There is no greater method of budget travel than the ride share or carpool. With speed and grace it can deliver you to your destination faster than a bus or a train and easier and cheaper than a flight. Make new friends (or enemies) or pass out in the back seat, it’s up to you. I’ve always wondered why more people don’t car pool. I attended the TBEX travel bloggers conference in Toronto on June 1st to 2nd. Instead of traveling by traditional means I made my way down the 401 from Ottawa to Toronto like I always do, by ride share.

I really started doing the ride share thing when I moved from Waterloo to Ottawa almost three years ago. Having gone to school in Waterloo and not knowing many people in Ottawa meant that I would do frequent road trips down to the Toronto area (where a lot of my friends ended up) or to Waterloo for the weekend. At first I would take the Greyhound bus as it was the cheapest option that I knew of. But, as anyone who has ever traveled by bus in Canada would know, the Greyhound is very slow and uncomfortable, smells just slightly like pee, and is surprisingly expensive for the distance that you’re traveling. With trains and flights being more expensive still, I sought out an alternative means of transportation.

That’s when I came across the ride share section of the classifieds site kijiji. I found dozens of people doing return trips from Ottawa to Toronto every week for a fraction of the price of the bus. Occasionally I would even find people going as far as Waterloo. The cost and time breakdown makes this a no-brainer and I’ve carpooled to Toronto dozens of times since.

Ride Share Greyhound Via Rail Flight
Cost $30 $45 $65 $120
Time 4h 6h 4h 1h

*All costs and times are approximate values for a 1-way journey from Ottawa to Toronto

Once I used the service a few times and graduated to the self-proclaimed role of “ride share guru” I began offering

The Simpsons Car Pool

The Simpsons car pool to school. From Season 7, Episode 24 of The Simpsons – Homorpalooza

rides. I don’t own a car, but I would sneak out to pick up a rental car on Friday afternoon during my lunch break. The car rental was about $80, with about $100-$120 in gas to go to Toronto and back. If I took 2 or 3 passengers each way I could actually do the trip for around the same price as I would have if I had ride shared with someone else and I would have a car for the weekend. Not a bad deal! However, I found that it didn’t always work out that way. Some days I would get a full car both ways, essentially making my seat in the car free. Other days I would be driving the whole way by myself. It would average out to be about the same price as booking a ride share, about $30 each way.  It’s a higher risk but tends to all work out in the end.

My decision to attend TBEX was pretty last minute, so I had to start figuring out ride and sleeping arrangements almost immediately after purchasing my pass. I decided that this time I didn’t want to bother driving (I ended up sleeping very, very little so that was probably for the best) so I started to look around for a ride share. I’ll usually start browsing kijiji ads on the Monday or the Tuesday of the week if I plan to leave on the Friday. Don’t bother looking any earlier as most people won’t be thinking about their weekend plans until they start work Monday morning. If you wait too late in the week you risk not finding a ride, and it can sometimes take a lot of email and phone tag before you get the details ironed out, so you definitely do not want to leave that until Friday morning. I’ll usually find 5 or 6 ads that fit my departure time and location criteria and send out emails to all of them asking if there’s still room in the car. If I don’t have a positive response within about 24 hours I repeat the process. Usually it’s pretty easy to get a couple responses this way.

For the journey to TBEX I sent out a few emails and texts before arranging a ride with a very nice young couple who work in Ottawa but were visiting family in Toronto for the weekend (this is a very common occurrence). We decided to meet at Bayshore Mall. This mall is close enough to my workplace that I can get there relatively easily and close enough to the highway out of the city that it wouldn’t take them long to pick me up. Usually this is the case – you want to find a meeting place that is convenient for everyone so that you can hit the road as fast as possible. Rarely will you get people who will be willing to pick you up directly from work or your home unless you are located right off of a major roadway on the way out of the city.  It still beats finding the bus station though.

I made some casual conversation with my new friends, but since I was in the back seat I kept to myself most of the time and watched Arrested Development on my laptop. Oh, and I slept. I always sleep in vehicles.

I would usually take some time on the weekend to send out a bunch of emails looking for rides back to Ottawa, but since I had now met my drivers and they were such great people and I already had all the contact info sorted out I asked them if they had any room in their car going back. “Not a problem”, they replied, and we sorted out the Sunday pickup.

Some Notes on Safety

By now you’re probably thinking “yeah, this is all great in the fairytale dream world that you live in, but there are weirdos and freaks out there who take advantage of poor souls like me.” This is true, the weirdos are everywhere.  But in reality, they’re not.  Most of the people you come across will be friendly, lovely proplr, but they’re not the ones you hear about on the news.  But when arranging a carpool, as with many things in life, safety should be your number one priority. Being a nearly-6-foot 190lbs 26-year-old male, I probably worry about these things a lot less than most people do. However, if you are concerned about keeping yourself safe while in a ride share there are a few precautions you can take.

First, be sure to get the make, model, and license plate of the car and text or email it to a friend before you hit the road. This seems like common sense, but if I had to guess I would say that 90% of the people who I ride with don’t bother to check the license plate. Make it known that you know the make, model and plate of the car – a friendly “Hey, what kind of car do you drive and what’s the license plate?” when you’re arranging for the ride is all you need.  Anyone who is offended by such a simple request seems fishy to me.  Of course, be sure to confirm the info when your ride arrives.

On rides where I’m the driver I’ve had nervous passengers ask if they can meet me a couple days before to get an idea of what kind of person I am.  We grabbed a quick coffee after work one day and just chatted about the trip; where we were going and why. I could tell that she was feeling incredibly nervous at the beginning but she seemed to calm down immediately when she realized that I’m a pretty normal person (or so she thinks).

Finally, one of the best things that you can do when it comes to safety is get picked up and dropped off either in a public place or in a place where you already have family or friends waiting for you. Even if your drivers end up being super amazing and friendly people, having them leave you alone on a dark corner to wait for someone to pick you up at the end of your journey is probably not the best idea. Plan ahead and have someone waiting there for you or see if you can be dropped off at a busy place like a shopping mall or at your final destination.

Where to Find Rides

I use kijiji, which is very popular in Canada for ride share ads. Since we’re all world travelers, here are some other sites for finding rides around the world

Craigslist – Much more popular in America and used throughout the world
Carpooling.com – Europe’s largest carpooling network.
Hitchhikers.org – Lists rides in Europe
Catch a Lift – Rides in Australia
Coseats – Australia’s biggest ride share site
Carpool New Zealand – Lists rides in New Zealand

There are dozens of other sites out there for different regions of the world. Universities and colleges often have ride share boards, but you usually have to be a student to use them.

Do you have any carpooling or ride share tips? Do you know of any other good carpool or ride share websites? Comment below!