I’m sitting in the front seat of a large van with Lukaz, who’s driving me to Prague – we’re discussing veganism and dal, and how dal is an amazing dish for vegans, even in Prague, which is where Lukaz is from. In the back, a few other people who ‘ve just met for the first time are involved in their own explorations of each other – a street musician from Italy, two sisters from Germany, A Brit girl and a Czech man. We’ve all been pulled together into this Mercedes Sprinter van for a couple of hundred kilometres, thanks to ridesharing app BlaBlaCar. Although I’ve used many other apps since then, including Couchsurfing’s message boards, this was my first time sharing a ride in this fashion.
Ride sharing is a concept that does for short (usually a few hours) trips what Couchsurfing does for short stays – you sign up on any of the numerous ride sharing websites (see the box below for examples) and input your requirements to see a list of people who are going to the same place and who may have room for you. Of course, if you’re the one driving, you have the option to post a ride yourself, and solicit for passengers. You usually spend a few bucks on fuel and maybe a little extra. I paid 20 euros for my trip, which, compared to the 50 euros that a bus seat would have cost me, is pretty great.
Apart from cost the other advantages are pretty impressive: it’s eco friendly, because you get a lot of people who would otherwise drive or fly riding together. It’s social, because you meet new people and have experiences with them that are pretty cool. For example, Paolo, the street musician, told us about his adventures as a modern-day traveling bard. He goes from city to city, finds street corners to play his guitar on and plays for money all day. The economics of being a street musician are fascinating – everything from how to find the best corners, the right time of day and how to judge from the movement of the crowd what songs and tempos are the best to play.
Ride sharing is one of those examples of things that just couldn’t be around before the information age. It’s taken a bit out of the hitchhiking experience, because why would you hitchhike and maybe get a ride when a guaranteed (or almost guaranteed) ride is a website click away? Of course hitchhiking and its attendant uncertainty is a rush in itself and I’m not suggesting that people will stop hitching rides altogether, but the less enthusiastic hitchhiker definitely has an attractive option now.
Just like Couchsurfing, the advantages of ride sharing are that you get to travel with locals, and learn more about the culture of the place you’re visiting. On the other hand, if you want to treat it as a straight up business transaction and are not feeling really social, that’s cool too – a lot of riders are fine with that. It’s a great way to make new friends, and even find traveling companions for part of the way, in case you’re feeling lonely. For me, it was the best start to my Prague adventure that I could have asked for!