BikePortland

Book Review: How to Live Well Without Owning a Car


Publisher’s note: Despite a recent BTA survey showing that 90% of respondents own a car, many people are finding that living without one (or several) is not only possible but enjoyable. Even the New York Times has noticed that in America, people are falling out of love with cars.

On that note, here’s a review of a very highly recommended book about how to take the carfree (or just car-light) plunge. It was originally published by Elisa Munoz on her Birmingham, Alabama-based blog Bike Skirt, and has been republished here with her permission. We’re looking forward to publishing more reviews from Munoz in the future.


I have been hearing all about how Chris Balish’s book, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car (Ten Speed Press, 2006) is the foremost manual on how to live car-free no matter where you live. I am here to tell you that it is true. This book rocks.

Balish starts by laying out exactly how much car ownership is costing you, and our society as a whole. I found that angle, as opposed to the “Save the Earth” approach, to be oddly refreshing. Let’s be honest, most people care a hell of a lot more about their bank account than their carbon footprint. I sold my car, so I was already rid of that cost, but was still stunned by how much a car truly costs. A chapter on how to sell your car takes the fear out of that, which I can tell you is scary.

This book is a must-read for anyone who is carfree, thinking of going carfree, has a daughter who has recently gone carfree (Mom — I am looking at you!), or thinks anyone who has done it is a freak.

The book goes on to list all the reasons cars are bad (pollution, road rage, global warming, unwalkability of cities, etc) in a fair and un-tedious way. Again, refreshing and un-preachy. The next few chapters were the most helpful: how to get to work without a car. Balish covers all the bases, talking about biking, transit, carpooling, walking, motorcycling…even inline skating! The advice is simple and well thought out. Real life examples pepper the pages, telling of suburbanites and city dwellers who went carfree for a multitude of reasons and have found success.

Balish also realizes that not everyone can do such a dramatic thing, and suggests going car-lite, an idea that I think most Americans would be more likely to get behind (until they realize how awesome it is and give up their cars completely!). A one week trial period and a weekend dry run are also suggested, making the whole thing less daunting.

Wondering how to get groceries, meds, shoes and diapers without a car? All covered in this book that I am now calling my “non-drivers manual.” Tips on arriving fresh and maintaining good hygiene are also covered, and I found the ideas to be right on track. Dating without a car scare you? Check out Chapter 22.

This book is a must-read for anyone who is carfree, thinking of going carfree, has a daughter who has recently gone carfree (Mom — I am looking at you!), or thinks anyone who has done it is a freak. The stories are genuine and infectious, the ideas are helpful and realistic and the writing is engaging. I have a feeling I will be referring to this book often in the days to come and loaning it out to friends. A quick and helpful read to be sure.

Thanks Chris Balish, you have taken the mystique and fear out of living a carfree life in a car-centric culture.


You can find the original version of this review here.

You can find more books about bikes, livability, and carfree issues in the BikePortland Bookstore. And you can benefit the local economy in any number of ways when you buy any books from Powell’s website via the links on our site.

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