The transportation option that negates the whole never get on a stranger’s car advice
Before I went to Europe, some random person at the French Embassy told me about this concept of a bunch of strangers getting on yet another strangers car to go somewhere. I thought like isn’t that essentially hitch hiking?
It was such a strange idea for me at the time, thinking about all the safety concerns of riding with a bunch strangers. But hey, this is Europe, people are surprisingly extremely trusting, and damn – it just works.
What is Ridesharing??
It’s like Airbnb x Hitch hiking (or Uber Pool – but for longer distances). You basically answer an ad from a person with a car who is going from point A to point B at a certain time and date. If you’re going that same way and would want to get a ride, you just answer this person’s ad and voila, you’re on your way (sometimes reservation is not instantaneous and drivers review the passenger’s profile – just like Airbnb). The driver also posts details about what kind of luggage you can bring (if any), if pets are allowed and preferences regarding how much interaction you want in the car.
It’s a great way to travel if you want to be social and get to know people. You can get some tips and meet some actual local people. Not to mention that it’s also super cheap (comparable to buses) and can even get you to places where there are no buses, planes or trains. Normally if your stop is on the way, you can even get down at a more convenient place than what is actually advertised – you just need to check with the driver.
Note though that since these are local private people, don’t expect that everyone can speak English. Most of the time, they can (maybe not so well), but still expect that some will not be able to converse well.
*September 2019 update – Bla Bla car was bought this year by the French train company SNCF. What this means for the service, I’m not 100% sure, but it continues to exist as a ride sharing service.
There is only one ride sharing company I know and it is now one of the most successful French startup companies – and that is Bla Bla Car. They operate mostly in France but you can find travels to and within neighboring countries like Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain (and some others I may not know about).
You only need to download the app or go to their site and register. From there, you can search for possible rides by selecting your start and end city and the date that you would like to go. A list of all departures around your city will show up. Meet up points are also indicated in the ad. In some cases, there are already some common unofficial meet up points in the cities. For example, voyages leaving from Brussels normally asks passengers to meet them near Brussels Midi.
You meet the driver on the specified time and place and off you go. Normally if it’s a long ride, the driver will ask if it’s ok to take restroom breaks at so and so place.
Previously, once the ride is over you had to give the driver a code. Now you just need to verify in the app or site that indeed you took the ride.
At the end of the trip, Bla bla car asks you to do a review of the driver. The driver also gets the chance to review his passengers. This review system is strict. getting low/negative reviews can actually impact you from offering or getting on further trips.
I’ve had some discussions with drivers from before that sometimes this review system is a bit unfair – but in most cases, it should help police unruly passengers or drivers who don’t respect the bla bla car rules.
Perhaps the worst thing about bla bla car is that it’s not that reliable. If you ABSOLUTELY need to be somewhere, don’t take the chance. Drivers, like any normal private person, can cancel last minute and leave you in the lurch. You will get reimbursed but that means you will be stuck in whatever place you’re in. Believe me, this happens.
It can also happen that the car is packed and you won’t be too comfortable being squished in these European cars.
And of course, don’t expect that you can bring big ass luggages on these trips. Best to come with maximum a trolley but ideally just a handbag or a backpack.
Some people who know me could laugh because I really try to sell the bla bla car experience to people who come visit. I’ve never had a feeling of being unsafe. I mean the weirdest/most annoying experiences I’ve had was when a driver was 1 hour late (but he reimbursed us afterwards) or when a driver cancelled out of the blue.
My first bla bla car experience was a trip to Amsterdam from Lille wherein I was the only passenger. At that time, all traveling options were already expensive and bla bla car was the cheapest and most convenient. It was a great ride and I really learned a lot about the French health system (lol).
On another time I took an amazing ride with 2 other ladies from Leuven to Amsterdam. Our driver brought along some coffee and pastries and we had a great time gossiping about our lives like old friends for the 3 hour drive to Amsterdam.
Overall – if you’re willing to try something new – try to do a bla bla car voyage at least once while in the area.