This Is What It's Like Being A Parent Without A Car

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
kiankhoon / Getty Images

As a person who doesn’t drive, I’m often asked what it’s like to not have a car. People genuinely can’t fathom existing — much less being a parent — without having car.

Well, let me tell you what it’s really like…

First, it’s not the pain in the ass most people assume it is. Sure, it’s not always the easiest thing in the world, but honestly, I really don’t mind it. I have always lived in a major city, so I’ve always had the ease of being able to travel via public transportation. Over the years, that has made it easier and easier to not have a car.

I grew up in New York City. When I was a teenager, around the time people typically learn to drive, we lived in Brooklyn. There were four different subway lines within a short walk of our apartment, so it was faster to just walk to the subway and be transported to anywhere in the city.

Then I went to college in Boston, and I spent my first two years living on campus, so everything was right there within close proximity. When I did live off campus, my apartment was a 20 minute walk from school. I paid extra in rent to avoid taking public transportation.

But nothing turned heads more than when I announced that I was moving to Los Angeles. Without a car. LA has a reputation of being a city where you must drive or else you’re never going to be able to get anywhere. And while it may be true in certain parts of the city, generally it’s untrue. I haven’t had any trouble getting to the majority of places that I need to go without much trouble.

“You really need to learn how to drive,” people like to tell me. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have been told something like this since I turned 18. As if I didn’t understand or realize how beneficial driving is. I’m not unaware to the advantages of driving, but that doesn’t mean it’s just so easy for me to go out and learn. In fact, as time has passed, it has become easier not to learn. That’s the downside to living in a major city with a good public transit system — it becomes easy to rely on.

But real talk: the thought of getting behind the wheel of a car is fucking terrifying to me. So much so that it makes me nervous and shaky. So many of my friends and family have tried to tell me how exhilarating driving is, and I can understand where they’re coming from but… nope. My sweet sister-in-law tried to teach me to drive when I was 22, and for a few minutes it was kinda cool, and then something happened inside of me and I started sweating profusely. And I haven’t been able to get behind the wheel of a car since.

Here’s the thing, though: I really don’t mind not having a car. When you live in a city, parking is a total nightmare. In LA, you have a little bit more luck because it’s a city of drivers, but that’s not always the case. Parking lots are often full or expensive, and street parking is a fucking nightmare. Most apartment buildings do have resident parking, but even then, as more people move into the building, those spots can get taken up, because not every garage has the same amount of parking spaces as it does apartments. And if you drive to your friend’s house, you could actually be driving in circles for upwards of 20 minutes trying to find a space to park. In the case of my current apartment, which is a small building without parking, not having a car has worked to my advantage.

There are also the environmental advantages too. I’m not contributing to pollution from driving a car (there are enough cars making smog in LA), and not being a drain on natural gas resources. Yes, there are eco-friendly car options out there, but I’m surely reducing my carbon footprint in a bigger way by not driving at all.

The biggest advantage to not having a car though? The cost. I spend about 100 dollars a month in transportation costs. If I had a car, that would barely cover a month’s worth of gas. I don’t have to worry about car payments, and gas, and insurance and all that which is often discouraging for people who aren’t incredibly financially stable.

Of course, there are disadvantages too. Being dependent on a bus or train can make even the most reliable person unreliable. You have no control over what could delay public transportation, which means that sometimes you’re going to be late, even if you don’t plan on it. I pride myself on being punctual, and when it was just me, that was a lot easier. Now, I have a kid who can’t find his sneakers or has to pee just as we’re walking out the door. Something like that could mean that we miss our bus.

Running errands would be easier with a car too. I either have to take an Uber (if I can afford it) or wait until a friend with a car is available to take me. That is frustrating, but I’ve generally learned to prioritize. And my friends are really great; sometimes they’ll offer to take me places, even if I didn’t ask, simply because they know what a pain in the ass it can be.

Who knows, maybe one day I will get over my fear of driving and be in a financial situation where having a car would be something I could pull off. In the meantime, I have no problem with standing at the bus stop or the train station and experiencing the world through the window of a moving bus. Besides, you learn a lot about people when you take public transportation.