Finding Adventure

My family has been living car-free since last August. If I were to write a survival guide about our year, I’d include all the practical tips on commuting, safety, weather, etc. … and I’d dedicate an entire chapter to adventure. For me, the real challenge to thriving sans automobile is finding ways to get out of the day-to-day and away from our neighborhood. It’s finding adventure.

When my husband talked about getting rid of our car, I didn’t worry about getting to the store, library, or doctors’ offices. I knew we’d figure all that out. But I had serious reservations about not being able to drive to the forest, mountains, and ocean. I know I’m not alone. I interviewed a car-free family with four kids for an article last year. They’re bicycle advocates and they thought about living car-free for a long time, but they held onto their Toyota Previa minivan for years. Why? They wanted to go canoeing. They wanted to visit the coast and big city. They wanted to go on adventures.

Well, fortunately, adventures are more accessible than you might think. Our city bus system drops off near one hiking trail that’s sixty miles from town. Local hiking groups routinely carpool to trail heads. In the winter, buses take adventure-seekers to two different ski resorts on weekend days, where you can also cross-country ski or snowshoe. You can often join in on friends’ hikes, excursions, or camping trips. And, of course, you can rent a car for a weekend.

When I’m feeling weary of the same old walks in the same old neighborhoods, I try to think like a tourist. I’ve traveled in the United States and Canada and in several foreign countries, and I rarely rented cars at my destinations. I never let that stop me from finding adventures. I took buses, subways, trains, and shuttles. I explored on foot. I rented a bike.

Bicycle day trips are a nearly perfect form of adventure. They’re not hard to plan, young kids can easily participate, it’s fun to seek out a scenic route, and the journey is inevitably part of the adventure.

On Memorial Day Weekend, I took two bicycle day trips. Both reminded me of how important it is for me to get away from the city and into nature even though both destinations were technically inside the city. One day I took a 14-mile bike ride in the wetlands. It’s an easy ride from my house, and it’s home to 200 kinds of birds and 350 plant species. I’ve seen blue herons, beavers, and a bald eagle there, and I’ve listened to the melody of Pacific Tree Frogs and birdsong. This time of year, the grasslands are speckled with native purple camas lilies.

The next day, my husband, son, and I rode to a beautiful forested city park that we don’t visit often. It’s on the other side of town, but only a four mile ride from our house. This time of year, it’s blooming with thousands of rhododendrons. We hiked around, smelled flowers, ate a picnic, and then stopped for ice cream on the way home.

Both were easy day trips and required little in the way of planning or packing. And both left me feeling restored … and made me hungry for longer bike trips. Next I’m hoping to ride to an arboretum and hiking spot about ten miles from our house. And I have big plans for a bike camping trip and a longer bicycle tour in the future (although both of those will wait until after our new family member arrives later this summer).

Taking a car-free adventure can seem daunting, but like any adventure, the hardest part is committing yourself to it. Once you’re on the journey, you’ll almost certainly be glad you went.

Looking for inspiration? Check out these resources:

Do you go on car-free adventures? I’d love to hear about it.

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About Abby Quillen

Abby Quillen writes fiction and magazine articles. Her articles and essays have appeared in YES! Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, Colorado Central Magazine, and on Common Dreams, Nation of Change, Reader Supported News, The Daily Good, Truthout, and You can find more of her writing at


  1. Great insight! Thank you! I love living and working in Downtown Cleveland. There’s so much to going on – great cafes and restaurants, world class theater, sports, historic churches, the lake, all within easy walking distance. Yet sometimes I forget to “get out.” Hopping the rapid or renting a bike sounds like just what the doctor ordered. Thanks again for your inspirational reminder.

  2. I know how hard it is to live car free. For many years I refused to learn to drive because I did not want to add to pollution etc. In the end I gave in as I lived in rural Wales and it was near impossible to do anything. I now live in Shropshire and it is equally difficult to get around here without a car. However I really wish that I was as principled about this as I once was and am grateful to people like you who remind us that it can (and should) be done. All the best.

  3. I was always intrigued by the chapter from the book, “The Trapp Family Singers” where Maria and all the older kids bicycled for several days to arrive at the camping destination, while Georg and the cousins took the little ones on the train.

    Thanks for reminding me that those kinds of adventures need not be lost to history!

  4. heidihvarregaard says:

    I have managed to do my own car-free adventure – a year on the bicycle in New Zealand, Australia and Asia. Being back home I realize that there are many adventures to be had just around the corner aswell. Living in a country that’s packed with bicycle trails definitely makes this easier. I love to follow adventure cyclists on the internet still though, and right now my favourite is:

  5. We are trying to go car free here in Stockholm, it’s been two weeks and I’m already incredibly frustrated. Both from not having a car and from finding it so hard to be without one. Obviously the culture here is very different when it comes to using your car, most homes I know will only have one, SUV’s are very uncommon, and almost no one drives to work and uses the public transportation system instead. Parking your car down-town is incredibly expensive so you just don’t do it unless you absolutely have to.

    The problem we’re having is that getting a decent house close enough to the city is impossible (because of housing prices) so we live in the suburbs so the commute (with public transport obviously) is long and accessing a lot of things (movies, shops, cafés, museums – what have you) without a car is just a very time consuming process.

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