We Travel Together
You might think the days of hitchhiking are long gone for most people, with all those horror tales of misadventure and misfortune. Listen, we’re not suggesting you head for the next street corner and stick out your thumb, either. But with the advent of the internet, options for hooking up with drivers headed in your direction have expanded.
It seems logical, really. People drive from one town to another everyday, and their cars are almost never full. With hitchhiking proving too risky for most, these passenger seats seem destined to stay empty, unless drivers and potential passengers can somehow make contact with each other. That’s where agencies that match people to arrange lifts come into the picture.
Germans Do Organized Hitchhiking Best
Maybe it’s because they live in a country that’s in the middle of the continent. Perhaps they love their cars and their Autobahns so much that they’d rather find a way to reach their destination by car even if they don’t have their own. And, surely the fact that they’re pedantically good organizers helps a lot, as does their passion for the environment. Whatever the reason, it seems that Germans are the world champions at organized hitchhiking.
Obviously the emergence of the internet made it easier for a lot of people to get in contact with others easily, and several German-based websites exist to help locals and travelers who are headed in the same direction find each other and share a ride. Mitfahrzentrale (literally, “ride central”) has been running its internet site since 1998, and claims 700,000 users, while Mitfahrgelegenheit (“ride opportunity”) was founded in 2001.
Both sites work in more or less the same way. If you’re looking for a lift, you can search for the details of drivers who are headed in the same direction as you, specifying parameters like the start and end destinations, dates and times. You’ll then be given partial information about how to contact the driver, but to get the full details you’ll need to become a registered user of the site. In reverse, if you’re a driver looking for passengers to join you, you can input the details of your journey and wait for potential Mitfahrer to contact you.
How much the passenger will pay the driver for the ride is a matter for negotiation. Both websites offer a suggested formula using the cost of gas, plus ten per cent, divided by the number of people in the car. That means a journey from Berlin to Hamburg, with the driver and one passenger, will cost about €20 per person. Not only is that considerably cheaper than using the train, it could also be more convenient and without train service delays.
While the original services were largely based in Germany, both sites have expanded now to cover much of Europe. From Norway to Ukraine, from Britain to Slovenia, there are potential rides criss-crossing the continent. You’d have to be a bit lucky to find exactly the ride you were after if it’s outside of Germany, but the possibility exists. As for understanding these German websites, the Mitfahrzentrale has English and French translations built into the site, but the Mitfahrgelegenheit is still working on it – right now they just link English-speaking users to a Babelfish-translated site that doesn’t quite sound like normal English.
Other Ways to Find a Lift in Europe
The Germans might be the original and best, but there are a number of other organizations in Europe to help travelers looking for lifts. In fact, it seems like rising gas prices are probably increasing the demand for shared lifts, for commuters as well as travelers, so in Europe at least, organized hitchhiking might be the way of the future rather than the past.
The French version of lift sharing websites, for example, is called Covoiturage (car pool) and most of the rides on offer here are from one part of France to the other. Understanding where the rides are going and when is relatively simple to see on the site, but unless you have some French skills, getting any further information out of the site might be tricky. Curiously, the site links to apparent car pooling websites in other languages but at this stage still keeps returning you to the French-only Covoiturage pages.
Based in Austria, Autostopp uses the slogan “we bring europe together” and claims around 8,000 users, but unfortunately the use of English finishes there and only German speakers will find it useful. Also, they’re big on marketing, and interestingly they sell cigarette lighters sporting their logo on eBay.
The pass-europe.eu site offers information in both English and Bulgarian. It tends to focus on trips taking place in the eastern half of Europe. It’s still small, but planning to expand into more languages to reach more drivers and passengers. My Rideboard is similar in size and also has some eastern European origins, with the site available in English, German, Hungarian and Romanian. Hitchhikers.org is another small site developed originally in the Netherlands that offers drivers the opportunity to add details of their upcoming trips, but passengers are only able to search what is already being offered.
Can You Share a Lift Outside Europe?
In Europe it is so easy. Millions of travelers drive north, south, east and west daily, through densely populated areas, with thousands of people clamoring for a cheap lift. Although, head outside Europe and finding a spare passenger seat to help you along on your travels becomes a bit trickier.
Let’s start in the USA, where the most common way to find a ride to share is through the Craigslist websites. There is a popular Craigslist for many of the large cities in the US, and they include a rideshare forum. Here there is no structure to the offers other than a chronological listing according to the time someone posted the message, so it’s not easy to locate either a driver or a passenger. Craigslists are starting to appear for other parts of the world, too, but it’s rare to find any organized hitchhiking offers on these sites.
The Digihitch website offers a lot of information about hitchhiking and traveling in general, but when you get to their Rideboard and search for the lifts on offer, you’re lucky to come up with one or two for the entire country. Their forum discussions do offer some handy tips sometimes, though it’s more focused on people who want to do pure hitchhiking, with all its extra risks.
You might have more success with a relatively new website called Ridester, which has been gathering users quickly. It’s focused purely on providing the opportunity for potential drivers and passengers to get in contact with each other. For a small price, they’ll even send a text message when a potential match appears on the site. But it’s still early days, and the numbers of ride offers are only in the low hundreds at any one time, so the chances of finding the exact journey you’re looking for aren’t that high.
If you’re in Quebec, Canada and can get to an Allo Stop office – where you’ll need to present some official identification to be registered – then you’ll be able to access a 60,000-member network of rideshares. Unfortunately, although they have expanded to Ontario, Allo Stop was forced to close down there after three major bus companies joined forces to get the local transport board to believe Allo Stop drivers were operating public vehicles rather than carpool vehicles.
Head south to Australia and there are a few opportunities to arrange a ride using the needaride website. Looking around for the possibilities to travel extensively by taking arranged lifts Down Under, it soon becomes clear that Europe is a much better place for such a system. Australia has a small population, spread over a vast area, and most cities are so distant from each other that the majority of people fly between them rather than drive.
So, Is Organized Hitchhiking For You?
Obviously there are pros and cons to sharing a lift with a stranger. You will save money and probably even time, and you could meet some really interesting people. If you’re traveling in a foreign country, you’ll connect with locals who can give you all kinds of interesting insights into your destination, hints you’ll never learn from a guide book.
On the other hand, every kind of hitchhiking carries at least a little risk with it. Or, you might get stuck on a fifteen-hour drive with the most boring companion you can imagine. Surely that’s all part of the fun at least it makes for a few more stories to tell the folks back home.