Rants & Sermons

Why I Don't Own A Car...

How on earth can I be a photographer, especially a “travel” photographer,
and not own a vehicle?!

In the short time I had this car, it got me to lots of amazing places. Jasper National Park, Canada, Winter 2018.

In the short time I had this car, it got me to lots of amazing places. Jasper National Park, Canada, Winter 2018.

About 8 months ago, my wife and I drove our beloved 2016 Jeep Patriot through the Canadian Rockies and central British Columbia all the way down to Seattle, Washington. When we arrived in Seattle, we immediately sold our car to a dealership, absolving ourselves of a few more years of loan payments. We spent a couple days in downtown Seattle, then flew back home for a small fraction of the cost of gas to drive from Alberta to Washington. The drive down to the states took most of two days, but the flight back took 2 hours.

Why did we drive all the way to Seattle to sell a car when we live in Canada? Simple really. It was a U.S. car we bought when we still lived in the states. Once I got permanent resident status in Canada, I was required to “import” the car (even though it was already in Canada). This meant driving it back to the states and going through a complex and very expensive exporting/importing process, then having it registered in Canada. I estimated it would cost about $3,000 CDN in fees. It was also very possible we wouldn’t be able to import it at all because we still owed several thousand dollars on it. So, instead, we decided to sell it and settle our debt. The reason we sold it in Seattle is that a dealership there offered us a much better price than dealerships in Montana (the nearest state to where we live).

Originally, we thought we’d buy another car in Canada not long after selling ours. I thought not having a vehicle would hinder my photography work. I thought I’d miss the “freedom” of having my own wheels. What I discovered over the next several months of not owning a car is that it hasn’t affected my work much. Sure I can’t just drive to the rockies on a whim, but otherwise, I’m not missing out. Honestly, I don’t miss having a car much at all. Before we sold our car, it just sat in our parking lot most of the time, especially during winter. It seemed ridiculous to be making monthly payments, not to mention paying for insurance, gas, maintenance, etc, for a car that only gets used a couple times a month. That money could be spent in better ways.

Pros of not owning a car:

  • No car payments

  • No insurance payments

  • No registration/inspection fees

  • Never buying gas

  • We lessen our environmental impact

  • Never worrying about parking

  • No repairs/new tires/oil changes

  • We get more exercise by walking

  • Walking and public transit are statistically safer

  • No stressing about traffic

Cons of not owning a car:

  • Hard to haul things that are too big to carry

  • Walking in winter conditions is tough

  • Public transit is not exactly world-class in our city

So how do we get around? We can walk to 99% of the places we need to go. We are centrally located, my wife works only a few blocks away, and we’re surrounded by all the grocery stores, shops, restaurants and other conveniences we need. We live in a pedestrian-friendly city with limited, but decent, public transit (it’s also pretty bike-friendly, but we’re not bike people). If it’s too far to walk, we use the light rail. If the train doesn’t go there, we get an Uber. When I need to get out of the city and into nature, I rent a car. I added up all of our transportation costs for the last 8 months (including car rentals), and they pale in comparison to what we’d have spent owning a car. We’ve literally saved thousands.

I’m not saying I’ll never own a car again (or that this is a practical way to live for everyone). It has disadvantages, but the cost savings are just too good to pass up right now. We have very little debt, and I hate owing money. We’ve looked at cars and considered buying outright, but the thought of all that cash and savings going away makes me feel uneasy. I’d rather hoof it and use the savings for travel and other ventures instead of owning a car.