How to Save Money in Europe by Using BlaBlaCar, a Ride-Sharing Service
Have you ever heard of BlaBlaCar? Probably not — most Americans I know haven't — but I just took the carpooling service for a spin during my last trip to Europe and ended up saving a ton on transportation.
Currently available in 17 European countries, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico and India, BlaBlaCar is centered around the the idea of connecting people who need to go somewhere with drivers who have empty seats, making it a fun way to get around while also meeting your fellow travelers. Thinking of giving it a try? Here's how to have the best experience while using this ride-sharing service.
Set up Your Account Before You Go
The first thing you'll need to do is sign up for a free account through BlaBlaCar's website and create a profile. While including a photo of yourself with a brief description will go a long way and are technically enough to get you started, I recommend filling in all the blanks and making your account as detailed as possible so people have a better chance to get to know you before you meet in person.
It's important that you create your account while you have access to a mobile phone — and regular service, which can sometimes be difficult when you're on the road — since you'll need to obtain the security code via text message. Once everything's set up, you'll be able to communicate through the BlaBlaCar app or website via Wi-Fi, and if you have a working mobile number with data, you'll have a much easier time when it comes to communicating with the driver.
Prices are set entirely by the driver, so if you see 20 different drivers offering the same route, it's up to you to sort through them and decide which one matches your preferences best. Do you want to be packed into a minivan, kick back in a luxury sedan or ride shotgun in a convertible? It's up to you.
Always consider where the pick-up and drop-off locations are, because every driver chooses a different meeting point and drop-off spot. Experienced drivers will typically pick a central location, but I've seen a few that are located outside the city center.
One of the biggest factors in determining price is the driver's reputation. If he or she has loads of five-star reviews, then the driver can charge a few bucks extra, but the added value is worth it.
Choose the Best Route
Pay close attention to which routes the driver has planned. In Spain, for example, many drivers will avoid highways because of the tolls, so if you see a big difference in prices, it's typically because the driver is either new and without many reviews or because he or she is taking back roads to avoid hefty tariffs. If you aren't racing against the clock, I recommend taking the scenic route — it's a great way to see the countryside.
Don't Be Late
This is extremely important. Once you have your trip booked, it's your responsibility to arrive at the meeting point on time. Chances are you'll be in a new city that you're not entirely familiar with, so plan ahead and leave extra early to avoid delays. If the driver warns you she's leaving with or without you after the agreed-upon meeting time, he or she can and will, and you won't be able to do anything about it. It's discourteous to the driver and any other passengers who are trying to stay on schedule. There's an extra benefit for you, too: Arriving early also allows you to have first choice on seating.
Set Your Carpooling Preferences
There are four carpooling preferences you can select in your profile to help make your ride more enjoyable. Choosing your level of chattiness is actually the backbone of the company name. When you create your profile, indicate how much you want to talk during a ride, from “Bla” (watch the scenery go by), “BlaBla” (can be chatty) to “BlaBlaBla” (won’t keep quiet). Make sure you also select your smoking, pets and music preferences prior to booking your first trip, which are displayed as little icons next to the trip details, so if you don't want to travel with someone who smokes or if you hate dogs, be sure to check off those boxes.
Have Fun With It!
I highly recommend using BlaBlaCar whenever and wherever available for more reasons than just saving money. You'll get recommendations from a local, have a chance to practice the native language and make friends along the way. Take advantage of this adventurous opportunity and have fun with it.
Have you ever used BlaBlaCar in Europe? Tell us about your experiences.