CoVoiturage – the art of car sharing

Now I wouldn’t usually use this page for any kind of promotion, but I have to talk about the many wonders that I discovered in BlaBlaCar. Basically it’s a car sharing website, that turned out to be the only feasible way for me to get from Hossegor to Barcelona, but I’m so glad that’s how I got there, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

During my time working in Hossegor, I was generously (note sarcasm) offered 2 days off so that I could take a break. Although I was working in a lovely little surf town, it got quite claustrophobic. It is very small, apart from surfing and playing pool, there isn’t much to do (not complaining), so after a few months I really needed to get away.

GO WHERE YOU LIKE MATE

My cousin Fiona, conveniently based in Barcelona offered me a bed if I wanted to come visit, so I did. Now when I say conveniently, I thought, with Hossegor being so close to Spain it would only be a jump, hop and skip away (is that a saying??). Well, it isn’t. Turns out there is 512 km between my home and my destination. No problem I thought, trains in Europe are fantastic, I’ll get there soooo easily. Turns out they’re ok, if you want to go the way they go. At best it was going to take me all day and 100€, neither of which I had.

And this, as you may have guessed is where BlaBlaCar jumps in and saves the day. So explanation of how it works: on their website you type in the route you want to do, and you can see if any drivers are going that way. As you can imagine no one was doing exactly Hossegor – Barcelona, but once I did a bit of research on the different routes I could take, I found plenty. The drivers display on their add what time they’re leaving, how many spaces in their car they have available, if they have enough room for you to bring luggage, how long they think it will take them, and if they are willing to divert to pick you up/ drop you off.

After a short while I was back on track for my break in Spain. I’d found someone to take me to Toulouse willing to come pick me up on my street, someone to take me from Toulouse to Barcelona, and exactly the same on the way back two days later.

Of course there’s the all important question of money. Well, that’s pretty good too. On the website, the drivers can type in the route they are planning, and it will advice them how much to charge per person, basically how much it costs in petrol and tolls, divided by the number of seats in the car. So instead of paying 100€ return, it cost me just over 40€, and instead of having to get to the train station at each end, it was door to door. AND, the best was yet to come.

OLLIE AND FI WINE TASTING IN BARCELONA
OLLIE AND FI WINE TASTING IN BARCELONA

When you get the train, it’s lovely and peaceful, you can look out the window, read a book or sleep, and try and avoid awkward eye contact with your neighbour. With the car sharing scheme, you are getting a lift from a total stranger, and being in a car with a total stranger for 3 or 4 hours, gets you talking.

Maybe I was lucky, or maybe everyone that uses Blablacar is sound, but the lifts I had were great. You get to see a snippet of someone’s life. You chat about the most random or banal things, and you’ll probably never see them again. A single serving friend as Brad Pitt in Fight Club might call it. And it’s fascinating.

Risky some said, yes it’s true you don’t know who you’ll get, but for the money part you are pretty safe. I paid online the amount that the drivers asked for, the website holds this money and I get given a code. At the end of the road when my driver dropped me off, I give them the code. They then enter it into the website and receive the money. So if they never show up, they never get paid and I get my money back.

Now obviously personality wise, there isn’t really a way for them to check the drivers or paying hitchhikers, so yeah, maybe I got lucky. Or maybe people are just nice.

The amount I found out about my drivers and fellow lift-needers in only a few hours was fascinating, I guess when you’re put together in such a small space it helps the conversation. My first ride (I was also her first passenger) was a lovely 32 year old lady called Melanie. She lived in the Aples and her parents lived near Hossegor, so she was returning home after a few days with the family (long enough according to her). She had had a car crash 2 year before (a car swerved into her lane and hit her head on early one morning, the person was on their way home from a night out), and had driven very little since.  I didn’t mind this, but was not really put at ease when she referred to cars as “killing machines”… She told me how she’d been seeing her boyfriend for a while before they were really together. One day he’d said to her he couldn’t take the part time relationship they had going on, he wanted to be with her or not at all, and they’ve been happily together for 3 years now.

On my journey from Toulouse to Barcelona, I slept a lot of the way, but my company wasn’t less interesting. Our driver was taking 4 of us and his dog. There was a boy going to visit his girlfriend who was studying out there, 2 girls in final year of political studies going to visit some friends for the weekend, people they’d actually met through car sharing, and our driver, Fabien, 42, a metal sculpture, missing half his right index finger, on his way to his girlfriend who was due to go into labor in the next few days. You just couldn’t make that shit up.

Ultimately, I am against driving everywhere, I’m all about public transport. But if public transport fails you, and people are driving anyway, we might as well fill the cars, it’s more environmentally friendly, and much cheeper for all. And most importantly it aloud me to take a lovely break in Barcelona with Fi and Ollie. So next time you need to make a boring journey, try out the modern hitchhiking road, I recommend it.

http://www.blablacar.com/

MADE IT TO BARCELONA!

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