Much as I despise nitpicking about every cent (or paisa) I spend, the fact is that having itchy feet comes with a side effect of having to be extremely budget conscious. When I went to Luxembourg back in April 2013, I visited Metz, France for a day. A one-way train ticket cost me about 20 Euros (really, ouch!), and that also meant that the return journey the next day would create another giant hole in my pocket- not something I enjoyed, considering that the journey was barely an hour.
In Metz, though, I met a girl who was going to Luxembourg the next day as well, and she told me she was carpooling (also called Autostop sometimes). I was horrifed. Such concepts just didn’t exist in my head. She seemed quite casual about it (though she said her father had noted down every single piece of information about the guy who she was going with 😀 ). It was going to be her first time, and she suggested I join her too.
It was quite a tough decision. 5 Euros by car, or 20 Euros by train. Hmmmm…
I’m kidding. I was sold in less than a minute (cheapskate 😉 !!)
Anyway. My new friend and the guy were making small talk while I was staring out of the window, utterly terrified. But, honestly, I was just wasting my energy worrying. The journey was perfectly pleasant.
Which is why two months later, when I was visiting Torino (about an hour and a half- and 11 Euros by train- from Milan), incidentally to meet the same girl who introduced me to Carpooling, I decided to use the website for my journey back. I was still terrified with the idea of getting into a stranger’s car and trusting them to drive me safely to my destination, but I decided to go for it. What’s the worst that could happen, anyway? (Wait. Don’t answer that)
The driver, Andrea, and the other passenger, Andrea (not kidding, same name!!), were both really nice. They spoke in English the entire journey so I wouldn’t feel left out. I got lucky that my first carpooling experience was a success. After that I’ve done several more. I felt like such a bad-ass the first time, now it’s more normal to me than any other mode of transport.
So is carpooling a good idea?
In my opinion, yes! And it’s not always about saving money (though that’s a big advantage), it’s also an experience. You can make great friends out of this. The Torino-Milan car ride cost 10 Euros. That time, at least, it was more about the journey than saving money.
I’m not even talking about environmental impact etc here because I’m focusing on passengers like me who wouldn’t be taking their own car anyway.
So why do you say it’s cheap?
My friend came to Torino from a French town near Zurich, a notoriously expensive area. Trains, buses and flights would have set her back between 40-100 Euros. The car ride cost 17.
Is it safe?
Both the carpooling websites I use have rating systems, and I usually go for well reviewed drivers. Of course, I’ve taken chances once in a while… But they’ve always worked out fine.
How does it work?
It’s quite straightforward. You’re going to be driving a long distance anyway… Might as well get some company (and someone to split fuel costs with) out of it.
Why are people doing this?
For a passenger like me, the cost plays a big role. I went from Munich to Berlin (a 6-ish hour ride) for 20 Euros, and I found the ride just the day before. Train tickets at that time were over 150 Euros. Also, it’s a fun, and more social, journey. I’ve met some really great people this way.
Any safety precautions?
Well, I like to make a pretend call, or send a pretend message, with the details of the car and driver. So even if the drivers have shady intentions, they know they’ll be the first one to be tracked down if I disappear. I guess that’s going to be too much bother. Not worth the trouble 😉 . I would, of course, prefer ACTUALLY letting someone know, but I’ve mostly carpooled outside Italy so my phone wasn’t working.
Carry pepper spray or something if it makes you feel safer, but I don’t like to. I have a theory about that, but that’s a post for another time.
I also set up the path on Google Maps on my phone. You can see the blue dot moving, and track where you’re going, even if you don’t have any internet connection. I keep an eye on it occasionally, and it’s reassuring to see that you’re on the right track.
ALSO… The first few times I stayed absolutely awake and alert. These days, I find myself ‘accidentally’ dozing off in short intervals (though one time I was almost out for nearly 5 hours. Not recommended, common sense!!).
What are some good websites?
My favourite is BlablaCar. It’s a nice looking website and very easy to use. I’ve also used this other Carpooling website. It’s not as visually pleasing as the first one, but it works fine. In general though, I think the prices on Carpooling are slightly higher than Blablacar, though it sometimes has more listings.
There’s also Roadsharing, but I’ve never found a ride on that one. Yet.
Well, sometimes it’s difficult to find a ride to where you want to go. It happened a few times when I was on my grand East-Europe tour, but since my schedule was totally flexible, I just used that as an opportunity to make an impulsive decision and go somewhere else instead. No regrets!!
And, of course, sometimes the car ride takes longer than trains (and planes, of course). But it’s quite easy to make a choice once you know the time-cost-convenience ratio for both.
Have you ever used a Carpooling website? Which is your favourite? Have you had any good experiences? Bad ones? Share them with me in the comments!! 🙂