Updated on September 4, 2016
Updated on September 4, 2016
Awhile ago I wrote a brief, introductory post about cutting costs with carpooling sites in Europe. Since then we’ve gone on many many more carpool rides and I’ve learned a bit of the carpooling….etiquette? The low down. The ropes…
1.) Go to blablacar.com or mitfahrgehegenleit.de and sign up. Bla Bla car seems to be the carpooling site with the most popularity and coverage, so try that one first. If you aren’t finding what you need on blabla car, in the UK you can try carpooling.co.uk, and in Germanic countries, you can try mitfahrgehegenleit.
2.) Confirm a phone number. (It has to be a real phone number, not an app-generated one.) Since most of us turn our cell usage off when we’re abroad, this can be a road block. We’ve gotten around this simply by skyping with a family member back home and using their cell phone number.
3.) Once it’s set up, you can cruise through the options for your route and send a message requesting a ride.
4.) The driver names the price ahead of time per seat.
1.) These carpooling prices are ALWAYS far cheaper than the train or bus options. Always.
2.) In the same way that couchsurfing or hitch-hiking can be a good way to get the local perspective on things, carpooling is the same way.
3.) Sometimes you can negotiate a pick-up or drop off location. …sometimes.
4.) If you’re picking a popular route, you can be picky about what kind of vehicle you’re riding in. Our last ride was in a Lexus and before that, a BMW.
Ok now for the little nuances we’ve learned after having taken 8 different bla bla car or mitfahrgehegenleit rides all over Europe (about to board our 9th in a few hours.)
Please don’t misunderstand these as “negatives” per se. They’re just quirks that are part of the carpooling option.
1.) The tolls in Europe can be outrageously expensive. As a result almost none of our drivers have ever taken the most direct route via the toll road. This means a carpooling ride will probably take an hour or so more than a train ride would.
Furthermore, most of them seem a bit self-conscious about this and 3 in a row told us “believe it or not, the back roads are 5 minutes faster than the toll road.” I…don’t really believe them. At least, “google directions” doesn’t believe them either apparently. But for whatever reason people seem insecure about saying “look your money helps me out with gas but isn’t enough to make me want to pay outrageous tolls on top of that.”
Our last driver from Krakow to Vienna was the first ever to actually admit that the toll prices were too expensive. But he too felt the need to add a disclaimer that the lines to buy your toll-sticker are so long that you don’t save any time either.
I don’t necessarily believe these various excuses. But I do see why they make them. You’re paying for a ride and they don’t want you to think they’re wasting your time with back roads. But their desire to save money is greater because the costs of being a car-owner and car-driver in Europe are staggering.
So I get it.
2.) Over all, drivers have not been all that accommodating in terms of pick-up and drop-off locations. Please don’t confuse this for unfriendliness. Even the friendliest of drivers generally have a location in mind that works for them- usually a gas station at the corner of Random Road and Other Random Road. We have had 2 drivers out of 8 who have both picked us up at our hotel and dropped us off at our hotel. Most others have done neither. Again, this doesn’t mean they’re not friendly. It just seems that the carpooling culture favors the convenience of the driver, not the paying passenger. It’s the carpooling norm I suppose.
To be honest, I guess I get that too. These drivers find carpooling sites worth it because they can buffer the costs of their drive without adding too much inconvenience. But…the more inconvenience added, the worse the deal is for them. With passengers however, the cost is so much cheaper than the train, it would take quite a bit of inconvenience before it wasn’t worth it.
3.) There is at times a language barrier, and this is most noticeable when the pre-drive, online communications are happening. For instance with our ride today, we asked “so you can confirm that you have space for 2 passengers?” And the reply was simply an address where we could meet the driver.
So…we’re %99 sure that means we have a ride today at 2. And if we do, I’m sure we’ll make conversation just fine. Language barriers are easier to overcome in person.
Also, one Polish driver asked us if we had a hard time getting a driver. As a matter of fact, a few of our requests had indeed gone ignored by drivers. He seemed to believe that this was because the drivers were intimidated about the idea of a long drive with an English speaker. Maybe intimidated isn’t quite the right word, but I say that because he implied that many of the drivers probably know English a little bit, but not confidently, and would rather not bother with it if they can just pick up a Polish speaking passenger instead.
If his suppositions were right, again, I get that. Conversation is a big part of a 4 or 5 hour drive and that’s a long time to sit in awkward silence.
4.) Drivers can pick up as many passengers as they could legally seat in their vehicle. More often than not, we’re the only passengers but occasionally we aren’t. Sometimes this means extra stops and less space for your luggage, but on the flip side, sometimes this means the conversation moves along more easily.
5.) 5 hours is a long time to make small talk. We’ve had great conversations in our carpooling rides, and I would call myself an extreme extravert, but even I sometimes become weary of small-talk.
Update: 6.) Catching a ride whose starting point is different than yours…can lead to a much less certain meeting time. Above I mentioned that we were about to board our 9th carpooling ride… Well…that 9th ride turned into an expensive train ticket instead. Granted, it’s the Sunday after Christmas so everyone is traveling home right now, but the driver was departing from Nurnburger, then planning to stop in Vienna enroute to pick us up. Well we waited outside in the snow for half an hour until we decided to find wifi somewhere and connect with her to see what was going on. We connected with her and had enough of a conversation to establish that the highway was really busy so she was still going to be another 40 minutes minimum. Well…an hour and 40 minutes later there was still no sign of her and we couldn’t seem to get ahold of her anymore. So we had to just give up and get a train ticket. On a previous occasion, a through-driver did meet with us successfully by telling us he would message us when he was an hour away from us. I recommend that kind of strategy instead as the driver’s best guess at an arrival time may come with a large margin for error.
Even if some of these caveats come across as negatives, I cannot emphasize enough that I really like the carpooling option. As I said in the beginning, it is ALWAYS the cheapest option. (Well…aside from hitch-hiking of course.) And, as I’ve said, we’ve had some great conversations (and gotten some great dining recommendations) during carpool rides.
It’s a bit of a crap-shoot as far as some of these finer details (accommodation of pick-up, drop-off, conversation-ability, etc) but even when all of these caveats come into play, it’s still worth it. The price is right, and it is always great to meet and talk with locals.
Go for it and save a ton of money.