A life without a car in the wilds? I hear a lot of reactions like “that’s never possible! Unrealistic!” But is it true? My current car-free life proves the opposite. In time I do live car-free in remote Lapland. My story started unintentionally…
In February 2020, I was driving with a colleague from Gällivare towards Luleå. I sat at the wheel of my car and we enjoyed a happy chat. Until we are hit by a bright flash of lightning… too late, I did not keep the speed limit.
You know the movie “You have got mail” from Meg Ryan?
Many weeks without consequence passed. In June 2020 I got a letter from the police: “Please report to the police station”. In the middle of reviving a small village store, I did not take the time to make this call.
More weeks flew by until one Sunday evening in October when I received a call from the Gällivare police station. An officer announced a visit to my home.
My life without a car is driving into my yard
The patrol car pulled up in front of my Tiny House on wheels two days later and two uniformed police officers got out. Friendly, I invited them in, eager and fearless to hear their request. I would not expect that an order for a life without a car is waiting for me in their pocket.
But after a long interrogation, I received a driving ban with immediate effect. The reason was not, as expected, exceeding the speed limit in February (I drove only 3 km/hour too much). Instead illegal driving behavior due to a missing valid driver’s license. Yes, my Swiss driver’s license, which I have had for a proud 30 years, is worthless in Sweden because I live here. Welcome to a car-free life.
The missed important details
Yes, I knew that this is not allowed. As a Swiss, I should have exchanged my driver’s license for a Swedish one in the first year after immigration. I missed to find out about this because I had no time for such “details” at that time :-). My own fault… But I was definitely not aware of the fact that this will one day mean to live without a car. If you want to read more about this law… here you are!
I have to take the Swedish driving test (with all the trimmings) to regain possession of a valid license. A process that takes months. The handling of my case and the later revocation of my acquired driver’s license also takes ages.
When I will have passed the driving test and the Swedish license is in my pocket, it will be immediately taken away from me for six months. This is the actual punishment for my driving without a valid license. If everything goes optimal, I see an end of my life without a car at the beginning of 2022.
The emotional cocktail
This bad news gave me a bit of a scare. Even I did, for many years, wondered on and off what it would be like to live without a car as remote as I do. As a nature-loving person, I have always tried to take care of our environment. And thus attempted to avoid many car kilometers.
But I did not dare to live with my eight sled dogs in the middle of the forest without a car. The next store with an attached post office is five kilometers away. The veterinarian 45 kilometers. So the fact to live a car-free life came without warning like a letter by mail. This letter triggered a cocktail of emotions. Startled, unsure, and a little scared, I felt happily challenged. A life without a car is waiting for me.
But the timing couldn’t have been better. I work little and the little I do, I work from home. Besides, I have several months of travel plans, as always car-free. And due to Covid meeting friends and participating in events is not a big number.
My new daily life without a car
The first weeks car-free were very easy. The autumn was long and snow-free. But even the arrival of winter with the dark, snow and cold temperatures did not irritate me. For larger purchases in the store five kilometers away I ride my fat bike. I filled my backpack with garbage for disposal on the way there and with new supplies on the way back.
When it’s very cold, I have to hurry on the way home so that the fresh produce doesn’t freeze. Which has always worked for me so far. For little shopping or picking up the mail from my locker, I run back and forth with my little runner’s backpack. Which is at the same time a perfect workout.
So I manage everyday life without any problems. But sometimes I have to go to town to the dentist or courses/exams for my driver’s license :-). Then I walk or bike to the bus stop next to the village store and from there I go by bus.
Am I even more isolated by my car-free life?
Yes, but being alone is a very nice feeling for me. I enjoy time alone probably more than the average person. However, I am not antisocial and enjoy company and friends very much as long as I can keep enough space. But sometimes it is difficult not to convey the desire to be alone in a hurtful way. The absence of a car excuses me officially and without danger of hurting anyone. So in its own way a relief. I am trusting all my reading friends to not understand me wrong here 🙂
The challenges to live without a car
One of them is larger ordered goods, which I have to pick up at the post office. I am kindly allowed to leave the carton packaging with the store staff for disposal. This allows me to carry some of it home myself. If it is still too bulky, I either have to snowmobile across the lake to the post office or ask someone for help. But this rarely happens.
Other challenges are the disposal of my faeces from the separett toilet of my tiny house as well as dog food deliveries. If vet visits become necessary, this too will be difficult to resolve without help. I have many dear friends in the area who are willing to help me out. Even so, I try to avoid asking whenever possible.
How to solve the challenges?
All these experiences are very valuable for me. I am learning what life without a car would mean for me. The bottlenecks, faeces, vet, dog food and larger deliveries I would have to solve. I could replace my separett toilet with an incinerator toilet. I would have to order dog food and other large goods with home delivery. That leaves the vet… especially if a situation were acute. But even for less urgent situations, the bus would not be an alternative. As my huskies are not used to bus rides and civilization.
The benefits of a life without a car
Living car-free also has great advantages for me. I contribute to maintaining the quality of the air. Combining everyday needs with training and motion is healthy. If I didn’t have to pay penalty fees and the cost of a new driver’s license, life without a car would be even much cheaper.
To live without a car is slowing me down, I am becoming more thoughtful. And, in a way that is inexplicable at the moment, more grateful. Why this gratitude awakens, I will recognize in the remaining time of my car-free life. Is it a mixture of the benefits that trigger feelings of gratitude?
What does my future look like?
A few days ago I took and passed the theoretical exam for my Swedish driver’s license. In three weeks I will take the practical test. But as mentioned earlier, this will not mean that I can drive again. Because there is a legal driving ban hanging over my head until the Road Traffic Office makes a ruling.
This decision will not come before September 2021 due to a lot of pending work at their office. The verdict will then first be the revocation of my acquired license for six months. So I still have enough time to think about if revive my car or keep on enjoying my car-free life.
To live without a car is easy
As you can see from my example, one is not immobile without a car. Living a car-free life is easy. The only difficult part is the transition when you are used to the car and have set up your life depending on it.
Going car-free in smaller communities, without functioning public transportation, often seems impossible. Especially with a family, which I can imagine, giving up the car in the countryside is a big challenge at first. It requires a change in everyday shopping and mobility behavior. If you are used to a car you can hardly imagine how they can transport heavy loads or bring their bulk purchases home.
So, is car-free living remotely possible?
Yes, it works very well. If you don’t go to the mall once a week, but instead make smaller purchases around the corner several times a week. This way you can get by very well with a bicycle (and a trailer if necessary). You can transport smaller quantities in a backpack. So that you can also use possible public transport. And cover short distances on foot.
In the meantime, there are also many different ways to have access to a car. Even without your own one in front of your door, if necessary. Besides traditional car rental and car sharing services, newer variants offer flexible solutions. Young people and families on a budget can’t always afford to use public transport. Especially on long-distance trips that are not doable by bicycle or on foot.
What about car-free holidays?
I am aware that vacations are an issue for many. Not all people spend their free time and travel car-free and only walking or biking like me.
But some things on a car-free regular vacation will turn out to be an advantage. It’s easy to get to know people on public transportation. And children usually like train rides better than sitting still in the car for long periods of time.
And a hiker arriving by train can also get back on the train at a completely different station. While the car driver has to return to the parked car. If one wants to still make a vacation with a car, rented ones are a good option.
Car-free living is possible!
Very well even! And to live without a car is even fun. The voluntary self-restriction may appear at the beginning laborious. And now and then connected with one or other personal inconvenience. But those who have tried it appreciate the perspectives beyond the fast lane.
What are your experiences of life without a car? As a family? In the country? In the wilderness? I’m curious to hear your car-free life story, let me know!
Really interesting post Barbara! We tend to be so set in our habits that the step you have taken (had to take!!) would seem insurmountable to most people. Best of luck with your carfree life. / Anna
Maybe I even can say one day, that I was forced to my persistent happy car-free life!
I imagine not having a car when you live remote is a far bigger challenge, compared to being without a car in a city, or small town. I choose to sell my car three years ago, as an experiment. I am a single mom with two children. Since then we’ve moved to a small town with great public transportation, and invested in good bikes. My preferred method off transportation is by bike (I use my mountainbike every day,) walking, or taking the bus. When we go on vacation we’ll take the train. My backup is our towns carpool, but I have not had any needs to use it yet. I enjoyed your post, since my dream is to move out to the countryside again at some point, to be able to have bigger garden. I have to say that in my town it is not hard at all to be without a car. Some things you have to plan beforehand, but you get use to that. I order groceries for home delivery once a month (all the heavy stuff,) and get the fresh produce locally at the nearest grocery stor, or farmers market. In the spring/summer I grow a lot of vegetables myself as well. Best of luck with your decision about the car in the future. Thanks for a great post!