May 8, 2018

How To Not Drive As Much

Driver: "Did you feel something?"
Passenger: "Uh, don't worry, it's nothing. Hit the gas."
Driver: "Full speed ahead! To nowhere and beyond."

We're not driving anywhere. Well almost nowhere - Linda and I drove our motor vehicle a scant 800 kilometres last year. That represents a record low distance driven in a year since I passed my drivers licence test four decades ago. 

Linda and I used to drive more. More like the average 20,000 - 25,000 km/year. We would spend entire summers driving gravel roads through the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains while camping rough and exploring the backcountry. 

It was beautiful, but we always experienced nagging doubts about what we were doing. How could it be a benign activity?

We knew that slogging a toxic fume spewing ton of metal, glass, rubber and plastic through the forest was not good for anything. It did create a sense of freedom and adventure for us, but did that mindset offset the damage we did in the process? Was it worth it?

Before long we had to admit that we could no longer justify our fossil fuelled escapades. So, as global climate change began to ramp up, we began to ramp down our driving. 

As a result, we began living far more locally than we had previously, and found that we liked it. We have not felt like are missing out on anything. If anything, our lives have been enhanced in many ways by living more locally.

Let's face it, any way you go you will be missing out on something. When you travel a lot, you miss out on everything that is happening back at home. There are trade offs any way you go, so might as well save money, and the planet, and enjoy what is happening in your own little part of the world.

Private gas-powered cars have been an unmitigated disaster for the planet, being responsible for at least 9.3 billion butterflies and 24 billion bees and wasps deaths each year, not to mention their contribution to climate change, or the tens of thousands of deaths due to car crashes each year.

Perhaps it is time to reassess how we get around, and if we actually need to get around as much as we do.

How To Not Drive As Much

- walk

- ride a bicycle, roller skate, skateboard, pogo stick, unicycle or other self-propelled method of getting around

- public transportation

- enjoy staying at home sweet home

live a more local lifestyle in close proximity to where you work, play, and secure the necessities of life

- combine trips

- telecommute 

- carpool

- retire from the mainstream consumer/commuter life, if possible

- use car share/ride hail services

- develop an awareness of how damaging fossil fuelled travel is to our planet

- live in a place you really like, and therefore don't feel compelled to leave all the time


  1. This has been a really difficult one for me. I've traveled many many miles via a car. Not so much now though because I am not financially able which has been better for the environment for sure. But I miss being able to go, explore, learn and all the experiences traveling allows. The places I've been have shaped me in a positive way. I would not be who I am today had it not been for my many long distance travels. I would not understand as much as I do had I not had traveling experiences. I do enjoy local experiences too.

    When I talk to people who have not traveled much, it's obvious their experience is limited, very much so in some cases. That makes it really hard to decide to stop traveling. I don't have the option of living in a place that has woods to walk in without driving to those places. That makes it hard to stop driving too. There is no public transportation in my area. Biking to places is treacherous here due to no bike lanes and huge volume of traffic. I do limit trips, combine outings and there are many days my car is parked all day. In fact, most days my car stays parked. I'm single so I have no social involvement unless I drive somewhere where the people are. I'm politically active locally and driving a car is necessary to get to government meetings. It is also necessary to go to those often to develop rapport and hopefully some influence for better policies, however slight my influence might be. I am a low miles person now, again I'm forced to not drive much. If that changes, it's likely I will go on some occasional trips. But awareness and knowledge makes it more difficult to justify. Maybe moderation is the answer for me.

    Congratulations on 800 kilometers last year. Truly impressive. This is a good post and reminds me to stay vigilant about limiting car driving. Thanks!

    1. Terri,

      North America is not designed for any transport method except the personal automobile, so it is no wonder we have problems living without them. Although we only drove 800 km last year, I really have a hard time imagining what life would be like if we went car-free.

      But car-full is not all its cracked up to be either. We were just told by our mechanic that our van will NOT pass the mandatory inspection (every 2 years) without extensive work. For the same amount of money we could buy a used wheelchair equipped vehicle, but like our van, it would be older. No guarantees that vehicle wouldn't need a bunch of work at its next inspection.

      Now we are thinking that our next move (whenever that is) will be to a location that allows us to live without a vehicle altogether. But that would probably mean a city, and I do not look forward to urban living. Or, be in a rural location, and never go anywhere, which while a bit scary, does have some appeal. We are pretty much doing that now.

      Moderation is the way to go. Making our driving more efficient goes a long way toward reducing harmful emissions.

      Driving 4 blocks to the corner store is not what modern vehicles were designed for. In that case, aren't they just glorified, and very expensive, wheelchairs/scooters/mobility devices?

      Congratulations on adding a comment on this post - it is a difficult topic to broach in car-centered cultures where people consider private motor vehicles and unlimited mobility to be a birthright.

      Let's face it - we are addicted (and I include myself in that category). If that is true, who are the pushers, and how do we escape their predations?

    2. What I love most about this blog is how respectful people are here and supportive of all no matter where they are on the path to living smaller and more simply. I think if I were not single, I could live in a smaller place as some social needs would be met by companion. I fall about mid way between introvert and extrovert and might lean a little more introvert than extrovert. I like a lot of quiet space, but thrive when I am getting both social and solo time. I lived in near total isolation for nearly 5 years. It was excruciatingly painful at times. If it hadn't been for the internet, I might not have survived; it was that bad. I don't want to do that again.

      I lived in large cities most of my life and don't care to go back. Too noisy, too bright at night with city lights, too many people, way too much concrete. I just can't breathe in cities, it's almost claustrophobic. Now I live in a small city (75,000). I could go a bit smaller and still find social connection. So many good things said here in comments, thanks to all.

  2. Anonymous5/10/2018

    This is indeed a hard topic. We have pretty much decided to stay living in town (country town of about 25000 people) rather than moving to a bush block because of the car issue. Currently I live a 20 minute walk from the shops and I expect this will remain do-able even when I am older if I just keep doing it regularly. Work is another issue. Two days per week I work too far from home to walk, and there are no buses going there when I need them to. This is one of the down-sides of country living, a lack of transportation and not many cycle lanes. As well, there is a train to the city which stops at the next major town (100 kms away) but it only goes and returns once a day!

    Whenever the conversation comes up that this should be our last car - it's currently 10 years old - our only real concern is, how will we stay connected with our friends? We have close friends 20 minutes to 70 minutes drive away and this is not walkable. It is not safe to cycle as we would need to travel along major highways used by heavy trucks.

    So where does this leave us? As soon as we are mortgage-free I will quit the work I need to drive to. This will free up enough time for me to walk most places I need to go. We will keep this car going for as long as possible to use only when there are no other options.

    A lovely quote to finish -" Happiness is a place between too little and too much" (Finnish proverb)


    1. Madeleine,

      In our current location I can only walk to neighbour's homes, and the wilderness, which is nice if that was all that one needed. For Linda, it is difficult to get out locally at all. To secure food and health care, and get Linda to outdoor places to enjoy, we must drive.

      I like the quote, which speaks to finding the sweet spot of living. Society generally recognizes the harms"too little", but rarely admits to the drawbacks of "too much".

  3. Very interesting topic, and one close to my heart. We've now been in our new home for 3 weeks and although we've used our cars to explore our new greater surrounds, we've discovered that we actually don't NEED them. We will definitely be selling one car at least. The other one we will keep for the occasional long distance trip to see family, or perhaps if my husband gets work that includes shift work. Public transport here is not too bad really so as time goes on, the doability of it all will unfold.
    However, on a day to day basis, we are walking everywhere. It is FANTASTIC. I've already lost weight (a happy side effect lol) and feel much healthier. Everyone in the family is sleeping better and we all feel just closer to nature and to our new community. When you walk, you meet people- something that doesn't happen when you drive everywhere.
    Gregg, I felt the same as you when we moved. I really didn't want to live in a city , but if we moved somewhere too rural to get the land, we'd HAVE to drive. We ended up compromising on how much land we have, and bought a large (not obnoxiously large) home on a decent section, very close to a small country town. At this stage of our lives we figured it was more important that the children could walk to school/kindergarten and I to town and farmers markets than it was to have acres on hand. As we grow older, things may change of course. But so far, we feel like we made the right choice and are very happy. Once upon a time you could buy a quarter acre or even an acre within walking distance to town, but that's rare these days as more people subdivide such properties. Here at least though, the sections are still huge by city standards, even if not by country standards ;)
    How to encourage others to give up their 'right'to drive and their 'need'to drive though, I do not know. So many folk seem to see them as a status symbol, which I've always found very odd. I'm very guilty of not knowing the difference between car brands and having zero interest in learning!

    1. Karen,

      How exciting it is to settle in to a new location. It sounds like you have found a happy medium.

      I do not know of a single example of a car that I would like to own. All of them that I know of offer WAY more than I want or need. It would be great to get a very simple vehicle without the device connectivity, high top speed, and excessive luxury.

      Something like a horse drawn wagon, or a cargo bike.

  4. Anonymous5/10/2018

    I am just reading a wonderful new Australian book called Retrosuburbia: The Downshifters Guide to a Resilient Future (David Holmgren). It is based on permaculture principles - land care, people care, fair share. His response to the car issue is that we all need to begin to have more home-based lives. This means working from home, schooling children at home, growing and processing food at home etc...We also need to engage more with our local community (too big a topic for me to go into here)

    The subject of the book is retro-fitting existing suburban houses and gardens to happily and resiliently meet the 'energy descent' future. It is an optimistic book full of solutions and things we can do now. It is also about retro-fitting your entire life - work life, home life, financial life etc... Even for readers who are not Australian there would be many, many things you could implement wherever you are.

    Gregg, a country town the size of mine (25,000 people) might work well for you and Linda in the future. It is extremely quiet and the bush is only 5 minutes away, but you can get to the shops without a car and there is also a hospital, university etc...close by too. It means our community is close by as well. We have great neighbours and friends to swap and share things with, from tools to food to skills. Blocks on the old quarter acre are abundant, and even on a smaller block a huge amount of food can be grown if the aspect is good.


    1. Madeleine, that books sounds great. Thanks for mentioning it as I will look it up. Funnily enough in our small country town (about 7000 people), we have a resilient group started already which I am keen to join. I love the idea of having a more home based life. I'm inspired especially by those who grow a lot of food on sections smaller than a quarter acre. We have about 650sqm, which I'm sure we could still do a bit with.

    2. Madeleine,

      Whether we run out of cheap oil, or get off it because it is too dirty to burn, we will be experiencing an energy descent, so I consider that to be an extremely important topic. Overpopulation makes lowering our energy footprint even more important.

      For this reason, I like your idea of starting to eliminate powered things from your home. The future will be more human powered, and because of that, the air will be cleaner, and people will be in better shape.

      Your location sounds great. Tell me that one can grow avocados there, and Linda and I are on the next passenger ship to your part of the world with our one box of worldly possessions.


      It is amazing how much food one can grow in a small space. Although we are currently living on a one acre lot, most of it is not suitable for growing things, except for grapes, perhaps. However, our 8 X 16 raised bed garden continually surprises us with its abundance.

    3. Anonymous5/11/2018

      Sadly we cannot grow avocados here Gregg, although because the Summers are getting warmer we can now grow citrus (with care for frost protection). In my little orchard I grow - peaches, apples, nectarines, cherries, plums, pears, lemons, oranges and apricots. I also have an almond and walnut tree (not yet producing) and hazelnut bushes. So for me this makes up for the fact that I cannot grow avocados! All types of berries do really well here too, so we do not go hungry :-)

      Madeleine. x

    4. Madeleine,

      OMG! That is quite the list of food that you are growing yourself. Amazing.

      Almonds AND walnuts? Yes, please.


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