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Yesterday I took a BlaBlaCar from Valencia to Madrid. It was by the far the cheapest option to travel between the two cities, and for me was a pleasant experience that I plan on repeating between other cities within reasonable driving distance.

What the heck is BlaBlaCar?

BlaBlaCar is ridesharing community–the biggest of its kind in the world. You can access the platform through their app or website, where drivers publish trips they plan on taking and riders can request to join for a cost. Typically only long distance drives are available. If you want to get across a city, you’ve got Uber or Lyft for that.

When I arrived in Spain a couple months ago a friend of mine living in Madrid recommended I use BlaBlaCar to get to Galicia. I had never heard of the service, which is surprising now that I know the company’s size and popularity. However considering BlaBlaCar isn’t available anywhere in South America (where I live and do a lot of travel) except Brazil, it’s not all that surprising.

Where BlaBlaCar is Available

BlaBlaCar was founded in 2006 in France, and has expanded to 21 other countries since:

  • Spain
  • United Kingdom
  • Netherlands
  • Luxembourg
  • Belgium
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Ukraine
  • Russia
  • Turkey
  • India
  • Mexico
  • Hungary
  • Croatia
  • Romania
  • Serbia
  • Brazil
  • Czech Republic
  • Slovakia
Countries with BlaBlaCar
Countries with BlaBlaCar

If you’re planning travel to any of the following countries, don’t forget to consider BlaBlaCar as a means of transportation! You could save yourself a lot of money and make some new friends along the way.

The first countries in the Americas were recently added to that list (Mexico and Brazil) in 2015. I hope we’ll see more soon.

Personal Experience Using BlaBlaCar

Plane, train, or automobile?

I first looked at plane tickets, which a couple weeks before were pretty expensiv (no award space) for such a short flight. The flight time between Valencia and Madrid is just 1 hour and 10 minutes, but that’s not counting the time it takes to get to the airport and through security, etc. on either end. The train takes less travel time for sure and was much cheaper.

The difference in cost between taking a train and a BlaBlaCar was also pretty large–all rides were around 20 Euros while all the trains were 65 Euros or more. The biggest downside to choosing car versus train was the travel time. The majority of train options only took 1 hour and 40 minutes, while by car it takes about 3 hour and a half hours.

I decided on BlaBlaCar. To me, an extra two hours in the car was worth saving 45 Euros $52 USD). I was also interested to see how the ridesharing service worked in practice.

Searching and Booking Process

I searched Valencia to Madrid on my desired travel date (three days before departure) and looked through the results of drivers that were making the journey. On the results page, you’ll see a brief summary of each available driver’s profile and basic details about the ride they’re offering…

Fernando G is a 34 year old with a 4.7 out of 5 star rating driving to Madrid the day after tomorrow, with one seat left in his car. It will cost you 22.50 Euros to ride with him. The lightening bolt symbol means you can instant book his trip without waiting for approval, much like the lightening bolt symbol on Airbnb.

Clicking an initial search result will take you to a page with further details about the ride on offer.

Sifting through results, there were lots of options to Madrid departing at a time that worked for me. With two bags (one carry-on size roller and a duffel) plus a small backpack, the amount of luggage allowed was the most important criteria. Wouldn’t want to show up and not be able to fit my things in their trunk.

So I sent a message to four different drivers leaving around the same time, telling them the specific dimensions of my luggage and asking if there was space in their car for it. I received a message from a driver named Teresa with a Volvo station wagon and a 4.7 rating out of 5 that my luggage would be no issue, so I confirmed my ride with her.

This is the point in which the driver checks out the riders’ profile. When I registered with BlaBlaCar, among a few other steps to verify my identity and enable connectivity between riders and drivers (adding social media account, email, phone number, etc.), I created a profile where I chose my car preferences.

I was in Spain when I registered and didn’t bother to switch the language to English since I speak Spanish.  Conversación = Conversation, Fumar en el coche = Smoke in the car, Mascotas = Pets, and Música = Music. The preference of conversation level is obviously where the company derived it’s name. Pretty cute branding I think. I chose the Bla Bla chat level–some talking, but not too chatty.

Teresa must have decided my preferences were good enough for her, as she approved me as a rider (instant booking wasn’t an option for her ride). As it was my first ride with BlaBlaCar, I didn’t have any reviews as a rider yet. In the future, now that I have a review from Teresa as a rider, drivers will be able to see my rating and judge this as well when deciding whether or not they want to accept me as a rider.

Once Teresa confirmed, I received an email and push notification from BlaBlaCar that all was set and ready to go. I could also see that there were now two other riders joining us. I requested to book a ride in Teresa’s car two days before departure, and she confirmed the day before.

The Ride 

The only confusing aspect to my BlaBlaCar experience was meeting up with Teresa and the other two riders the day of departure. The address where we were supposed to meet was listed in the trip details, but the map of our route, which is also listed in trip details, showed a different departure point. I went straight to the point on the map instead of the actual address Teresa had listed, which is more my fault than hers.

By tapping the route section, this map comes up…

I zoomed in on the map and went straight to the point where it showed the route as starting. 
I zoomed in on the map and went straight to the point where it showed the route as starting. I later found out she had just put in the city of Valencia as the origin, and BlaBlaCar had automatically chosen a point in the middle of the city for the beginning of the route.

If you find yourself in the same situation with a discrepancy in where your route starts on the map and where the driver has listed it as starting, it’s obviously best to contact your driver and confirm the details first. I was in a hurry and tired and made a wrong assumption, and ended up having to take a cab to our actual departure point from where I had walked to. Luckily it was only a 5 Euro mistake and Teresa was nice enough to wait 10 minutes past our scheduled departure time for me (I called her when I realized the mix up).

The rest of the trip was smooth sailing. Teresa was an excellent driver, friendly, and attentive to our needs. We “Bla Bla’d” for a while (she also listed her chat level preference in the middle between “Bla” and “Bla Bla Bla” like me), then I connected my phone to her auxiliary cord and put on some music. The other passengers, two young german boys, were pretty quiet throughout the ride. About half way through the trip we took a bathroom break. She took me to the planned drop-off destination, a central train station in Madrid that I had booked a hostel near. She kindly took the other two riders to a further metro stop that got them closer to their actual destination. It took three and a half hours to arrive but time flew with casual conversation, good music, and nice scenery to check out (there are lots of sunflower fields between Valencia and Madrid!)

I haven’t written Teresa’s review yet, but I plan on giving her all five stars.

Teresa on BlaBlaCar

As Teresa has been using BlaBlaCar as a driver and rider for five years, I asked her a few questions to get a better feel for how the service works and how she feels about it from a driver’s perspective.

Out of five years giving and taking rides on BlaBlaCar, she’s only had one uncomfortable experience with a driver driving erratically in the rain, but in the end they arrived to their destination in one piece. At that time evaluations of drivers and riders didn’t exist yet, but they added the feature soon after that happened to her and she said she hasn’t had a similar experience since.

She also mentioned a time with an annoying rider who wouldn’t shut up that she gave a low rating to. When the rider saw her low rating (or so she supposes), he filed a complaint with BlaBlaCar that she had stolen his sunglasses when the truth was that he had left them in her car and while she made an attempt to return them, he never responded to her messages. Nothing negative came of that situation in the end either, just annoyance. She said that in no way has she ever felt in serious danger or threatened.

Two minor instances over five years isn’t a shabby track record. I could easily name more than two negative experiences I’ve had on more organized transportation over the last five years.

How Far Ahead Should You Book?

From what Teresa told me yesterday, she seems to think many drivers put up their rides on average a few days ahead of time. She says she puts hers up about a week before, but considers herself a much bigger planner than most BlaBlaCar users from her experience.

I just looked at rides available for booking between Valencia and Madrid one week out, two weeks out, three weeks, and four weeks out, and they all ranged from about 17 to 25 Euros. While just a surface level test, my search results as well as a five year user’s opinion leads me to believe that there’s a not a big advantage to booking ahead of time. In fact, I’d think your chances of the driver canceling would be higher the farther ahead you booked and that you’d be creating extra work for yourself doing so.

All that being said, I am a brand new user. I would love to hear your comments and experiences using BlaBlaCar.

Bottom Line

BlaBlaCar is a convenient and cheap option for travel when the train, plane, or bus just isn’t going to cut it for whatever reason (too expensive, uncomfortable, etc.) It’s also a nice way to meet new likeminded people. It seems to me the service is perfect for those who travel spontaneously or just need to get somewhere last minute. Trains, planes, and even buses can shoot up in price a few days before departure while ridesharing remains an economical option. I will certainly be using BlaBlaCar more in the future after my positive (and cheap!) experience.

FYI, if you use the popular travel aggregator Rome2Rio, BlaBlaCar does show up in search results.

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