France learn french Life in France lifestyle

Carless in France: Why I Swapped my Car for a Bicycle

When I first moved to France in 2017 for the Teaching Assistant Program in France, I kept my car in my family’s driveway. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to with my life after the program so I kept my car just in case. I finally sold my car last summer when I was sure I wanted to spend more time in France and I knew that I could survive without it. After living in different areas of France and taking busses and trains to get around, I finally bought a bike and use it to get around all kinds of places.

Want to learn some travel/transport related vocabulary and phrases? Scroll down to the end of the article for a free vocab sheet!

Getting Around in the US

After three years of being carless in France, I can’t say I miss it that much. Cars are expensive and I’m glad I don’t have to pay for gas and insurance each month. My insurance for my 2007 Toyota Corolla was around $80/month and it was about $20-$30 to fill up the tank.

Not Actually My Old Car

Public Transportation in the US

I had never really taken a public bus back in the US because it didn’t seem very reliable or appealing, and it was just easier to drive. When I was a teenager they installed a short light-rail, which I enjoyed taking to go downtown. Although I had to drive to, and park at the light-rail stop, it was much easier than driving and parking in the city. There were some plans to even expand the rail to the beach, but it was put on hold because most of the residents in the area were against it.

Cycling in the US

When it came to cycling, I mostly just cycled in my neighborhood or at the beach. I cycled to high school a few times, but the bus and car were a lot more convenient. I didn’t feel comfortable riding on big roads to get anywhere because there were hardly and bike lanes and I was afraid of aggressive drivers. I tried cycling later on when I went to college, but that town was quite hilly and didn’t have ideal cycle lanes.

My bicyclette, now somewhere in my mom’s garage back in the US

Carless in France

When I lived in a small town of 25,000 people as an assistant, I lived close to one of the schools where I worked so I walked most of the time. To get to the other school I taught at, I took the bus once a week which was about €2 round trip and about €20 for a monthly pass. If I wanted to get to a bigger city in the area, I could walk down the street to the regional train station and book a 5€ – 20€ round trip ticket. To get to big cities like Paris, I could take a shuttle bus to the high speed train station for about €50- €200 round trip depending on how far in advance I booked.

Carless in France
La gare

My Misconceptions

Before coming to France, I thought that most people here walked, cycled, or took public transport, so I was surprised to see how many cars there were. Although France seems to be more eco-friendly than the US, it’s not the most eco-friendly of the countries in Europe. I saw more cyclists when I visited Germany and Belgium. In fact, in a lot of rural places, there isn’t any or there are very few busses or trains, so a lot of folks have to rely on cars.

Living in Paris

As a graduate student in Paris in 2018-2019, I mostly walked and took the Metro. As a student under 26 years old, I was able to purchase a Imagine R Pass, which was €342 for the year. The regular Navigo pass for the Metro is about €23/week or €75/month (for all zones). Most employers in France will also reimburse you for half of your transportation costs each moth. When I wasn’t in a hurry and if it wasn’t raining, I often walked. One of my favorite things to do in Paris is just to walk around admire the city. I was too scared to cycle in Paris, even thought the Vélib city bikes looked appealing. Now that Paris has expanded their bike lanes, I’d love to cycle through it next time I visit.

Transportation in the South of France

Living in a Small City

Now I live in Perpignan, a small city of 122,000 in the South of France. There is no metro or tram here, but there is a bus system that is mostly on time. A round trip ticket is €2.60, per month the pass is €33/month and €195/year. There are also discounts for people who are under 26 years old, retired, or job-seekers. I chose not to get a bus pass, even though I could be reimbursed for some of the cost by the university where I work, because I just don’t take it very often.

Last Fall I finally bought a bike (it would have been too much of a hassle to transport my American bike here). I chose to get a second hand mountain bike at a local cycle co-op and workshop. My bike was €40 and the membership to the association was €10 for the year. I could go in at anytime the shop was open and have some volunteers help me show me how to fix any problems on my bike.

I mostly used my bike to commute to work my first year here. I also enjoyed walking, but my bike helped cut my commute time in half. As much as I love taking leisurely morning walks, sometimes cycling to work helps prevent me from being late to my early morning classes. This summer, I started cycling for pleasure and was able to experience my region in a whole new way.

Le petit train jaune des Pyrénées-Orientales

Cycling Just for Fun

In May, after the lockdown in France ended, I cycled to the beach with my boyfriend and felt a new sense of freedom. We then discovered that there were so many cycle paths in the area we didn’t even know existed! Almost every week we decided to test out a new path and explore a different place. On our rides we’ve cycled by vineyards, rivers and lakes, the Mediterranean Sea, mountains, quaint villages, and more.

Eventually my second-hand bike kept falling apart due to my longer rides, so I ended up upgrading to a new hybrid bike for my birthday (thanks mom!). Although my new bike was a lot pricer than my secondhand one, it was still way less expensive than a car. I can also ride with peace of mind now and not have to worry about my pedal falling off in the middle of the countryside.

South of France Cycling Views

Reasons Why I Love Cycling

By cycling we are reducing our carbon footprint, getting fresh air and exercise, saving money, visiting places we might not have thought to visit before, and physical distancing by not taking public transportation. Though it can be hard to cycle when the weather is bad, and inconvenient when you get a flat tire, I’d say there are more pros than cons. There have been some places in France that I’d like to visit, but seem impossible to get to without a car. My plan is however, to bring my bike on a regional train to get closer to my destinations, then bike from the station.

I am definitely privileged to live in a place where I don’t need a car to get around and that I am physically able to ride a bike. If I move back to the US, I’m also not sure I would be able to continue to live car-free. In the meantime, I’m just going to keep enjoying my time here in France and take advantage of the Mediterranean sun and cycle in my free time.

I always seem to pass by a vineyard on my rides

Thanks so much for reading and make sure you’re following my blog via WordPress or by email to stay updated about all my adventures in France! If you’d like to see more of the South of France by bicycle, be sure to check out my YouTube channel. Let me know in the comments if you would ever be carless or swap your car for a bicycle!

À la prochaine,

Camden

Free French Travel/Transport Vocab Sheet:

1 comment

  1. Like you, I did not drive AT ALL while I lived in France: public transport within and between cities/countries were just so convenient that owning a vehicle wasn’t necessary at all. That’s why it took me about a month to get used to driving again when I returned to the US! Definitely missing the inexpensive public transport, and I wish that the US could catch up to that!

    Like

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