a similar system here called ZipCar. I am in the process of signing up for it, but it is complicated by my having a Canadian driver’s license. I’ll provide updates if and when I use the system.

  2. I have been toying with this idea, I just haven’t been able to make myself take the leap of faith necessary, and as long as the car is available I tend to be lazy. Fortunately the train going through my town is opening in March, maybe, maybe, maybe, hum….

  3. This should be interesting to follow. I would love to hear of the joys and sorrows of not having a car. Do you have city buses to use? Are you losing weight from walking? I bet you are saving a lot of money! A friend of my son refuses to get a car. (He’s from Canada He uses a bicycle to drive 5-6 miles to work in all kinds of weather. Have you thought about a bike? This could stimulate a lot of conversation and make an interesting study.

    • I do have access to buses, and I walk a lot. So far my weight is holding, not losing, but that could change. Just so long as it doesn’t go up! I was given a bike a few years ago, but I found that the old adage about always being able to ride a bike doesn’t hold true. I fell off a couple of times so now it sits in the garage. Mostly, I don’t ride it because I don’t trust car drivers to see me, and there is a lot of traffic around where I live. So, walking and busing are my preferred means of transportation for nearby journeys.

  4. It takes some adjustment, but if one considers the millennia during which people did without cars because there weren’t any, it should be feasible. My alternative of choice would be a bicycle. I love riding horses, but the stabling and feeding and so forth is a bit of a hassle.

  5. This made me smile trying to imagine stabling a horse in San Jose. I thought about cycling, but I won’t do that until drivers around here are more used to looking out for bikes. It’s getting better, but I would not feel very safe right now. The biggest problem for me is in visiting family and friends, but Uber and Zipcar will help me with that. Everything else is doable by bus or “Shank’s pony.”

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