The Road Ahead
Rideshares can be a great way to travel. They are both economical and environmentally friendly. Ideal for the budget and environmentally conscious traveler. Though attractive offerings for some they do come with certain risks, like all things in life.
Risks that I learned while traveling through Germany getting stopped outside of Munich. German laws tend to be a hair more restrictive in comparison to their other European counterparts. They also take Schengen enforcement seriously. Whether you stay in Germany or just pass through as I did there is some simple advice you can follow to make your travel smother, independent of your location.
Find Your Site and Make a Clear Profile
Many carpooling sites exist. Go over them to find those your most comfortable with. Each have different features making them easier to navigate or help you narrow your search.
Many local carpooling sites are in the native language of their country. You might be surprised to find what using a simple Google translate will reveal. Many of these users master English to a high degree. You will find cheaper prices and maybe an opportunity to practice your language skills.
Like all online networking services you'll only get the most out of it if you put the most into it. Fill out your profile completely. A picture, description, language spoken, smoking (a big one) are all important. Not that I have seen this asked, but sharing your favorite books or movies is of no consequence to any party involved.
Communicate Clearly with Your Driver/Passengers
The communication should start well before you get into the vehicle or pick up your passengers. Make sure that there is a clear route, with a price negotiated and carpooling etiquette rules stated. Agree on a pick up and drop off location and have an idea of the duration of the trip. Will there be an overnight stay? Price considerations must be taken into account for all possible situations.
Compare Prices to Public Transit
It is always prudent to consider your other options. Although this is obvious advice make sure you have checked the trains, planes and buses going to or near your locations. There are many useful travel sites and tools to assist you. Two of these are TripIt and SeeAmerica Another great planning service for air travel is Flight Fox.
Know Your Route Before Hand
This is an important piece of advice. Things can happen along the road, delays due to traffic, miss-communicatin between driver and passengers or just plain incompatibility. You don't want to find your self stranded. Agreeing on a predefined route is prudent and carrying a map that covers the locations you plan to traverse is added preparation.
Consider a 50/50 Payment
I have never ran into any problems giving or receiving payment. It appears common practice to pay half upfront and the other half upon arriving at your destination. I have heard this advice given several times, usually accompanied by a ride sharing horror story. This may be sound advice to consider instead of the usual pay at the pump or prepayment practices.
Know Your Passengers
You may not have the opportunity to see into the deepest regions of your fellow passengers' souls, but you can get a feel for their character. Idle chit chat though gratingly horrific for some, is a great way to test the waters. I have found a healthy amount about a persons character can be revealed in how they come across in conversation. Warning bells might get set off early allowing you to prepare better for any possible unpleasantness.
Accidents happen! Creative Commons photo by Seattleye
Have a Contingency Plan
Your not going to be able to foresee all possibilities and plan for them along the route. Having a map marked with the public transport stops and routes goes a long way. Always have access to that backup stash of cash. Not every small town has a working ATM should you arrive much later than expected.
Noone likes a messy car! Creative Commons photo by bluedino
Keep the Car Clean
This is just common decency. The floor of the vehicle is not your waste basket. The seat next to you shouldn't have the entire contents of your backpack strewn about it.
Respect the Driver
Whether the owner of the vehicle or a passenger taking a turn driving, respect this individual. Everyone has a different driving style and level of comfort when they are behind the wheel. If the driver has special requests or conditions due your utmost to respect them. This is just pure Darwinian survival!