It’s environmentally friendly, cheap and healthy but also incredibly limiting. For my first year as a stay-at-home dad I’ve had no car during school term time (around 200 days of the year). That’s all about to change so I’m reflecting on the pros and cons of having no car as a parent in a small town and then looking ahead to what having my own transport will mean. 

The title stay-at-home parent would seem to indicate a fixed domestic setting but it’s vital to get children out and about to provide a rich variety of experiences and interactions. I have established a routine of daily activities within walking distance of the house, ranging from a 10 to 25 minute walk with the pram. It’s worked pretty well to date, offering Tilly daily contact with other children and a range of activities. Being without a car has however restricted us to a very confined area unless we wanted to rely on the vagaries of the local bus service, which with a toddler adds a whole dimension of complexity.

Having no car in this area of affluent commuter belt is nearly as unusual as being a dad at playgroup. The majority of people drive to toddler groups even in the middle of town and car use is all but universal in the winter months. Nevertheless I have braved all weathers to ensure Tilly gets to her activities each day, using a second-hand all-terrain pram to make the most of footpaths and shortcuts. It has done me good, too; much of the two and a half stone of weight I’ve lost in the past year must be attributed to the amount of walking done.

We have, however, now reached a point where Tilly can and should be doing more but we’re stuck with the admittedly decent but limited range of options available. For instance I’m desperate to take her swimming but using public transport to reach the nearest infant pool is simply impractical. We’ve just bought ourselves a second car now, so it seems a timely moment to look back on being a foot-bound parent.

Advantages of being a pram-pushing parent

Hitting the streets everyday with the pram does have some positives:

  1. Your child gets to interact with the environment around them
  2. It’s healthy for you, providing daily exercise
  3. You get to know other parents you bump into on the street (in summer at least)
  4. It’s cheap with no cost other than your shoe leather and no parking to worry about

Disadvantages of being a stay-at-home parent without a car

  1. Going to any activity more than a mile away is either impossible or requires a masterclass is logistics
  2. It can be utterly miserable trudging in the rain or along busy roads
  3. You’re limited to the shops and services available in your immediate vicinity (unless you order online)
  4. A toddler’s energy and patience can be sapped by trying to get to and from places, making them grumpier for the session. We tried a toddler group in the next village for a term but the half-hour walk each way took too much of a toll.
  5. When cross, you can have a long walk with an unhappy infant and as the pram falls out of favour every trip becomes a challenge
  6. Most rural areas are simply unreachable as can be neighbouring towns without a frequent bus or train service

Justifying the cost

Shelling out more money when you’re a cash-strapped single-income household isn’t easy but through careful choice of the second car we’ve decided it’s worthwhile. My wife will continue to do the lion’s share of mileage so we’ve opted for a small and economical car (similar to that pictured) that could potentially save us a couple of hundred pounds in petrol each year and with near zero road tax. The fuel saving should largely offset the insurance of the new car. I’ll be using our existing car but only lightly, to enhance rather than replace Tilly’s activities. It will all cost a little more but we have to prioritise what’s important and Tilly’s quality of life comes at the top of the list.

What we’ll do differently with a car

The structure of what we do will remain the same but it’ll give us many more options, alternatives and the ability to be much more productive in our day. These include:

  • A greater range of activities. This is primarily for Tilly’s benefit so swimming and activities available only in neighbouring towns will now be on the cards. We’ll be dumping the mediocre classes that we attend through lack of any alternative and focusing on what will benefit Tilly the most.
  • Getting into nature. Although our town is surrounded by countryside, we can currently only visit a tiny part of it that’s accessible from home. In the future we’ll drive straight to the best of the outdoors spaces in our area and spend all of our time enjoying it.
  • Museum season passes. We can make unlimited trips to the local open air museum with a season pass, which we’ll be able to make use of during the week when the museum is quiet. It’s a great space, encouraging physical activity, imagination and interaction. Other families we know make use of National Trust and zoo season passes and this is something we can look at for the future.
  • Weekday shopping. It’s bonkers for the whole family struggling around heaving shops on a weekend when Tilly and I could often pop into empty shops during the week. It’s a waste of precious family together time. Getting to the supermarket will take 5 or 10 minutes rather than a taxing 45 minute epic bus trip.
  • Emergencies. We had a panicked trip to the minor injury unit the other week and without family having been on hand this would have been a good deal trickier without access to a car.

An essential or a luxury?

Whether you need a car very much depends on your situation. The more urban an area the easier it normally is to get around using public transport, whereas in the countryside a car is essential to avoid isolation. We’re somewhere between the two, in a modest market town.

My experience is that you can manage without a car if you’ve got a good crop of local toddler groups to rely on but it does mean your life exists pretty much entirely in that limited area. It can be a good thing, to get to know people and places but on balance the benefits afforded by having transport is the winner.

We’re fortunate that we now get our family finances to stretch to accommodate the second car but even on a limited budget older cars can be bought relatively inexpensively. We focused on getting something as modern as our money would stretch to that brought maximum fuel economy for my wife as the main driver. Being able to cut existing fuel costs is an important part of making the arrangement work. A hybrid car was out of our budget but if you’ve able to stump up the cash it can really help cut the ongoing cost of motoring.

What are your experiences of being a parent and using transport every day? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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10 thoughts on “Being a stay-at-home parent without a car

  • 30 June 2015 at 11:24 pm
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    Great post! I’m a stay at home mum and don’t have my own car although I do borrow my hubbys car once or twice a week and I look forward to these days – it’s just so much easier getting stuff done with a car and not having to rely on the buses. I’m very lucky in that I live next door to my local childrens centre so we’ve had groups on our doorstep since my son was born so we tend to do these on days when we don’t have the car!

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  • 4 July 2015 at 7:33 am
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    I can relate to this. We’re a one car household as I get the train to work, however every other week I look after the kids so my wife can work – and she has the car that day! Most of the time it’s fine, but some days I do feel cabin fever creeping in! Enjoyed connecting with your blog via the #bigfatlinky

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  • 4 July 2015 at 9:46 pm
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    As a non driver it can be very frustrating the things you find you can’t do, but there is the element of smugness knowing we don’t do the school run by car 🙂

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  • 5 July 2015 at 12:11 pm
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    I gave up my car back in September/October and my son and I (plus baby on the way) have genuinely enjoyed being a no-car household ever since. In our local area there operates a “loop bus” which connects the three local towns and all villages in between, as the name suggests, the buses run on a circular route and arrive at each stop every 6 minutes, so its a great service, and costs me £12 per week for unlimited use. The area, made up of said 3 towns offers over 10 different beaches, a bit out of town shopping centre, various museums and attractions, parks, and 5 indoor play centres that I can think of, the only thing we lack is any woodland, and an animal park/zoo type attraction. All three towns have a train station too, we are only an hour on the train from London and about 20 minutes to Canterbury, so we just can’t run out of options, but I know how lucky we are to live here. I’m three miles from my sons school (he’s five) so we use the bus every day to do the school run, because its part of his daily routine he is perfectly well behaved on public transport, there’s no novelty factor, and he’s usually happy to sit with a notepad and some pencils or play eye-spy, or we look at a book together on the journey. There are obviously occasions when I miss my car driving life, but I’ve realised how much better use I make of my time now, its forced me to live at a slower pace, which is great, its saved me loads of money and is a million times better for the planet my kids will inherit. No regrets here!

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    • 6 July 2015 at 9:11 pm
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      That’s an inspiring story and I’m so glad it’s working for you. It does show that when there’s good public transport to the right places it can be a viable option. I do really like quiet, rural locations, though, so I do need a car to get us out into the sticks and to some of the woodland, villages and sights hereabouts.

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  • 10 July 2015 at 10:43 am
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    Good post. The boys mum and her family are non drivers. Where as I drive. What always surprises me is the amount of things they manage to do. I almost take for granted what’s available and how to do things because I have the car. But although it has its negative points it is possible to do near enough most things without. Thanks for linking up with us on the #bigfatlinky hope to see you there this week

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  • 13 July 2015 at 12:20 pm
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    I can imagine it’s quite tough at times but then it’s good for the environment. My husband loves walking everywhere even though we have a car. Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts

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  • 15 July 2015 at 4:57 pm
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    We don’t have a car but I live in a pretty big, family friendly town. There’s at least one toddler group on every day within walking distance and I do walk A LOT. That’s fine, I like the exercise. I find it easier to make things a learning experience when on public transport and walking to in the car but there are some things that stress me out such as not being able to access the countryside and supermarkets (luckily ASDA delivers)

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  • 18 July 2015 at 9:11 am
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    We only have one car, so I cope without one during the week. I definitely find it easier without the car, we get lots of exercise, used to going out in all weathers (not stuck in the house, as we’re used to it), often see people to chat to and it’s easier doing a few errands in town without getting kids in and out of the car. There is a train station in our town so we can get elsewhere on the train, but it’s just about being prepared for us. Knowing that we need extra food in the bag for snacks and that we’re back in the afternoon for a rest and let the littlest sleep. We won’t be getting a second car as we can’t afford it, but I’m ok with it really. 🙂

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