My 30-Day Challenge: Living Without a Car

Before I left for my 9-week trip to Southeast Asia, I moved out of my apartment, and sold my car. I didn’t see any point in paying for the car in any way while I was gone, and it somehow had appreciated in value, while it was approaching 100,000 miles, so it was a good time to get the cash out of it.

But since I got back, I’ve been renting cars. Luckily, the rental car market in San Diego is pretty competitive, so prices are relatively low. My car was costing me about $13/day average, but I’ve got cars as low as $8/day!

So I decided to give myself the challenge of living without owning a car for 30 days in San Diego, and today I returned my rental car and took the trolley home!

The idea is that I will do without owning (or leasing) a car for 30 days, and depending on how it goes, I may or may not buy a car after that point.

Today, I signed up for Car2Go. The way it works is, they have lots of these electric Smart cars all over Central San Diego, and members can at any time just open one up with a card and take off with it. Luckily, I’m currently staying downtown, I’ve seen tons of these cars all over the place, especially near my building.

Pretty sure these cars get chicks...

The cost is $35 to join as a member, and after that you just pay per use- $.35 per minute. There’s no other costs because they’re electric, and they include insurance. There’s a zone for the cars, and within the zone you can drive one way, and leave the car anywhere to shut off the charges. The zone here is pretty big, covering downtown, to the beaches, east to North Park and even a little further. Basically, all of San Diego proper except I think La Jolla. For La Jolla and North County, you can still drive up there, but if you park and go somewhere for a few hours, you’re racking up the charges while you’re there.

They have an app that shows you where all the available cars are at any given time, so you can always find a car easily from your phone.

One beautiful thing about them is that you can park for free in any metered spot- and even park in 2 hour parking zones for more than 2 hours and not get ticketed.

So, we’ll see how that goes. That’s just one mode of transportation I’ll be using.

The trolley station is 1 block away, so for anything downtown up to Old Town (2 miles or so away), or east to Mission Valley, I can use the trolley.

For North County, I will have to try the Coaster if it’s during the week (and during the day, since they only run until 6:20!), and the Surfliner which definitely runs later, but I’m not sure about the cost. Definitely will be taking the Surfliner to Orange County on occasion.

Then there’s biking, which isn’t hard to do as I’m just a couple minutes from the long path by the bay, the bus, walking, getting rides from people, and maybe checking out Craigslist rideshare. I’m also renting cars here and there when it makes sense financially- I’ve got one reserved on Tuesday-Friday next week for $8/day! A lot of the time, renting won’t be an option so I’m reserving renting for emergencies or when the prices dip below $10/day.

This experiment will definitely help me slow down. Here are some of my reasons to make the case for not having a car:

1. I don’t want a car. I mean, I want the independence and freedom that it allows, but I’m not a car guy and never have been. Point A to point B is my main objective!

2. I will make more efficient use of my time. If I need to take a train to Orange County, sure it will take a bit longer than driving, but I can do work (trains are equipped with wifi), or read…and not have to deal with traffic.

3. Parking. The street cleaning scam is in full effect in San Diego. Each street has a different night for street cleaning, so if you don’t have a permanent spot, you will easily rack up parking tickets as it’s so easy to forget to move your car. (I lived with this in San Francisco and was thrilled to leave that behind). It’s funny how the streets never look any cleaner the day after they were allegedly cleaned…which just shows that this is another city government scam and nothing to do with providing us with a useful service!

4. Traffic. I HATE it. I actually enjoy driving, but traffic is the worst thing to me, it’s such a waste of time. I never understand how people just put up with it day in and day out.

5. Buying gas. Everyone knows gas prices have gone up. I can think of better things to spend my money on. Plus it’s annoying to even have to stop to get gas, and it usually makes me late!

6. Maintenance. Again, not a car guy, I have always paid for oil changes. Those take time and money. Then there’s all the little minutia. Things go wrong with cars. Why is that check engine light on? $75 to get it checked. Brakes are squeaking! Need new ones. $800. Oops, ran over a nail. $150 for a new tire. Oh wait, your other 3 tires are worn down too. $500 to replace all of them, it’s a steal. How annoying is all this stuff? Turns me off on car ownership!

7. Lack of flexibility. I’m big on traveling. But it’s a waste of money to have a car while you’re away (assuming we’re talking about a flying trip). If you are making payments, it’s just money being thrown away. If you own it outright, it’s still money you could invest or use for something else. If you’re on a lease, it’s really hard to transfer it to someone else, so you’re stuck with usually a 3-year contract.

8. Traffic Cops. Let’s face it, most of what cops do is give out chickenshit traffic tickets. They can cite you for all kinds of nonsense these days like not wearing seat belts, talking while driving, not coming to a complete stop at 2 in the morning when there are no other cars on the road…I won’t be avoiding driving altogether, but the less I’m behind the wheel, the lower my odds are for dealing with the cats in blue.

I think we could all do with less of this guy.

9. Less sitting, more walking. Not having a car means more walking, which means I will be healthier.

There are some things I’m worried about missing:

1. Driving has always equaled a form of freedom to me. When I was 15, I saved up enough money at my summer job stuffing envelopes to get a nice mountain bike, because I couldn’t stand being confined to walking or relying on my parents for rides. I couldn’t wait to get a driver’s license! Taking away this freedom might be rough.

2. I don’t know the bus system at all. It will take some time to figure out.

3. I won’t be able to instantly get somewhere if it’s out of the car2go zone and I don’t have a rental car that day. For example, last night I was invited to a concert in Solana Beach. I declined because I don’t know how I would get up there and back yet! I’m sure this will get worked out in time, but I may miss a few opportunities at first.

4. Dating. I can just see it now.

“He’s a cool guy but he doesn’t own a car!”
“He must be broke or a hippie, or both.”
“I’m worried that he’s going to pick me up on his bike.”

Maybe it would make me more cool if I said I was just being more “green”? 🙂

We’ll find out! My goal is to see if I can spend less than $250 on transportation, without totally inconveniencing myself. I have no idea if this is possible. The clock starts now, May 24th and ends on June 22nd.

Stay tuned for updates!


  1. Interesting service there. I tried to go carless in San Diego (without a service) and I didn’t last long. Actually, I really miss driving when I’m abroad (that’s one of the few things I actively miss about the US when in Asia). Curious to see how it goes!

    1. Kevin

      Yeah the living downtown and using Car2Go makes it doable. Also, being able to rent cars here and there for $8-9/day should ease the pain. I enjoy driving too…not sure hitting the city streets in a little electric toy car will give me my fix!

  2. Michael McDonagh

    Good Luck Kev, What was your monthly expense with car is that your $250 number? Will be interested to see

    1. Kevin

      Thanks dude! It’s hard to say what my monthly expense was before, I owned my last car outright and before that I had a lease for $237/month, but if I was paying around $150 in gas (2009-10) my total would have been $387 not including oil changes and other BS. 🙂

      1. Michael McDonagh

        Good luck dude!

  3. Really? It was only 9 weeks here?

    I struggle with the car decision. My parent currently have my Jeep, which will be good if I end up doing the cross-country trip this fall. But then what? Return to Bali and leave my Jeep with my parents again? Use it whenever I’m home Stateside and just have the money get sucked into a depreciating vortex?

    As for dating, I hear you. When I lived in the city and shared a car I was always apprehensive to have the “I don’t have a car at my regular disposal” conversation. But I’d urge against picking up any girl for a date on your bike. Riding on handlebars was fun when I was 12, I’m pretty sure I’d break something now. 😛

    Good luck on the challenge!

    1. Kevin

      Yeah 2 months 1 week…time flies! Cross country trip sounds fun!

      Come on, riding on handle bars is always fun! You just have to know how to sell it. 😉

  4. Vinay

    Awesome! Sounds totally doable in DTSD!

    I’d seriously do it myself if I had good access like Car2Go. I only drive a couple times of week as it is. That said I AM a car guy, so it would be an adjustment from a psychological standpoint.

    1. Kevin

      They don’t have Car2Go in PA? I guess it’s just SF. I hear you about the psychological standpoint, I love my freedom to just go anywhere in a moments notice. Like if I wanted to go to Arizona, now it requires a little planning ahead…but it could turn out even more fun, who knows!

  5. evolveyourbizuk

    I was so happy to come across this even though it’s an old post! I have told a few people I’m going car-free in San Diego when we move there and some people say it isn’t possible but I call bullshit on that. We Americans are hooked on owning cars and since I’ve lived in Europe I see a car as less of a necessity than I did before.

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