When the wife and I moved to Korea, we left a lot behind behind: our family and friends, a big apartment, the comfort of the familiar, and the very icons of our Americanity: our cars.
We both drove late model gas sippers. We didn’t have a choice. In our town, like most other cities in the States, public transportation is a sad joke. Cities are sprawling messes of unplanned development. If sidewalks exist, they’re usually in terrible states of disrepair. In the country, if you don’t drive, you either rely on someone else to bring you food, or you die.
My parents live in the country. 100 years ago, it was possible to take a train from my parents house into the city. Even though it only made four stops a day, people walked to the station and rode into town. Everyday. Now, the platform is gone, replaced by a doublewide trailer. Only coal trains use the tracks.
Progress. Thanks, Henry Ford.
Living in Korea, we have access to an excellent public transportation system. The trains aren’t as extensive as in Europe, but the trains and buses cover enough ground can be anywhere in this admittedly small country within a few hours, no car required.
Even though the cost of car ownership is low, many people here don’t own cars. It’s entirely possible to go about your daily business on foot, using trains and buses. Small, neighborhood shops abound, selling everything from groceries to hardware. Every street has well-maintained sidewalks.
Before I list off the things I love about having no car, I want to say one thing: I don’t have cars, I’m just really enjoying not having one. Sometimes I miss driving, the freedom to go anywhere, anytime, just to hop in a car and explore. I miss the thrill of driving too fast along curvy roads, the music drowning out the throb of the engine as the wind whips in through the windows.
That said, here’s the list:
1. I’m saving a lot of money.
Cars are expensive. Besides the initial cost, there’s gas, insurance, fuzzy dice. I’m not going to run numbers here, other people already done it here, but according to AAA, each mile costs about 52 cents. I drove a really old car with great gas mileage, so my cost was considerably lower, but I’ve still estimated that I’m saving over $2,700 per year. I spend maybe $5-10 per week on public transit, more if I want to take a trip. It’s like I got a big fat raise and all I have to do is walk a little more.
2. No Maintenance Headaches.
I don’t get flat tires on my shoes. I don’t have to spend time changing oil, replacing plugs, scouring junk yards for spare parts, dealing with mechanics who drop pistons on your hood, leaving huge dents. Because I’m not reliant on one thing for my transportation, I can never be stranded.
3. My Life Expectancy Has Increased.
Not only do I get more exercise from walking, but my risk of death from a car crash has dropped to almost zero. I’m not making this up, check this out. My biggest worry is the homicidal sidewalk scooter drivers.
4. I’m Less Stressed.
If driving doesn’t terrify you on some level, you shouldn’t be driving. One mistake, and you could kill and maim yourself and others. This stresses me out, and not having that responsibility is a wonderful feeling. Plus, I’m never stuck in traffic, getting tailgated, having near-misses, flipping people off, all that crap. Something about being in a car really unleashes the ugly side of the id. Plus, I have more time to enjoy the weather.
5. I’ve Lost Weight
I’ve lost weight without actually trying. In fact, I think I eat more here. However, I’m walking every day, whether I want to or not. Being away from the car culture, I’m also not eating convenient, delicious, artery-clogging drive-thru food.
6. My Neighborhood Feels Like an Extension of My House
Walking around, I feel like the parks and playgrounds and sidewalks are all part of my back yard. I know it very well because I see it every day; I suppose I’m just more aware of it. There’s not a clear divide.
7. Nobody Can Steal, Break into, of Smash Something You Don’t Have
8. Long-term Travel Is Easier
From my front door step, I can go anywhere in the world. One of the best airports in the world is less than two hours away. I don’t have to pay airport parking. Squirrels can’t build nests in my cylinders while I’m gone. Perfect.
9. My Thinking About Distance is Different
I don’t think about distance in miles but in number of transfers and times. Anyang is five stops away. Great Chinese food is a fifteen minute walk. Pyongyang is about 120 miles away. In car terms, that’s about two and a half hours. In car-free terms, between the visa requirements, expense, and the flight to Beijing, it might as well be on the other side of the world. If nothing else, it makes me feel better.
10. In My Own Little Way, I’m Helping to Clean the Air.
No car, no exhaust, no CO2.
11. No Back Pain
With three different vehicles, I found myself with a little bit of lower back pain. Nothing severe, but like all kinds of physical pain, it pissed me off. I think the combination of my posture, refusal to drive an automatic transmission car, and broken-down seats made long periods of driving a recipe for pain.
12. I Have More Free Time
By this point, you’re probably thinking I’m full of shit. Driving saves time, you say. I agree, driving can be faster, as you know you can go from point A to point B in X minutes. However, as I’m never really sure exactly how long I’ll need to get somewhere, I am unable to over-commit myself. I don’t have to rush and hurry. If I arrive somewhere early, I’ve always got something to read.
13. I Can Really Listen to Music
Driving and music go together wonderfully, but when I’m on the subway or at home, I am able to fully focus my attention on a tune. Rather than dividing my attention between the tasks of listening and driving, I only have to listen.
14. No Need to Worry about DUIs.
I don’t have to worry about arranging transportation after a night out on the town. No long waits for expensive cabs. No need to wake my wife up at three AM for a ride home. No need to worry I might, in my impaired judgment, decide I’m not that drunk and hop in a car. See also number 1 and 3.
15. I Can Make the Most of Transit Time
When I’m on the subway or bus, I can spend my time reading movies, watching movies, or writing blog posts. I’ve read about people writing novels during their daily commute, but since my work is a five minute walk away, I don’t have this option. Further, have you ever tried to write while driving? I’m impossible to read what you wrote later. Just kidding, but not really.
I think that’s the it. Maybe I’ll add more to it when I think of things. If you don’t have a car and you can think of anything I missed, let me know. Maybe we can make this car-free list to end all car-free lists.
Photo Credit: pdxdj