I could barely contain my shock when a friend told me he didn’t enjoy his recent visit to Dublin. With gastropubs like L. Mulligan Grocer and world class museums like the Chester Beatty Library, the Irish capital remains one of my favorite travel destinations. I found it hard to believe anyone could visit Dublin and be disappointed. I asked what was so bad about his trip. He replied, “We could never find parking.”
Most Americans live in such car-centric environments, it’s hard to imagine traveling without a car. In the suburban worldview, car ownership means freedom, independence, and comfort. But if the only way you know to explore a city is by car, you might be missing out on more than you realize.
A world of sensory experience awaits the car-less traveler. The smell of simmering spices, the flowery architectural details of that art nouveau building, and public art in the alleyway are just a few things that allude the motorist as they stare at the license plate in front of them. For the motorist, a wrong turn means anger and frustration. For the pedestrian, getting lost means a new neighborhood discovered.
The observant pedestrian is given unique insight into the local culture. You might see friends kiss on the cheek when they meet and depart. You might notice the way a business card is handed with two hands and a bow. Language learners might even overhear how a particular phrase is used in context. Without being insulated from the outside world, you’ll learn by osmosis.
Traveling without a car doesn’t mean sacrificing speed. In terms of efficiency, being a pedestrian means you have multiple means of travel at your disposal. Depending on the journey and the time of day, you might choose to walk, take a train, bus, or taxi. For the price of a rental car, you can take many rides with through a ride sharing service. A growing number of cities offer some sort of bike sharing system.
Perhaps most importantly, traveling without a car creates new opportunities for human interaction. It may be hard to believe, but some of my closest friends I’ve met on buses and trains. There’s something about being on foot or even a bike, that makes us feel connected to the people around us.
So try skipping the rental car next time you travel. If nothing else, you won’t waste time trying to find a parking spot.