Living Without a Car

Mrs. ItchyFeet at Mayan Ruin

Well, I have been living comfortably without a vehicle for five months now. This is the first time I have not had any access to a car in my entire life, and it’s a little weird. I specifically picked places to stay that are very walkable. It would suck to not be able to get to grocery stores or restaurants or the beach!

But I need it!

When I was fifteen years old, I bought my first vehicle. I didn’t even have a license yet, but it was so important that I had that freedom of movement that a vehicle provided. I grew up in the tiny mountain town of Gunnison, Colorado. It was very similar to an island in that it took a lot of effort to get in and out. Camping, snowboarding, swimming, hiking, visiting friends, cliff diving. All these things required a car, a bike, hitch-hiking, or a long walk.

Old Toyota Corolla
I spray painted this old Toyota Corolla station wagon purple in ’96 to match my hair color in highschool. I was so cool!

That first vehicle was an absolute piece of junk three-quarter-ton pickup that was broken more often than it was working. I had this grand idea of filling the back with water so I could drive around with my very own swimming pool. Ahh… the ideas kids get. One of my friends pointed out that if I was to go through with this ridiculous plan, water would slosh into the cab of the truck every time we stopped! Jello maybe? Would that work? After a single trip to the gas station (so expensive!), I sold the truck before we could find out.

The next few vehicles were Toyota cars of various types. Good on gas, easy to work on (with help from my dad and Mr. ItchyFeet’s pops), inexpensive parts, very reliable. I always paid cash. This allowed for easier bartering. The person who sold me my last car was selling it for $6k. It had some hail damage and a large soda stain on the back seat. I showed him a wad of bills for $5k and the car was mine! I kept that same Toyota Corolla for almost 20 years. No monthly payments for me, thank you very much!

Toyota Corolla with 3 kayaks on top
I owned this ’95 Toyota Corolla for almost 20 years! At this point the kayaks were worth more than the car, but no monthly payments! So worth it!

Cost savings

The average vehicle owner in the States spends about $806/month on a vehicle. This includes all the things needed to keep the car on the road (gas, maintenance, insurance), as well as depreciation and interest. FFS! If you put that money into the stock market with around 6% interest, after 20 years with compounding interest, you would have $375,000. I’m well aware that the stock market looks like crap right now. That’s the best time to put money in!

If I wanted to have a vehicle while in San Pedro, Belize, I would have rented a golf cart. Those suckers cost $50 per day! That does not include gas. You can get monthly rates that are slightly cheaper, but still a lot. What some people do is buy a golf cart when they get there and sell it again when they leave. Sounds like a lot of work. A golf cart would have been nice for getting potable water and movie nights at The Truck Stop. But still not worth the cost. Those things have no shocks and are just too painful to drive around for funzies.

Mrs. ItchyFeet next to statue in Playa
There are so many weird things that you see while walking around! You can only get to this statue by foot.

If I wanted to rent a vehicle in Playas del Coco, Costa Rica, I would have been spending around $600/month. Then I would have constantly worried about the car getting broken into or a mango falling on it and breaking a window. If you want to buy a vehicle in CR, make sure you hire a lawyer. Otherwise the person selling might not be the person who owns it (same with buying real estate!). The actual owner could come take it back with no recourse. The police would just tell you that you should have hired an attorney for the transaction.

It is just not worth it!

Costa Rica also has crazy import taxes. You can’t just drive a car down from the States without paying, possibly more than the car is worth, in taxes. Then if you forked over the tax, the cost of maintaining a vehicle is more than in the States because they tax the parts as well. Or you just can’t find the parts. Don’t bring in a vehicle that is not common in CR. Not only will they not have parts, they won’t have techs who know how to work on it. Then you might be SOL. I would have liked a vehicle to visit some nicer beaches. It’s just not worth the cost.

Walking only path art in Playa
These cool orbes are along a walking path in Playa del Carmen. No cars allowed!

Rental cars in Playa del Carmen, México are less at $422/month. However, drivers are very erratic around here. I almost got run over just this morning! They don’t stop for stop signs. They go the wrong way down one-way streets (most streets here are one-way and they sometimes switch mid-intersection!). The police like to pull over tourists for a “mordita”, aka “little bite” or “tip” to avoid getting a ticket. And parking is difficult and often expensive (don’t overstay or your car might get booted!). Plus, this town is so walkable, it’s just not worth renting a car.

You really have to plan more when you don’t have a vehicle. I am very cognizant of how much I can carry when heading out to the grocery store. I have a backpack and shopping bags to make it easier to get food home.

Car with no parking boot
This is what happens in Playa if you park illegaly or overstay your welcome! It’s better to avoid having a car altogether.

Let’s save some monies

I ultimately decided that I could save a lot of money in retirement by not owning or renting a car. I mostly walk (or bus) everywhere, anyway. Any vehicle I got would just sit around rusting a good chunk of the time. This, however, limited the places I could live. Few areas are walkable in, say, Panama or Puerto Rico, without being in a downtown metropolis. Lucky for me, the internet has a ton of info on which places are great for living without a car.

It definitely took some getting used to. You can’t just pack all your stuff into the car and head out to the beach or up into the mountains. In Belize, I hiked all the way up north of the island for an outdoor movie. It was a trek, and I was anxious about walking back in the dark on roads with no sidewalks (drunk tourist are a real danger!). Luckily, I recognized someone who was gracious enough to give me a ride home in her golf cart. People are so nice!

Dung Beatle statue in Playa
Yet another cool piece of art we might have missed in Playa if we drove instead of walked. Dung Beatles!

If you forget something at the store, you can’t just jump in the car to pick it up. That convenience is gone. However, the cost savings allow me to live in some truly wonderful places! Pick apartments or condos that are close to the beach, grocery stores, and restaurants. If the location has good public transportation, all the better! In COVID times, it’s great to be outside for most everything, so I enjoy walking over or taking a taxi, but at least I have options. I also have a wonderful bus system here in Playa.

Healthy living

This lack of vehicle thing has absolutely forced me to exercise, even when I don’t want to. With no vehicle, I really walk everywhere. For groceries. To the liquor store. The beach! People-watch around town. Hike to Mayan ruins. Medical appointments. All the things. I’m sleeping a lot better and my brain doesn’t feel so chaotic.

Ruddy Daggerwing butterfly
A Ruddy Daggerwing butterfly! They are so pretty!

And let’s not forget the environmental impact of driving a vehicle. It feels pretty nice avoiding all gas stations. Not getting in a stuffy car that smells like hot plastic. Not being stuck in traffic. Walking whichever way I want down a one-way street! I also find so many fantastic places by walking. The slower pace allows me to see those wonderful fruit stands I might have missed. Or that street taco stand that has the best tacos I have ever had! I might have sped past in a vehicle. But, instead, I experience life in slow-mo.

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1 Comment

  1. Welcome to our world. We love our carless life. Peniche is a VERY walkable town.

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