Try this at home
There’s no arguing that today travel is more economical and enjoyable and democratic than it’s ever been but I confess to just a sliver of nostalgia for some of the romance made obsolete by the internet age. I kind of miss waiting in line with fellow travelers to buy tickets and passing the occasional night with the bums at a train station. And I’d like to experience one last time that anticipation of not having any idea at all what sort of hotel I’m booked into. I do not, however, miss hitchhiking in the slightest.
It’s a new millenium. You don’t need to be standing on the shoulder in the rain with your destination written on a bit of cardboard just to exchange the risk of being beaten death for a ride somewhere. There are websites for that now.
In fact all the best parts of hitchhiking are preserved in the internet age — you get where you’re going cheap and you meet people of all sorts except those too busy or unfriendly to offer you a ride. You’ve got to kick in for gas these days but that wasn’t unheard of in the age of the cardboard sign either. And any sentimental customs of the open highway lost to the mists of nostalgia are more than balanced out by the sheer breadth of possible destinations and routes.
Now, I love the trains and if you’re planning on bumming around Europe by train than I’m absolutely not going to try to talk you out of it, but if you’re undecided I’m going to suggest hitchhiking by internet. This is not your father’s hitchhiking; there are websites and networks and organizations dedicated to matchmaking drivers and passengers and destinations and there’s almost nowhere you can get by train that you can’t get to in a carpool and it’s going to cost appreciably less than a Eurail pass.
The advantage that scheduled trains have over hitchhiking is the scheduled part. They tend to leave roughly when they say they will and arrive at the places they say they’re going to when they say they’re going to get there. That’s changing rapidly but does it really matter? You’re bumming around, not commuting.
The most obvious site for arranging pan-European carpooling is craigslist. Coincidentally, it’s also probably the worse. It’s got some trips and if you look in both the city you’re in and the one you want to get to there’s a chance you’ll find something but there’s a better than even chance that it will be for an hour ago.
Have a look at craigslist anyhow but then look here: www.carpooling.co.uk. It’s pretty intuitive. Pick a start city (if the cities you’re looking for aren’t there then click on the Europe tab) and a destination and then select from the the numerous offers. Note that some of them look like rides but are in fact bus or train tickets and there’s nothing wrong with that except that they often have conditions (most commonly, student or age restrictions) that may render them invalid for you.
Read the description of the ride because as often as not they’ll tell you about the vehicle, whether or not you can bring luggage and how much, if there are other stops along the way or if the driver is willing to go off-route and of course your share of the costs. You’ll need to register to book a journey and it’s easy so you don’t need to use a fake name and the houses of parliament as your postal address. I did that just for fun. All you really have to have is an email address.
Carpooling.co.uk is also carpooling.fr and carpooling.de and a lot of other country domains so you’ll find a lot of ads in local languages but please don’t let that put you off. Your tourist enthusiasm will be widely welcomed and this is another advantage that internet hitchhiking has over the cardboard sign — you won’t be the only stranger in the car.