Like any red-blooded Americans, DH and I love our cars. But when you spend 90 minutes per day driving to and from work, often the last thing you want to do on a vacation is drive more. And while for me that was a good enough reason to go without a car on vacation, there are certainly others, even if you don’t care about reducing your carbon footprint or using less oil. Most of the examples in this post will refer to London because it’s DH’s and my all-time favorite place to visit, but you can apply this to other major cities as well.
1. It’s good for your wallet. For a weeklong vacation in London a small rental car will cost you a minimum of $300 in rental fees. Larger vehicles, such as minivans, can be as much as $1,500! You’ll probably have to refill the gas petrol tank at least once, and don’t be fooled by the prices at the pump: that’s £1.30 per liter, not per gallon!
So, let’s do some math here. Suppose you have a car with a 10 gallon gas tank:
10 gallons x 3.78 liters per gallon = 37.8 liters
37.8 liters x £1.30 per liter = £49.14 per tank of gas petrol
And let’s not forget our friend the exchange rate:
£49.14 x 1.71 dollars per pound = $84 per tank!
In contrast, if you have an Oyster card, it won’t cost you more than $150 to ride the London Underground for the duration of your trip, and that’s if you rack up the maximum amount of fares every single day while you’re in London! Transit for London will only charge your card a certain amount per day. After you hit the maximum amount, you can continue to ride the Tube that day for free and they start charging your card again the following day – see their website for details.
Check it out: between the rental fees and a tank of gas, you’ve saved at least $200!
P.S. For parents who might be reading: in London, kids under the age of 11 can ride the Tube and city buses for free. Older kids can use an Oyster card and pay half the adult fare.
2. It’s good for your vacation experience. You’re on vacation and your time is precious. You don’t want to spend it in traffic jams! Yeah, traffic jams. You know one of the reasons why cities like New York, London, Washington DC, and Paris have such great public transit? Because they have legendary traffic jams.
Furthermore, if you’re in a foreign country, you want to see and experience as much of the local culture as you can, and it’s hard to do that from inside a car. Riding the subway is an excellent opportunity to people-watch, to read local newspapers and magazines, and to check out local advertisements. (I know that sounds odd, but you can learn a lot about a culture from what they buy!) Riding the train may give you the opportunity to chat with the locals and learn things about the region that guidebooks won’t tell you. Cars isolate you; public transportation immerses you.
3. It’s good for your waistline. When you take public transportation, chances are it’s not going to deposit you directly in front of your destination. (I can think of a few exceptions to this in London – Madame Tussaud’s and the Houses of Parliament are both right across the street from Tube stops.) So, what will you have to do then? That’s right, walk!
While walking around in a new city is a great way to learn more about it and get to know the local culture (see #2), it has other benefits. If you don’t have a car, you can walk upwards of a mile a day. That will burn calories, get your heart pumping, strengthen your bones, and just generally improve your mood (even if it’s pouring).
Hopefully now I’ve convinced you to give car-free vacations a try! In part 2, I’ll talk about how to have a car-free vacation.