WINNER — 2013 Ohio Excellence in Journalism, 2nd Place, Best Feature Story, Two-year College category
High fuel prices can be considered a factor to drive air, rail and ground transportation costs up when traveling, but an alternative mode of travel by buddying up with strangers is quickly becoming a trend.
The Craigslist Rideshare forum is an online meeting place where travelers heading in the same direction can connect. That’s how 23-year-old Jamie Shorey, formerly of Cleveland Heights, landed in my passenger seat last month, to catch a ride back home to Denver. My travel plans to visit family in New Mexico nearly didn’t happen because of lack of funds to get home – enter in my 22nd rideshare participant.
“I think it’s more adventurous,” Shorey said, an Oberlin College graduate. “Who knows if your rideshare will work out; who knows what kind of person you’re going to ride with. Aside from being incredibly cheaper, there’s also something really nice about being stuck in a car for 12 or more hours with a stranger; it definitely forces you to communicate with someone outside of your immediate circle, or someone who you would have not known for any other reason.”
On my return trip from the southwest back to Cleveland, Nickolas Simons was seeking a ride from Glenwood Springs, Colo., to Elkhart, Ind., despite having someone offer him a free airline ticket.
“I feel that everything about rideshare makes sense. It’s good company, good conversation, good experiences, and so much more fuel efficient,” Simons said. “I declined the offer of a plane ticket because I really prefer using rideshare. It has a lesser impact on the environment, and I like the connections I make using the service.”
With 22 rideshare riders in my passenger seat since 2009, I’ve traveled from New York City to Los Angeles, and as far south as New Orleans. I’ve had riders from all walks of life who were willing to take a chance to be a virtual hitchhiker: an Associated Press reporter, a French student at the Paris-Sorbonne University, a glassblower, a retired banker from Israel, and a single mom with two kids, just to name a few.
These riders usually provide for great conversation during long rides, and some offer to pay more than what I ask for in fuel. My second rideshare, Tim Arnold of Omaha, Neb., paid for my meals, and purchased and installed new brake pads after feeling the car shimmy when stopping.
“People who are willing to offer a ride to a complete stranger, and to spend up to 24 hours with them just have a lot of faith in other people,” Simons said.
It takes a certain type of person to reach out to another stranger and to entrust their lives with them to get from point A to point B. Simons said the kinds of people he usually runs across tend to be interesting, creative and artistic people, who are usually of good company.
“Greyhound lends themselves to people being more isolated. I think that’s a good option for some people if they need that sense of security,” Simons said. “Personally, I need a little more of a personal touch to my traveling experiences, and a little more adventure,a little more unknown.”
It’s the unknown element of the rideshare experience that makes this kind of travel risky, but following a set of simple rules can help make a rideshare successful.
“Try to talk to them as much as possible before you leave on the trip,” said Zev Yovel, my first rideshare, a Mayfield Heights resident who also remains very good friends with me to this day. “Find out where they are really coming from, do some research online to learn their background.”
Shorey says to communicate as much as you can so that everyone is on the same page.
“It’s kind of important to build a rapport right off the bat. If you just send one email and you assume that’s good enough, you’re just taking more of a risk,” he said. “This gets you to know who your dealing with, and if it’s someone legitimate they won’t mind talking and planning the trip with you.”
Simons said he checks social networking sites to read up on the people he expects to have a rideshare with.
“When I contacted you, Bronson, I sent you right away my Facebook page and Couchsurfing page,” Simons said. “On my Couchsurfing page, I have 20 or 30 references of people vouching for me, that say I’m a good guy. On Facebook, either I would have to fabricate 1000 friends or so overnight, or I’m telling the truth. So there are ways to verify to get a sense of who the people are before you hop in the car with them for a day or two.”
My personal advice is to let a third party know who you’re picking up, where they live, what’s their destination, any phone or email contact information, and check in with that third person throughout the trip to give updates. Not only will you save money, but you will make friends with people in different cities, who often look forward to seeing you pass by their neighborhoods again.
To listen to a podcast interview with Nick Simons, click the link below.
Bronson Peshlakai reporting
Metro Campus Associate Editor