Just as Airbnb has changed where we sleep when traveling, tech-driven start-ups are impacting the way we journey and explore destinations. From bus transportation to boat excursions, “sharing,” is the new “moving.”
Fueled by a desire for more efficient and affordable transit, with less environmental impact, each of the companies below began with a frustrated traveler thinking beyond traditional methods of transportation.
The results are liberating for travelers. Today, you can zip along the winding roads of Provence without waiting in a crowded rental car agency. Discover Buenos Aires’ eclectic neighborhoods through pedal power instead of spending a small fortune on taxis. Or, simply bus across vast distances without sacrificing hours to research.
Savvy travelers know transportation can provide a window seat into a culture and often become the most interesting and rewarding aspect of a trip. Check out these tools to keep the journey moving.
Ride sharing services pair drivers and passengers going in the same direction to share costs and reduce vehicle emissions. The founders of Paris-based Bla Bla Car, the world’s largest ride-sharing company with over 25 million users in 22 countries, were sparked by the inefficiency in multitudes of cars on highways carrying one person.
For new users, the first question is, “What does ‘Bla Bla’ mean?” The term refers to a scale for optimizing rides. One “Bla” means not inclined to chatter, three indicates door-to-door conversation. Users can also specify musical taste and smoking preference and choose pet-friendly cars and a “Ladies Only” option. A rating system, similar to Airbnb, allows drivers with positive reviews to achieve “Ambassador” status.
Important to know
-Costs: The spirit of ride sharing is to cover costs not generate profit. The company suggests fares for routes, plus caps maximum rates. Be sure to check fares against bus and train costs.
-Safety: Phone numbers and social media connections are verified, not driving records. Check user reviews carefully. Select a ride with other passengers to ease concerns.
-Insurance: Each driver’s existing car insurance covers passengers in case of accident, plus supplemental coverage is included.
-Meeting: Meeting points are generally central locations where passengers can easily reach such as bus or train stations. This isn’t a taxi, don’t expect door-to-door service. If something feels off, trust your gut and walk away. There is always another method of transit.
From Toronto to London, cities are investing in bike share programs to encourage less traffic congestion and healthy commuting. Industry leader Motivate organizes the 12 largest bike share programs in the U.S. including BIKETOWN, unveiled last month in Portland, with 1,000 bikes at 100 stations. Motivate’s Director of Communications Dani Simons says bike sharing allows visitors to experience more layers of a city.
“Biking is great because it allows you to really soak in the sights, sounds, smells of a place that you miss if you’re in a car or taxi or subway,” says Simons. “You’re going slow enough to notice things—a local art installation, a food truck, a little boutique. But you’re going fast enough to cover real ground and explore multiple neighborhoods in one day.”
Riders usually sign up for membership via an app or on-site kiosk, then choose between a single ride, day rental, or annual membership.
Important to know
-Costs: While a handful of cities offer free rides, most shares charge by the hour or daily. BIKETOWN rates are $2.50 per a single ride up to 30 minutes or $12 per day with 180 minutes of ride time.
-Share vs rental: The biggest perk of sharing is picking up and dropping off at different locations, allowing for maximum spontaneity. For families, traditional rentals may be the best option as many programs feature adult bikes only.
-Safety: Helmets are not mandatory in many destinations. In Oregon, bike helmets are recommended but not required for cyclists 16 years or older. With most bike-sharing services, riders must bring their own.
-Additional fees: Carefully check fine print for costs of exceeding time allotments, using non-system bike racks, and settlements if a bike is damaged, lost, or stolen.
With the motto, “Own the trip, not the car,” leading car share company, Zipcar boasts over a million users. According to VP of Marketing Andrew Daley, since founding in 2000, Zipcar’s user base has expanded from predominately urban millennials to all ages and backgrounds, including travelers. “Zipcar members will reserve a vehicle for a day trip outside of the city or to explore a scenic drive for just the time they need it,” says Daley.
Another appealing option for travelers is being able to select a car for a particular
activity. Reserve a convertible for the beach, an SUV for the mountains, or luxury wheels for a night out. After receiving a Zipcard, members gain access to cars in 500 cities around the world. Reserve a car via the app or website, then—cool factor alert—use your card to open the door.
Important to know
-Membership: Membership is required making this option most beneficial for multiple trips. Rates vary by location with a recent search in Atlanta quoting $70/year or $7/month for occasional usage to $50/month for greater frequency.
-Costs per rental: Rates typically start at $6 – $8/hour or $59/day, and include gas, 180 miles a day, 24-hour roadside assistance and $300,000 of liability insurance.
-Zipcar vs traditional rental: Zipcars are generally parked in lots in popular areas, which means no waiting in line at rental car agency. When you finish the day’s activity, drop the car in a designated spot to avoid overnight parking fees in metro areas.
San Francisco-based Boatbound helps boat owners not using their vessels (a typical boat sees less than 30 days per year of use, according to industry estimates,) to offset costs of ownership through rental. Founder Aaron Hall says, “Unlike a boat club, there are no expensive membership fees or monthly payments. You only pay when you rent.” Hall recommends engaging boat owners to optimize the trip.
“Boat owners love talking about boating. Ask them for their recommendations on where to go and what to do, and they’ll have a list of great suggestions that you would never read in a destination guide,” says Hall, adding that users can message owners before booking.
Boatbound boasts inventory of over 13,000 boats in 2,100+ cities around the world.
Important to know
-Costs: Options range from $60/day for an 8-foot inflatable dinghy to $12,000/day for a super yacht and crew.
-Insurance: Insurance is included in the rental fee. A minimum security deposit of $500 is required, although individual boat owners may require a higher amount.
-Captain: Most rentals come with the option of adding a captain for an additional fee. If you plan to captain the vessel, individual owners may require proof of sea-worthiness.
Though it doesn’t involve sharing space, industry leader Busbud hopes to revolutionize bus travel through the sharing of information. The company has been described as the Kayak aggregator for buses, allowing users to search over 10,000 cities in 63 countries, without navigating different currencies and languages.
While on a backpacking trip across South America, Harvard-grad LP Maurice grew frustrated by the time required to research and organize bus travel. He wrote Busbud’s business plan while on a bus in Argentina. “What’s revolutionary is that this type of technology (online booking and ticket reservations) has existed for a long time for flights and hotels, but it’s only recently that people can book online for intercity bus travel,” says Maurice. “The reason is that while there are a hundred or so airlines in the world, there are thousands of bus operators, often serving only one or two routes, and these companies do not necessarily have the resources dedicated to create an online booking experience.”
Today, Busbud facilitates over two million departures weekly through big carriers like Flix Bus and Greyhound as well as locally-based operators.
Important to know
-Costs: Busbud offers a tool:http://www.busvsplane.com/en for comparing time and costs of bus versus air travel. For big savings, join the $1 “Club”: https://www.busbud.com/promo-dollar-bus-club/ to receive email notifications of $1 tickets from your departure city.
-Class: Bus companies are upping the luxury so be sure to check for amenities in each class, often the biggest differiator on price.
Money saving tip: Before booking, search the company name with terms like “discount code” and “introductory offer,” to see what savings are available.
Photo: heather buckley, CC-BY
Jess Simpson is a writer chasing a dream of slow travel in a fast world. Currently experiencing a three-month immersion in Trentino, Italy. Next on the horizon: Bulgaria. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.