As I type this, our family has lived in Ireland without a car for 21 months.
Almost 2 years. No car.
So what’s that like? It’s interesting. How is it possible? It’s complicated. Will we ever get a car? Not sure, but my kids ask everyday. How do you get stuff home? I have strong muscles. Doesn’t the weather suck? Yes, usually. Do you miss driving? Not as much as you’d think.
First, some background. We are an American family who moved from Atlanta, Georgia, to Dublin, Ireland, for work. Our kids were starting 1st and 4th grades when we embarked on this adventure. To say we have learned and grown from this experience of not only living in a foreign country, but living here without a car is an understatement.
So, let’s get into it.
No Car in Ireland: How Is This Possible?
Infrastructure – Compared to most major cities in the U.S., Dublin has a great public transportation system. Is it as ‘great’ as other European cities? No, definitely not, but from our perspective it is a million times better than what we were used to in Atlanta.
Culture – While most Dubliners probably own a car or have access to a car, it is perfectly normal to NOT own a car here. In fact, taking public transportation in Dublin is normal regardless of your age, income or driving status. In many cases, public transportation is more efficient, cost effective and less of a hassle than driving into or around the city.
Cycling – I do not think Dublin is a bicycle-friendly city, but I do see a fair number of people cycling to work. Cycling might be an option for you, but since it scares the crud out of me to cycle on the narrow roads here, I’m not qualified to address that topic. It’s possible though and I didn’t want to completely ignore that option!
No Car in Ireland: Location Matters
Where you live and work matters A LOT if you want to live without a car in Dublin. Ideally, you want to live and work within walking distance of the DART (train) or LUAS (light rail) lines. Dublin Bus is great too, but living close to a train/light rail station gives you additional flexibility for getting around.
If you have to catch a train every day, my advice would be to keep your walking commute between home and the station to 15 minutes or less. Our home is .84 miles from the DART and it takes me about 13 minutes to walk that far without kids.
My husband’s office is a 10-minute walk from a DART station and his company also runs a shuttle bus between the train and the office.
The other things to factor into your location are your proximity to a grocery store, pharmacy and school.
No Car in Ireland: Weather is Always a Factor
I joke that I can always spot the tourists because they are a walking billboard for Patagonia, The North Face or Columbia brands. Dubliners don’t go THAT overboard with their clothing choices, but perhaps they should.
The biggest thing you need are shoes you can walk in. Tennis shoes are a must, but they aren’t always water resistant or appropriate for work. My husband and I end up spending most of the winter wearing boots with a flat sole that are water resistant or that I Scotchgard to make them water resistant.
Umbrellas are useless 90% of the time because of the wind, but a good jacket with a hood is a must. You’ll need a lightweight one for spring, summer and fall and a super heavy one for winter. It’s not the rain that is your enemy in Dublin. It’s the wind. But, man, the rain sure doesn’t help.
No Car in Ireland: Planning Matters
If you’re a person who operates with zero margin in your life (i.e. you’re always running late) then life without a car is going to be a bigger adjustment for you.
Life without a car means I spend far more time planning what time I HAVE to leave home or an activity. Leaving too late means I miss a train or bus and end up waiting. Leaving too soon means I also end up wasting time waiting. There’s a lot of waiting!
I know how long it should take to walk to the train station with two kids, but I have to allow an extra couple of minutes in case someone falls down or needs to tie a shoe. Plus, in my experience, Dublin trains and buses don’t operate like clockwork. They can arrive a couple of minutes early and they can definitely arrive several minutes late. Having the apps for the train and bus on my phone helps me know if there’s a delay.
The planning part of getting places – especially new places – can burn a lot of mental energy. Especially when you’re used to just hopping in the car.
The actual riding of public transportation is really nice though. You don’t have to worry about traffic and bad weather. You can read, listen to a podcast, or sleep. The people watching is fantastic and, in general, the Irish are considerate of and polite to fellow passengers. If you do happen to be late – everyone understands it’s not your fault if the train is delayed!
In addition to planning how you are getting somewhere, you also need to plan for what you might need while you are out and about. Gone are the days when you can shove emergency supplies in your glovebox or in the trunk of your car.
Particularly when I’m out with the kids, I almost always have water, bandaids, hand sanitizer, snacks, rain jackets if the weather forecast is questionable, money, LEAP (transportation) cards and a shopping bag. I’m carrying this in a backpack or a crossbody bag. The one time I don’t pack something – like bandaids – is the one time I get a blister or one of the kids falls down. It’s just the way it goes.
My husband doesn’t go quite as overboard for his commute because it’s just him! However, he also carries a backpack to work – even if he’s wearing a suit. That’s a normal thing in Ireland. He might have lunch, running clothes, shopping bag, computer, etc. with him.
No Car in Ireland: How Do You Get Stuff Home?
95% of the things we consume are carried home in my backpack or reusable shopping bag. As a result, I’m very intentional about my purchases. I have to be. I’m constantly asking myself, “do I want or need this bad enough to carry it a mile home?” Needless to say, I’m doing far less shopping than I used to do!
The weirdest things I’ve carried home? Frying pan. Potted plant. The hardest to get home? New duvet. A pair of lamps.
I no longer buy in a bulk because, for instance, carrying 12 rolls of toilet paper home is more awkward than getting 4 rolls home. Not only that, but I don’t have space to store items in bulk.
Investing in a good backpack is a must. It needs to be large enough to carry what you need. Plus, it needs to be comfortable and weather resistant. We are fans of the Deuter or The North Face brands because I know they are going to last a good long while.
Grocery stores will make you purchase a bag if you need one, so I’m always carrying one in my backpack in case I need the extra space. This one is my favorite – except when I’m hauling houseplants!
Speaking of grocery stores, one of the largest grocery chains in the area, Tesco, does offer a grocery delivery service. I have not availed myself of the service because I do have a store close to me. I have been doing small batch shopping almost every day to purchase what we will eat for that day and part of the next. If I had a full-size refrigerator, I might be more inclined to utilize a grocery delivery service to stock up.
I do some online shopping for non-food items. It’s definitely not as fast as what you are used to in the U.S. and therefore, not as fun or convenient. I heard some girls on the train talking about how they ordered something and it came so quickly! In 4 or 5 days! Perspective is everything.
But there’s Amazon UK, you say! Yes, but often the Amazon UK seller won’t ship to the Republic of Ireland. That’s why we have a Parcel Motel account, which gives us a Northern Ireland address. Parcel Motel receives the package and drives it down to us or we can retrieve it from a locker.
No Car in Ireland: What if you REALLY, REALLY need a car?
It happens! And it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Here’s what we do.
Taxi – From time to time we use taxis. I’d probably use them a lot more, in all honesty, if it was less expensive. The MyTaxi app is a must to have on your phone. You can set the app up with your debit/credit card so that you don’t have to worry about carrying cash. Plus, it’s easy to order a cab through the app or schedule one in advance. They also send coupon codes periodically for discounted fares.
GoCar – GoCar is a rent by the hour car service. Cars are parked around the metro and you book a car (and unlock it) via an app. You just have to return the car to the place you picked it up from. The best thing is they accept U.S. driving licenses!
Rental – You can also rent a car for longer trips. It’s not cheap though and make sure you get the insurance coverage! Enterprise Car Rental and Hertz are both in Ireland as well as many other companies.
Why Haven’t You Got a Car Yet? Are You a Glutton for Punishment?
I don’t have any one answer to those questions. The biggest reason is that we’ve made not having a car work. I’m pretty proud of us, actually, for adopting this lifestyle!
It’s definitely healthier. I’m walking about 6 miles a day as a part of my normal routine. Getting exercise by being active and outside is so much more rewarding – for me – than going to the gym.
I find not having a car to be oddly social too…and I say this through the filter of an introvert. I don’t “have” to talk to people when I’m out and about, but I encounter the same people on my commute. So you end up saying hi and making small talk. It’s kind of nice, actually. It makes you feel like you’re part of the community.
The other big reason why we haven’t gotten a car is the hassle. A bureaucratic hassle, which is the worst kind. While you can drive for a year on an U.S. driving license (last I checked), Ireland doesn’t have a reciprocity agreement with the U.S. (last I checked).
That means if I want an Irish driving license, I have to take a written test, go to 12 hours of driving school and take a driving test. Basically, you’re a teenager again. This time, however, you’ll be driving on the other side of the road. So, that driving school is probably worth it! Just saying…
Then there’s the cost of buying a car, insurance (you’ll have no record of driving in Ireland, so you’ll be charged more), maintenance, parking fees and petrol. Living in Dublin is already expensive and a car just adds one more thing to the list.
If we lived in a rural area or one of Ireland’s smaller cities, we definitely would have felt more pressure to go through this process right away. As it stands now, the benefits of not having a car outweigh the cost and effort of getting a car.
What’s the Downside to Life Without a Car? Don’t Hold Back!
There are pros, but let’s face it, there are cons to life without a car too.
I feel the downside far more than my husband does. I think it’s just some sort of weird mom pressure. Our kids get invited to birthday parties and other events, which is awesome and I’m so glad they’ve made friends. However, it can be an unnecessary pain to get them to these activities without a car. For instance, what might only be a 15-minute drive will take 45 minutes via 2 buses. That’s ridiculous!
I’ve had to be more judicious about what extracurricular activities I sign my kids up for because it has to be somewhat manageable for us to get there via public transportation.
In addition, we like exploring Ireland. It’s a really cool place. However, there are some areas that trains and tour buses don’t go. So if you want to see them, you need a car.
As time has wore on, I don’t feel physically tired by our commute, but I do sometimes feel weary. Mentally weary. It’s hard to explain, but I think it’s just that going to the mall, for instance, shouldn’t be “an event.”
Or sometimes I get that “I’d really like to be home right now” feeling. Instead, I have to walk up this hill
both ways in miserable weather. In fairness, I’ve also felt a similar feeling while being stuck in hellacious Atlanta traffic.
Do I sound whiny enough? Probably! Listen – I’m not an expert on Dublin, but I do want to keep things real for you about our experience of life without a car. Hence, the pros and the
If we lived closer to our kids’ school it would improve our quality of life tremendously. If you want to know why our kids don’t go to school in our town, read this. It has to do with two things: finding a house in Dublin is hard and schools are open enrollment.
No Car in Ireland: Long Term?
In my conversations with expats (you run into them everywhere!), getting a car is something that you end up doing if you’re going to be in Ireland long term. If you love it here and want to make Ireland your home, then you’ll probably want to get a car. Even if you only use it on weekends, having a car gives you more flexibility to do your errands and explore the country. You can even take your car on the ferry to England or France and explore Europe that way.
That’s the situation we find ourselves in right now as we approach the two year mark in Ireland. Are we here long term? Will we get a car? Will I have to join a gym if I start driving again?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, folks. Yet! I’m just happy we made the decision to come to Ireland so that these are the types of things we can ponder. It’s a good problem to have!
If you want to know more about living in Ireland, check out these posts:
Thinking about visiting Ireland? Read on!
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