Monday, 7 January 2013

Our completely car-free "experiment"

Well firstly a happy New Year to you, dear reader.  I am sorry it's taken so long between updates, but I have been enjoying a lovely relaxing bit of time off over Christmas.

As I mentioned before, our family car (the only one we own) chose the Saturday before Christmas to die.  It turned out to be quite a serious fault that, coupled with Bank Holidays, has taken quite a while to fix.  I hope to be able to collect it tomorrow and so that has meant we have spent over a fortnight truly car-free.

So how have we, a family of two adults and three (5-13 year old) children, managed without a car?  It's the sort of problem that would have most families in a pickle in this car-dependent society.  Indeed the first reaction of a quite a few friends and family members was to offer us the use of an alternative car.  Very kind of them but Mrs Folding-Bike and I agreed to try and go car-free, just to see what happened.

I have to start by saying that, unwelcome huge expense aside, we are pretty lucky that it happened over the Christmas break.  I had planned to have almost two weeks off work anyway and the kids don't go back to school until tomorrow.  So how did we deal with the ordinary stuff for which we usually depend on a car?


The shopping was probably the simplest thing to deal with because larger supermarkets deliver.  It took a bit of planning to make sure that the cupboards were well stocked but we did become aware of the the number of times one of us would just hop in the car and zip out for milk, bread or other essentials.  These trips I covered by going shopping with bike and rucksack and, as I commented previously, it is surprising how many groceries one can fit into a medium-sized pack.  I did find the limit though when picking up some items for my eldest daughter's birthday sleepover - it seems that popcorn, fizzy pop, pizzas, chips and sweets are bulkier than they seem.  In truth, I did throw a small sack of dog food in there as well, for the dog you understand, not the birthday party!  However, I had to resort to removing the boxes from the pizzas in order to get it all to fit.  I am sure that I looked pretty eccentric crouched in ASDA's car-park unpacking pizzas but in a dayglo cycling jacket with my trousers tucked into socks, I cut an odd-looking figure anyway.  I'm used to the looks by now!  And besides, the cardboard is better filling ASDA's recyling bin than mine.

I also used the bike to take my hybrid's rear wheel to the bike shop for (another) spoke repair.  I love my versatile rucksack - I just strapped the wheel on the back of it and cycled to town.  Again, strange looking but who honestly cares?  It got the job done. 

Strangely the wheel makes the rucksack look much smaller than it is.


Everyone likes a party over Christmas and New Year and we had two planned where we needed to travel.  Boxing Day was due to be spent 50 miles away at my parents' and on 30th December we had another large family gathering  to attend.  Our solution in both cases?  To stock the cupboards and bring the party here!  We had a couple of brilliant days welcoming people to our home and putting on the hospitality.  Hopefully a great time was had by all and we didn't have to go anywhere!  We did have to tidy up a bit but the place needed it - again more a blessing than a chore in the long run.

Random half-days out:

During longer school holidays, we'll often just pop out to town or somewhere else for half a day, to kill time as much as anything.  This Christmas break, we just haven't bothered, largely because we couldn't, and it has been lovely.  We've stayed at home and played games, walked to the park together with the dog and generally found cheaper, simpler and more relaxing ways to spend our time. 

Although we live a few miles from the nearest large-ish town, I have never taken the bus to get there.  We have one which comes through the village every hour and takes 15 minutes to get there.  I took my youngest daughter out on Saturday for a "bus to town" adventure as we had a few things to pick up (my repaired wheel among other things).  She had a brilliant time and, I have to confess, so did I!  It cost me £3.10 for a return ticket and the didn't charge for my daughter.  Had I driven it would've cost me at least £1.70 to park and so adding in the cost of a little bit of diesel and the convenience of not having to find a parking space on a Saturday afternoon, I'd say I had a bargain.  OK so we are a little restricted by the once an hour bus schedule, but we coped just fine by not rushing, taking a later bus home and enjoying a chill out together in a coffee shop.  A bit of Father and daughter time is always welcome and if it involves a treat in a cafe, so much the better.

Waiting for the bus home, she seems happy in her work!

The school run:

As it's been a school holiday, this hasn't been an issue.  We only have to get the kids to school tomorrow without the car and a friend has kindly volunteered to collect them.  The experience has made us think about how we could do it without the car though.  The bus goes at a time in the morning that would get my wife to town in time but leave about a mile to walk to Primary School with the younger two.  My eldest starts a little earlier than them at High School but could cycle to a friend's house nearby, freshen up and walk the rest of the way.  It would need a bit of toughening up on their parts but that never hurt anyone, really!  In fact the major concern was from my eldest daughter about appearances in front of her peers rather than the actual physical effort of the cycle.  Tsk, teenagers, eh?

So to sum up, in all honesty, we've managed admirably without a car.  Despite the fact that it's Christmas, there seems to be a little more disposable cash than usual and I guess this is what we would normally have spent on diesel.  It'll have to go in the pot for the huge repair bill we're about to incur but every little helps, I suppose.  We've really felt the generosity of friends too in their offers of help and transport.  Sometimes it takes a bit of a disaster for us to realise just how truly blessed we are.  And we are truly blessed.

When the mechanic told me that the car was going to cost upwards of £1,500 to repair, for a moment, I did wonder whether to bother.  The car is worth quite a bit more than that so I couldn't justify writing it off but just briefly I thought sod it, we'll manage without.

And so we'll go back to being a one-car family tomorrow but hopefully one that will make a few changes.  I hope that we use the car less for those short or unnecessary journeys and cycle more or use the bus.  We have definitely learned that a car, while very useful, is not the must-have item of hardware that we had previously believed. 

I'm sure that, with planning and a bit of ingenuity, even the larger car journeys such as holidays in the summer could be managed by other means.  I'm also certain that, if we did ever decide to go for it, we'd have a fantastic time and would learn a lot through the experience.  Best of all though, now we don't dread the loss of our only car for some reason.  It is a tool to make life more convenient and not life-or-death itself. 

I honestly recommend that we all try and live without our cars, even just for a little bit.  Even those of us who think that we simply can't.  I'm sure that somehow you can.  For the good of the planet, the roads, our wallets and yes, just for the fun of it!

1 comment:

  1. Great to hear how you've managed. When we go cycle camping we often unpack food and repackage it in our own containers . We get some odd looks too but who cares!
    Brenda in the Boro