Getting Around Germany: Mitfahrgelegenheit
I first heard about mitfahrgelegenheit while driving from Innsbruck, Austria with my friend Teresa to her hometown in southern Germany. We would pick up two strangers somewhere along our way to the autobahn, they would give Teresa 10 euros each for gas, and we would drop them off in Munich before heading onward. All of this was coordinated by a website. Put in your start point, end point, date and time of departure and voila….a list of trips with contact information for the drivers. Drivers can post their planned rides and wait for potential travel companions to call, sms, or email. People often also post regional train ticket offers. These tickets are about 28 euro for five people, but it’s pretty rare that you can coordinate 5 friends who want to travel, say from Passau to Munich all at the same time. No problem. Post it on mitfahr and wait for 4 random strangers to get in touch and give you 6 euro each.
Seems like a pretty good idea, huh? Environmentally friendly, saves you money on gas, and helps out people who don’t have cars and/or can’t afford to spend money on the extremely expensive Austrian and German train system. When I met up with another American friend of mine to being a month long tour of German cities, we decided to forget about the 150 euro 4 journey Deutschbahn pass and hack it with rideshares. And so far, it’s gone swimmingly.
I know, I know. But is this safe? While I’ve heard only rave reviews from Germans and seen even sweet old grandmas traveling by mitfahr, something in my American upbringing questions anything that involves strangers. There’s always a risk with trusting someone new, but there are a lot of ways to alleviate your fears. Travel with a friend, get the license plate info and pass it on to someone that you keep in touch with during your trip, and talk to your driver over the phone before meeting. This last one is difficult if you don’t speak German (in fact using the whole website may be a little tricky, as it’s all in German) but between having a German-speaking friend call, to asking if the person speaks any English, to speaking in some awful hybrid of multiple languages, you’re sure to find some way to coordinate things. Most of our rides have been full with all different sorts of people and I’ve never once felt threatened in any way. That being said, if something raises tingles along your spine, you don’t have to get in the car.
Plan a little in advance. You don’t need to call your drivers weeks ahead of time, but a few days will assure that not all the rides will fill up. You’re probably going to have to be a little flexible with time and a little patient with meeting places. Also, you’re not likely to find many rides to and from smaller towns and cities. For these you might have to hop smaller, regional trains to/from larger destinations. I don’t have much experience with this, but I’m sure it’s probably still more affordable than eurorail.
Websites like these exist in other countries too but unfortunately I’m not familiar with them. Feel free to help out other travelers and post any that you know in the comments. Until then…safe, cheap, and happy traveling!
post by Jackie Clark