How Giving up my Car Gave me New Perspective & a Mindful Commute
by Mala Sharma
posted on 04-22-2019
I used to own a blue 2005 Honda Accord – and I loved that car. I’ll never forget my weekend adventures, driving from San Francisco to Marin to explore Point Reyes National Seashore and other parts of this beautiful state. I was inspired by the freedom of the open road.
But owning a car in San Francisco came with a price, too. Parking was near impossible; traffic was maddening. And then there was the cost of insurance, gas, maintenance, and the occasional parking or traffic ticket—not cheap!
So last year, I decided that I was ready to part ways with my car. I recently changed office locations and the scales tipped in favor of cost and convenience, leading me to explore alternative modes of transportation. Fortunately, I had a family member who needed a car; the stars aligned, and I said goodbye to my Accord after a dozen great years.
Still, I could not imagine just how big of an impact this decision would have.
Growing up in India in a middle-class family, we always took the bus or the train—packed in like sardines. If it rained, we’d have to pull up our saris and trudge through the mud to the station. Or, worse, during hot, humid days, the smell of the day’s fresh catch would radiate off the fisherwoman we shared the train compartment with.
Thankfully, I haven’t run into any fragrant fisherwomen on my daily commute here, but there was certainly a period of adjustment. I learned the bus schedule and started to carry hand sanitizer. But making the change provided something I didn’t expect—structure. And now that I have my routine, I use this structure to my advantage.
Time spent on the bus has now become time for me to prepare for my day or to allow my mind to wonder during those few minutes when it’s not focused on a screen. I sometimes even take early morning work calls or catch up with family members in different time zones. And almost every day I take some time to meditate on my Headspace app.
Taking transit also means I walk a lot more, which has been fantastic for me—as someone who is unenthused by exercise—and has helped me to do my part to reduce carbon emissions (by ) for the sake of the environment. When I look at all the cars out on the road, I think about how everyone could benefit by taking public transportation – at least, part of the time. Now I am not one for digging up stats to make a case for change, but when I started looking, I found some compelling data points I feel are worth sharing. In 2017, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated over “1,098 million metric tons” of carbon dioxide (CO2) were released as a result of fuel consumption for transportation.
Just imagine the change in air quality that would occur if even just a sliver of the population decided to use public transportation more often. Whether you begin taking BART to and from work once a week (for those with limited bus access) or catch a bus to meet friends for drinks after work—or for the daring—take it a step further by biking to and from locations—these tiny little changes add up and are all great contributions toward improving the environment and your wellbeing.
In the Bay Area alone, more than 160,000 people make a daily migration into the city during regular business days. The region long known for its “super commuters,” has only continued to become more congested, leading to negative impacts on mental health and wellbeing. And according to a study by VitalityHealth, the University of Cambridge, RAND Europe and Mercer, longer commuters are on average 33 percent more likely to suffer from depression than their peers with more manageable commutes.
For those using public transportation and with the desire to plug into work during their commutes, Harvard Business Review and Inc. offer a few helpful strategies for transitioning commutes from stressful experiences into more positive, productive experiences, including advice on mentally preparing for the day and completing tasks.
And while turning your commute into productive time is beneficial, don’t forget to include a little “me time” to help you start (or end) the day off on the right note. Using meditation as a means to relax, often improves your quality of life, and believe or not, can help reduce anxiety, depression and chronic pain! A few of my favorite ways for getting myself in a positive headspace and/or decompress after a long, chaotic day include:
- Using Headspace: a meditation app for guided meditation and mindfulness exercises (Subscription based; App Store | Google Play). (I cannot recommend this app enough! Adobe employees can access Headspace for free through this link.)
- Listening to audio books or peaceful music.
- Checking in with friends and family; as I do. I often call family in different time zones. Connecting with them, makes me feel closer to the people I love and usually gives me a much-needed boost.
- Zoning out: observe your surroundings, the architecture of the buildings and people on the sidewalks outside. Notice the subtle changes of each neighborhood and district. Reflect on your day and your night ahead.
While there are many upsides to public transport, it has its share of challenges that are often out of your control. I always recommend having a backup plan in mind. There have been many times I have missed a bus in the morning or needed to stay late at the office and missed the last bus home. Fortunately, Adobe has policies to help in these situations. After asking around, I found out that employees can receive reimbursement for taxi rides if they need to stay late at the office. Our company offers a variety of other commuter benefits, too, which are definitely worth exploring.
But all in all, not owning my beloved Accord has been kind of freeing. While some people truly need a car (those with young kids, caregivers, and those without decent access to public transit for example), I have been able to get by just fine without one. In fact, I am really enjoying it. If you’re thinking about giving up your car, or simply relying more on public transportation, I would encourage you to give it a try. It might have more of an impact on your life than you think.