One of the many things that Charles and I discussed when I was pregnant was if we needed to buy a car. We decided not to rush the decision and to see how things went. Our daughter is now two and a half years old, and we still don’t have a car. Today I am sharing my perspective on being a car-free parent.
Being A Car-Free Parent
My family lives in Chicago, a city with excellent public transportation. This is the biggest reason why it is possible for our family to live without owning a car. I would say that having a car is the norm in Chicago. Most families need a car to commute to work, drop off kids at school, or visit family in the suburbs. Most of our friends, even friends without kids, have cars. It is common for those without cars to purchase one once they have children.
There are certainly times when it would be convenient to own a car. We rented a car for the end of my pregnancy and the first two weeks of Gwen’s life. This way, we could install the car seat and be ready to go to the hospital anytime. This was in 2020, so in addition to the convenience, driving ourselves to the hospital reduced the number of people we came into contact with. Keeping the car for a couple of weeks after Gwen was born made it easy to go to those first doctor’s appointments. (I will add in that renting a car in the summer of 2020 was inexpensive).
After we returned the car, we didn’t miss it. We lived about a 10-minute walk from the pediatrician. Two grocery stores were an easy walk away, and we made a point to get a stroller with lots of storage space so that we could continue to walk to the grocery store. Everything we needed was within walking distance in Old Town.
How We Get Around
Walking is our primary mode of transportation. We now live in the heart of Wicker Park, and we can easily walk to parks, the grocery store, music classes, restaurants, and Gwen’s preschool. We take the bus to the pediatrician. There is a great urgent care within walking distance.
When Charles and I go out without Gwen, we either take the train or an Uber. Usually, we have a drink or two when we go out, so we wouldn’t drive on a date night even if we had a car.
We use Going Green Limousine, a car service that offers car seats, if we need a ride to the airport or want to go on an excursion.
Being Car-Free in Chicago
The ease of living without a car will depend on exactly where you live. We live very close to a CTA station and several bus stops.
I have never had an issue bringing a stroller on the CTA buses, but I try to avoid rush hours when the buses are most full. Gwen absolutely LOVES the bus; she sees taking the bus as a special treat. We take the bus all over the city and I think it is easier than driving.
Taking the train (the el) can be more difficult since most Blue Line stations don’t have elevators. We only take the train when Charles is with us since it takes both of us to carry the stroller down to the platform. In general, most CTA stations do have elevators – the city just hasn’t added them to the Blue Line yet. When a station has an elevator, it is easy to bring a stroller on the train!
Using Ubers with a Car Seat
When Gwen was still using her infant car seat, we would put it in Ubers. The infant car seats are easy to carry, easy to install, and they are compatable with strollers. We would simply walk to the Uber with the car seat in the stroller and then install the car seat in the car and put the stroller base in the trunk. It was so easy.
Once Gwen outgrew the infant car seat and graduated to a much larger and heavier car seat that isn’t compatable with a stroller we stopped taking Ubers. I think it is easier to just take the bus.
Get a Great Stroller If You Want to Be a Car-Free Parent
We purchased an Uppababy Vista. One of the main reasons why we chose this stroller is that it has a lot of storage space, which makes it easy to bring groceries home.
For even more storage, buy these adapters that position the seat a few inches higher, adding even more storage below. This is really great when you are lugging bags through the airport.
If you live in an area where it snows, you need to make sure you purchase a stroller that can handle the snow. Some of the smaller foldable strollers have small wheels and are low to the ground. In order to handle snow, you want larger sturdy wheels, and you want the stroller to be higher up (above the snow).
We do have a smaller travel stroller, but I don’t use it as much as I thought I would. We bring the Uppababy on trips – we put it in an Uppababy stroller bag. We choose to bring the Uppababy because all of the storage space helps us to get through the airport, and because Gwen will nap in this stroller – that can be super important if we encounter delays.
You Will Still Want a Car Seat
We have two. We keep one car seat in our garage. We chose the Nuna Rava which can be installed in less than 5 minutes. Sometimes we go somewhere with friends and just pop the seat in their car.
We also keep a car seat at my parent’s house in Maine. We spend enough time there that it made sense to just keep one there. This way we don’t have to rent one or bring one to the airport. We bought this convertible car seat which will last for years.
The Benefits to Being Car-Free
We save thousands of dollars a year by not owning a car. The average car payment is $700 a month in the United States! On top of that, the average car insurance payment is $150 a month. Add parking, gas, repairs, etc, and you could be paying $1000 a month. When you add up what we pay for CTA passes, Ubers, and car services, it is about $200-$400 a month. Plus, when you don’t own a car, your car can’t be towed, your catalytic converter can’t be stolen, and your car can’t be stolen – all big issues in Chicago.
The Possibility of Buying a Car in the Future
We realize that as Gwen gets older and becomes involved in more activities, we might want to purchase a car. We aren’t 100% against having one, we just don’t want to buy one unless we absolutely need it. For now, being car-free fits with our lifestyle.