How giving up car ownership helped us travel

How giving up car ownership helped us travel

It’s been 12 months since we sold our car.

The decision to sell it was an intimidating one. What if we got stuck needing to get somewhere? What if we needed a car for an emergency? How would we go about picking up furniture or getting to a friends house?

Looking back on our first year without car ownership, it has been surprisingly easy. Let me tell you the story of why we decided against owning a car, and how it’s helped us travel.

Why did we sell our car?

The two of us grew up in areas where car ownership was a given. We had a car each. My first car was a little old Ford Laser. I lovingly packed it full of all my things and drove it up to Newcastle when I moved from Hobart 3 years ago.

I settled in and it became apparent that we could get by with only one car, so I sold my Laser and we shared Robert’s dented but drivable Nissan Pulsar.

Over the next few months we realised the maintenance costs of the Pulsar were getting beyond ridiculous. The air con spontaneously decided to stop working just before the summer months, an $800 fix. Then the car broke down on my way to work one day and it was another $400 repair.

So we decided to upgrade to a brand new Mazda 2, a zippy little car that used very little fuel and didn’t take up much space.

Mazda 2

Our beloved Mazda 2, which we owned for just under a year

We moved from Newcastle to Sydney and our need for a car became less and less. The public transport system in Sydney is significantly better than Newcastle and driving in Sydney is a kind of crazy thing to do unless you’re ok with being stuck in traffic jams for 3 hours and getting lost every time you try to navigate the city’s causeways.

As we were about to embark on our 3 month backpacking trip through Europe near the end of 2013, we were faced with a dilemma – do we store the car at someone’s place, or do we sell it?

Keeping it would mean paying for ongoing costs such as insurance and registration that we weren’t using, so we decided on selling it.

When we returned we didn’t want to buy another car as we didn’t know how long we’d stay in Sydney before travelling again, so while looking for an apartment we prioritised rentals that were an easy walk to a train station and grocery store.

Newtown: Sydney's coolest neighbourhood

Our new apartment is an easy walk to the conveniences of Newtown

the costs of owning a car

The annual costs of car ownership were much higher than we imagined. Here’s an average (in AUD) of what we were paying to own the Mazda in the first year.

  • Comprehensive insurance = $812
  • Compulsory Third Party Insurance = $566
  • Registration =  $274
  • Servicing and Maintenance = $600
  • Depreciation of car value at 15% pa = $2250
  • Fuel = $1920

Total = $6422

Your costs might be different depending on the model of your car, how old it is, and how often you drive it, but’s worth doing the math to figure out your total costs and see what you can save.


Nowadays we spend more money on public transport and occasionally use a car share company to rent a car by the hour if we need to. We also occasionally get lifts with friends and family, or walk/cycle to where we need to go!

  • Public transport costs = $2080
  • Car hire (once or twice a month) = $360

Total = $2440

As you can see, that’s a whopping $3982 we save per year! Even if we count purchasing our bicycles at about $500 each, that’s still a significant saving of $3000.

I immediately translated this calculation into how much travel it will get me. Imagine the possibilities!

Vintage bicycle

My vintage style bicycle, which I bought to get around after we sold the car

the other benefits

  • We burn more calories from the additional walking and cycling. It’s much easier to get incidental exercise when you don’t get straight into your car from your front door.
  • No need to worry about damage. Over my 8 years of car ownership, I had at least 2 drivers damage my car by backing into it while it was parked on the side of the road. It sure is nice not worrying about that anymore.
  • Freedom to travel when we want without having to think about storing the car, or paying for the costs of keeping it when we’re not using it.

Would it work for everyone?

In Sydney it’s fairly easy to get by without a car as the public transport system isn’t too bad (well, better than some other parts of Australia) but I understand that’s not the case for everyone.

In my hometown of Hobart, the public transport system is not great to say the least, and as it’s a very suburban city – not many people live within walking distance of conveniences. However, I’d recommend looking into alternate ways of getting around.

Can you catch public transport or ride a bike instead of driving?

What about downgrading to a scooter or sharing a car with someone instead of having one each? If so, you’ve just halved your costs!

The money we’ve saved over the past year is going straight towards our trip to Central America next May. In my opinion, seeing a part of the world I haven’t explored yet is absolutely worth the occasional inconvenience of not owning a car.

What are your experiences with car ownership? Do you think you could go without to save money for travel? Let us know in the comments!

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14 Responses to “How giving up car ownership helped us travel”

  1. Deia @ Nomad Wallet

    Another perk of not having a car: it’s greener. I’ve been living in big cities all my life and have never felt the need to own a car (except maybe when moving). Cars are expensive and high-maintenance, so no thanks. 🙂

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Great point! We’ve got to do everything we can for our environment. I’m glad you agree, cars are pretty much the worst investment we can make!

  2. Tessa / Bramble & Thorn

    I’m 25 years old and have never owned a car. I live in Melbourne, and while the public transport can be unreliable it certainly can get you where you need to be. It takes me less time to catch the train to work than it would to drive! I’m all for being car-free 🙂

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’ve actually found that unreliable public transport is sometimes more reliable than driving anyway (traffic jams, finding parking, etc). Glad you’re with me, Tessa!

  3. Michael

    My wife and I gave up our car when we moved from the U.S. to live in Tanzania in East Africa. The nonprofit we work for now gives us access to a shared company car, but the cost of fuel is so high that we often choose not to drive it. Another blog I follow posted an interesting perspective on the true cost of commuting by your own car, albeit from a U.S. perspective.

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It’s fantastic to know there are other people with similar views on car ownership as my own, thanks for sharing Michael! I also follow MMM’s blog, that post puts a great perspective on choosing the location of your home to minimise car usage. He’s truly an inspiration to us all.

  4. Katie

    I hate my car and wish I could get rid of it for good, but sadly, I am living at home to save for travels currently and can’t leave my house without one. I look forward to living in a place where a car is no longer necessary in the future!

  5. Justine

    That’s amazing looking at how much you guys save not having a car. Good for you! I grew up in California where owning a car is also a given. A couple years ago I started doing the math and realizing just how expensive it is to own a vehicle. My boyfriend and I both owned cars, but because I worked from home we only really needed one car. It was a complete waste of money holding onto two cars just to pay two insurance bills, etc. We both sold our cars when we decided to travel around the world indefinitely last year. It was a very terrifying decision for both of us. Ultimately I’m so glad we did it. And whenever we do move back to the states we will seriously try our best to move to a city with good public transportation. I’d prefer to live car-free if possible!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Justine! It’s fantastic that you’ve made that realisation, even sharing one car between two instead of having a car each makes a huge difference. Plus there are plenty of cities in the US that have fairly good public transport, you’ve just got to be willing to move to one of them 🙂

  6. Ashley

    I got rid of my car before leaving Canada and I don’t miss it at all! I’d love to buy myself an adorable bike just like that to get me around my small Spanish town.

  7. Olga L.

    I was thinking for several times to sell the car and spend money on traveling…but always stopped. I just can’t imagine my life without car – not because there are no other facilities in my city to go from one place to another, but just because it is a habit of comfort. Where i live bikes unfortunatelly not the best options, as we don’t have bike road and it is totally unsafe + a lot of hills.
    You’re lucky you’ve managed to sell yours and afford more traveling! Great idea anyway!
    Maybe one day i will make it as well and of course let you know about my experience 🙂

    – Olga

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It’s a comfort thing for most people, but once you take the leap and let the car go, you’ll feel invigorated and free! If you’re able to get around your city using public transport, you should definitely go for it. Best of luck Olga!


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