A Brief History Of (In)Dependence

The restrictions imposed due to the current Covid-19 pandemic have meant my need for a car (mostly to transport children to different activities) has all but disappeared.

So rather than continue to pay for tax and insurance I’ve decided to take it off the road and see how we get on with just one family car.

Giving up my car – albeit with the option to return it to the road at any time with fairly minimal effort – has given rise to mixed emotions.

On the one hand I love that as a family we have halved our car ownership.

This feels good on the financial front (I’ll save about £120 a month on tax, insurance and fuel) as well as the obvious ecological pluses.


As an offshoot consequence, I now rely entirely on my ebike for commuting.

I have been using it virtually every day anyway over the last 21 months, except the odd very wet day.

I’ve now invested in a big fat front mudguard and some decent waterproof trousers, so I’m ready for all weathers, rather than taking the car in downpours.

This again provokes positive feelings in me.

I have more exercise and fresh air (even fresher with so few cars on the road currently!), very low running costs (I charge it for a couple of hours once a week), and the greater feeling of freedom cycling gives compared with sitting in a car – especially in traffic.

With three kids I’m increasingly aware of the influence we have on them, and how it’s shaping them, and their outlooks on life.

I personally feel having just one family car and relying on a bike for my commuting provides a more positive role model (again on multiple fronts – fitness, financial and ecological) than each parent having a car and jumping in it for every trip – however local.

I also enjoy the sense of freedom from not running a car.

Knowing that – currently at least – I don’t have to budget around £120 a month for fuel, road tax, and insurance, and another £80+ for maintenance and servicing, is very liberating. We can put the money towards family days together and so on.

And this is probably the crux of this whole post.

The automobile, in many ways the ultimate symbol of freedom and independence, in facts can bring at least as many feelings of restriction and burden for its owner.

Unless one has virtually unlimited funds, the costs in owning running a car are usually a significant chunk of one’s overall expenditure.

Which means more money needs to be earned to pay for it.

Then there’s that psychological reliance.

This is best illustrated perhaps by how we feel when we get in our car expecting it to work perfectly and find a flat tyre or a dead battery or some other fault that means we’re going nowhere.

Even if your car is largely very reliable, these occasions still hammer home how reliant we are on them, and what a huge inconvenience it seems when they’re suddenly taken away.

With cameras there’s a comparable dichotomy.

Having more than one (and the means to buy them) gives a sense of freedom of choice.

You’re not “stuck” with just one camera that you have to make work for all occasions.

But there comes a tipping point where too many cameras can feel just as inhibiting, if not more so.

The choice of cameras and lenses laid out before you – rather than being a great symbol of freedom – becomes an ungainly and ugly albatross of indecision.

On balance, so far, not running a car – and the gains I’ve outlined above – feels better than running one.

We’ll see how this evolves in the coming weeks and months.

How about you? What do you feel about having cars and cameras and your (in)dependence on (/from) them?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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13 thoughts on “A Brief History Of (In)Dependence”

  1. Where I live there is no choice but to have at least one vehicle, otherwise you’re stuck. Town is fifteen minutes away by car, and would be impossible to get to any other way at my age. For that matter even a young man would find cycling a challenge around here: we don’t have hills, we have mountains. I have seen adventurous souls trying their luck cycling up through the canyon, and hope they don’t have a heart attack or get slaughtered by a truck on the treacherous twisting trail.
    But I can see the value in not having a car if you can get away with it. More so the value of having the right sort of car. Too many people in cities opt for vehicles that aren’t suited to city transport. Instead they buy on the basis of what is ‘cool’ rather than practical. I guess the same can be said for cameras: people who just want to take some decent pictures rush out and buy a $3,000 DSLR which they then never use but a fraction of its capabilities.
    We bought Jojo last fall: the Toyota Highlander hybrid. Not new, but newer than the Nissan Xterra which was acting up. So here was the ‘perfect’ vehicle for us, in that it had room for everything and AWD so it could handle Winter and also the hybrid technology to reduce gas consumption. Irony set in this year when we suddenly are driving less and gas prices have plummeted. Plus I still had to license the Nissan to go to the cabin because that road would destroy the new vehicle.
    At least cameras do not require constant monetary input even when not in use, and generally don’t fail just from sitting on a shelf.
    Okay this comment is practically a post in itself!

    1. Thank Marc, don’t worry I like long comments!

      I agree that it’s best to find transportation most suitable for your needs. If you live close to where you work (or work from home) there’s less reliance on a car for commuting. I’ve even got my wellies out and walked in the past where we’ve had bad winter days and I haven’t fancied digging the car out – or the local more rural roads – and it’s only taken an hour.

      If I lived somewhere seriously rural like you, I would have a 4×4 also, I’m sure. I’d love an old Land Rover or Land Cruiser or something. My dad used to do off road trials when I was in my teens and had a number of Land Rovers, Range Rovers and Suzuki Jeeps, so I love all that. Proper work horse vehicles!

      What’s rather irritating these days, as you say, is people who live in towns or cities and have 4x4s and similar oversized vehicles (like those ugly bloated Audi or Porsche SUVs) who have never been through so much as a deep puddle in them, let alone truly off road. They’re just grotesque and such a statement of excess and fashion over function and necessity.

      We went on holiday a few years back in rural Wales and stayed in a shepherds hut on a farm. When we arrived, the farmer put our bags in the bag of his Discovery (which looks like it had transported dogs, chickens, and more than a few bales of hay in its time), we hopped in the back seat and he proceeded to drive over the fields and up hills to where the shepherds hut was. I commented that it was great to see a Land Rover being used for its intended purpose, and not as a status symbol doing one mile school runs by young mums. He looked somewhat baffled – I guess they don’t get much of that in rural Wales, unlike round here!

      It’s funny when people think about what they’d buy if they came into money, like an inheritance or lottery win or something. Most plan some kind of extravagant new car purchase. I would love a lighter, faster, more efficient ebike! And perhaps an old Landy to get to and from the cottage in rural Wales we’d move to…

      I wonder how many others are questioning their current (and future) transport choices as a result of the pandemic – I’m sure it is literally millions.

  2. “The choice of cameras and lenses laid out before you – rather than being a great symbol of freedom – becomes an ungainly and ugly albatross of indecision.” Well said and my experience backs it up.

    1. Thanks for your comment Bill. It all starts with good intentions, but it’s so easy to get sucked into having so much that you literally don’t know what to do with it.

  3. Cars must be poorly made in the UK. I’ve driven the same 2006 Honda Accord since 2006. No major issues. My question is if the air is so fresh because there are so few cars on the road why do you have to worry about traffic? Also, I don’t understand why the regular upkeep of your car is so expensive.

    Pre-COVID I commuted to work in New York City. I wouldn’t never try to bicycle that far. Bicycling to the train station would add another 45 minutes to my 2 hour one way commute. Of course my commute right now is zero.

    I have film cameras that are fun to use but I don’t use them regularly. For my Fujifilm X-T2 I have one lens.

    1. Khürt, I really like Hondas. We had a Jazz as our family car for some years (think they’re called a Fit where you are?) and it was reliable, spacious (for its overall small size), easy to drive, and pretty efficient on fuel, returning 45mpg all day long and nearer 50 on longer trips.

      Years ago before kids came along, I had a CRX two seater with the electric roof and that incredible 1.6 Vti engine that could cruise around and return 45mpg, or outrun any other 1.6 when you put your foot down. I’d definitely have another Honda.

      My car is a 2006 Seat, so essentially a VW in different clothing, with the very popular 1.9 TDI engine. Overall it’s been really reliable. Just seems to cost a lot for the amount I use it. Factoring in a yearly service and MOT plus wear and tear parts like brakes, tyres, exhaust, shocks etc, I factored I needed to put aside about £70 or 80 a month. I had a cam belt done a couple of years back within a service and I think that one cost over £1000. Just annoying when the car only cost £3k and is nor probably worth about £500, and in the last couple of years I’ve only done maybe 5000 miles a year!

      If I did get another car it would likely be something much smaller as a run around, like an Aygo or something. Shame Honda don’t make something smaller than the Jazz, though that would be an option too.

      But let’s see if I can manage without a car entirely and continue with all the above benefits!

      1. A Seat?!!! Those four letters explain you car woes! 🤪

        We have two vehicles. One for her (CUV) and one for me (sedan). We don’t work in the same field and don’t travel in the same direction for work or work the same hours. Hence two vechicles. Of course I’m a 100% remote worker now so my auto goes nowhere. I don’t even know if it still runs. I have not been diligent about starting it up.

        A few years ago, when my work was within biking distance (49 min or 15.8 km) from home I had considered selling my car, riding a bike on good weather days and taking public transport on bad weather days. Spring brings rain and flooded roadways and closed bridges, and winter brings snow on unplowed country roads. The office building had no showers and I don’t relish going to meetings smelling like sweat or full of mud. Taking public transport meant 1 h 36 min on a bus after first walking 25 minutes to the bus stop. A car, often two per household, is derigeur for this part of New Jersey.

      2. Over here Seat have a good reputation, as they’re owned by VW Audi and have the same engines etc. My Altea’s 1.9 TDi engine is in tens of thousands (hundreds? millions?) of other vehicles across VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda, so well tried and tested. I’ve had no major issues with mine that weren’t just expected wear and tear. It’s just expensive owning a car!

        I had similar concerns before I rode to work – getting hot and sweaty or wet from the weather, but investing in decent panniers (riding with a bag on your back is way too hot, even in cold weather!), mudguards and a decent waterproof jacket means I couldn’t really justify not doing it, especially for a 20 min ride.

  4. Por el lugar donde vivo (clima subtropical) hace màs de 30 años tengo motocicleta, asì que los autos (aunque tuve varios a lo largo de los años como complemento de mis motos) no son un problema…las motos son, para mì, mucho màs econòmicas, divertidas, fàciles de estacionar, ràpidas, etc etc, ademàs de no gustarme demasiado conducir automòviles…asì lo mismo con las càmaras, pequeñas, simples , ràpidas, compactas, livianas…asì me gusta andar por la vida, liviano, de cuerpo y alma… saludos!!

    1. Pablo, I agree with your thinking about motorcycles, I enjoy a similar freedom with bicycles! With family though we need bigger transportation!

      I do love the freedom of small compacts too, like the Lumix XS1 I wrote about a few times recently. I’m currently in more of a DSLR phase. They make wonderful photos and I do enjoy they better handling and more immersive experience. But sometimes they seem such a chore compared with something like the little XS1.

  5. On the larger philosophical question of “paralysis by analysis” vs. not having options, my experience is that having two options is perfect for our human brain. Less than that and we are “stuck” in a sense or having only one or no option, and that sometimes being a hindrance.
    More than two options and the brain now doesn’t know immediately what it should pick.
    With two options, there’s always either an obvious choice, or a favorite choice.
    My cameras as an example: the K-S1 is slightly smaller and lighter and gives me slightly more pleasing images than the K-50. The K-50 is weather sealed and older so if I don’t know what weather I’ll find, or if I go to a place like the beach where the salt in the air and the sand will probably be in touch with the camera, the K-50 will always be the one. But if there’s no obvious reason to choose one after another, the K-S1 is always the favorite…
    That of course is for family pictures. For “photowalks” and fun pictures, it’s always the K10D. I don’t find having only the K10D hinders me – I don’t think it will ever fail… and if it does, I think I can get a quick replacement.
    On the lenses side… I think I have too many options and that does hinder me sometimes.
    Other than the question of choice, the question of cost is also very valid, and it’s now a completely different question… I like the idea of not having car costs, but like with others here, in my case it is impractical due to no public transportation (other than Uber) existing where I live, and everything being very spread out…

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