Not Driving the Dream: one woman’s take on living in rural Portugal without a car

“You can’t drive?” is the slightly incredulous question most people ask me. “You live in the middle of nowhere. How the **** do you cope?”

Pretty well, actually. It’s not really the back of beyond; I’ve a country house, close to a village, which has a regular bus service to a nearby town. I can drive – I have a licence – but I choose not to. Why? Because I’m very bad at it, I hate doing it, and also, my limited income would only support an old banger that would probably spend more time off the road than on it, which, in a way, would be far more of an inconvenience than not having one.

When my fella died, three years ago, I knew, if I wanted to stay put, which I did, some difficult decisions must be taken to make that possible, transport being the foremost, and I thought long and hard before selling the car. Again, why? Because, honestly, I had no intention of ever getting behind its wheel.

So how did I manage? I got organised. I started with a Transdev Timetable – tho’ a word of warning about those: double check your local service with the driver. Ours took one look at my online print off, burst out laughing and said “Fairy tales!” Then he wrote out the proper times for me on a scrap of paper. I found a good taxi firm – I always use the same one and they look after their regular customers. I discovered the train and coach service websites. I found out which companies will deliver – and I learned how to plan.

There’s a 7am bus that takes me to a coach stop from which I can get a connection to anywhere I want to go. A later one drops me in town, where I can visit the doctor or go to Portuguese lessons or shop or have a meal with friends, and should the return time not suit me, or the bags be too heavy, I’ll get a cab home. I also have some lovely mates who, as well as offering lifts, know that the rare phone call from me, asking for one, means it’s important and that they are my last resort, not my first.

I thought carefully about how I would deal with emergencies, like getting a sick animal to a vet. There are answers to every question, but they aren’t always obvious – in my case I found a practice that would do a home visit if necessary, which it has been. So these things are manageable.

The downside? Time spent waiting around, a lot of advanced planning, spontaneous decisions can be a bit difficult to carry out, and accepting invitations to out-of-hours events – those have to be weighed against the cost of getting to them. That said, as I don’t have the expense of buying, maintaining and running a vehicle my expenditure is probably about the same. I don’t turn down many of the things I want to do.

I haven’t driven a car for years, so know how to survive without one. If I lived in an urban area the thought of doing so would never cross my mind, but just sometimes, when it’s pouring down with rain and I have to walk to the village, I wonder if I made the right choice. And then the sun comes out and I know that, for me, I did.

About the author

Deborah English, full time resident of Portugal for six years

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