Slow travel has unexpectedly benefited from the technology boom. Long gone are the days of staying in generic hotels and waiting hours for the next bus because it’s the only transportation in town. Now the ability to stay in a local’s apartment or catch a ride to the next town is at our fingertips.
In a recent getaway to Bologna, I made the four plus hour trek with BlaBlaCar, an app I had long known of, but never had the opportunity to experience. BlaBlaCar connects people with drivers that have empty seats and are willing to rideshare to a destination.
A French-based business, BlaBlaCar has over 19 million users and is very popular in Europe. While there isn’t a U.S. site, if you prefer English, sign up under the UK site. It will display prices in the British Pound rather than the Euro, but the conversion is simple.
Whether you’re a driver or a passenger, a profile is required and a photo is strongly suggested — it’s reassuring to see whom you’ll be riding with. Additional details such as smoking preference and how chatty (hence the name, BlaBla) you are in the car help pair you with like-minded travelers.
I downloaded the app and searched for a ride from Pescara to Bologna. With many drivers to choose from I settled on Fabio. He had a roomy Ford Fiesta, didn’t allow smoking in the car, and had over 20 positive reviews. Not only was I taking a direct car, but the cost was about a third less and an hour shorter than the bus. Score!
Fabio and I settled on a time and a location for pickup over a few messages on the chat feature of the app. For travelers with limited data plans and high roaming charges communicating via app chat features work well while abroad.
It should be noted that it would be unusual for the driver to pick you up at your home. The notes in the BlaBlaCar post will specify where they are willing to meet passengers; it’s usually a central meeting point or close to a highway exit. No matter the details, all can be organized up front and it’s up to the driver to communicate the plan.
I took a short bus ride to the meeting point and as promised Fabio was right on time. He helped me load my luggage in the trunk and we were on our way. During the drive we picked up two other passengers and also stopped for a coffee, a standard Italian event.
Instead of a long solitary bus ride, I spent an enjoyable morning practicing my Italian, and meeting locals. Marta, a fellow passenger, even provided me with a list of local Bologna highlights. It was such a smooth trip I plan on using this app with great regularity when in Italy.
Written by Robyn Woodman, a slow travel adventurer, dividing her time between the West Coast of the U.S. and the East Coast of Italy. She can be found on Instagram @robynwoodman and at robynwoodman.com.
Photos by: Pietro Garrone/Flickr, Robyn Woodman.