Moving to Portland was a bit of a spontaneous decision for our family. It was one of those opportunities presented by the universe that we just could not pass up. We had lived in Maine our entire lives and decided this was our chance to explore and push ourselves outside of our well-established comfort zones. After signing a lease for an apartment close to multiple transit options, one of the decisions we had to make quickly was if we were going to drive across the country with our cars, ship them, or sell them. In the ultimate move outside of that comfort zone, we decided to sell our cars and give life as a car-free family a chance.
It has been over a year since we walked out of the PDX airport and got on the red line. Living car-free has been one of the best things we’ve done for ourselves. Challenging at times? Yes, absolutely. Occasionally frustrating with the ever-changing Portland winter and spring weather? Of course. However, the benefits for our family have far outweighed the difficult parts of not owning a transportation source. Some of those benefits have gone beyond our initial expectations of saving money and helping the environment, and have become my favorite parts of using public transportation.
It keeps me honest!
I have a habit of flying by the seat of my pants. This can be a very useful approach to life when things don’t go as planned. However, it can also be slightly unproductive when you have a list of errands to do and you head out without a plan, forgetting half of your to-do list and getting distracted by new ideas along the way. Using public transportation has helped me learn to structure my time and realistically plan ahead. I plan the timing of our trips using the TriMet app (an absolute lifesaver!) and the travel modes needed to get to our destination and pack what I can feasibly take with me or purchase while I’m out. Another major bonus of living car-free is I’ve suddenly developed restraint from those impulse buys at Target when I have to think about carrying it all home with my two hands!
Do I really need to say more? The bus or train picks us up and drops us off relatively close to where we need to be. This saves me from having to find a parking spot, actually getting into the spot (I HATE parallel parking!), paying a meter, and then having to wrangle my kids back to the car when the meter is up to avoid a parking ticket.
Opportunities for connection
Sometimes I think back longingly to the days when my kids were strapped in a five-point harness in the backseat. I could listen to their chatter and occasionally throw out an “mhmmm” to keep them content. Now, daily travel is a little more hands-on and requires me to stay present with them. I use this car-free time to connect. We talk about where we are going, what our plan is that day, what we see out the window, etc. We play “I Spy” or games we make up together. We talk with people around us or use this time to practice reading social situations and learning about boundaries. We spend a lot of time talking about what is expected of us on a train or bus, and my kids are learning to read the maps and help navigate our trips. Also a must-have: I keep a “transit survival kit” in my backpack with pens, notebooks, activity books like “Spot It,” wipes, and hand-sanitizer.
Living a car-free life and using public transportation has given me a chance to become more intentional with how I plan our family time and has prevented me from over-scheduling our days. I’ve become more thoughtful with how and when I make purchases. But most of all, I have been given hours and hours of invaluable time to give my young kids my undivided attention while they still want it!