Now that there are no more border controls, even people who’ve barely heard of the Schengen agreement can take advantage of it at least once a year during their summer holidays. Europe could be a land of the free-to-roam if it weren’t for money troubles. Yet even a free European can’t get that far into his neighbouring countries without some euros in his pocket.

The solution, car-sharing, is not necessarily a new idea. The best known German car-pooling agency, ADM (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Deutscher und Europäischer Mitfahrzentralen), has operated across the country for many years. The same goes for the ICS in Italy (Iniziativa car sharing). France’s FEDUCO (Fedération du covoiturage) is a younger organisation, but has enjoyed a lot of popularity in its first few months. However, while these networks often demand a placement fee, or complicate signing up to their club with formalities like membership costs, a parallel internet community has sprung up alongside agency-run schemes to offer cheap lifts without the bureaucracy.

Less bureacracy, more travelling

There are almost too many internet car-sharing sites to count, most of which act as a noticeboard where people can post a "lift offered" or "lift wanted" ad. For France alone, Parisians with experience of car-sharing cited around eighty specialist websites. That’s why the more well-known sites with the most traffic – such as www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de (Germany), www.trasportiamoci.it (Italy), www.covoiturage.fr (France) or www.autospolujizda.cz (Czech Republic) – are often the first port of call. These platforms don’t only offer short trips within your own country; you will also find offers for longer journeys into other countries.

The advantages of car-sharing are obvious: apart from lower levels of pollution, the other reward for your ecologically responsible behaviour are much lower travel costs. For example, a car-sharing trip from Paris to Prague in the peak holiday month of July was offered on covoiturage.fr for just 40 – 60 euros. Making the trip via Frankfurt with French and German railway groups SNCF and Deutsche Bahn would, on the other hand, come in at a hefty 106 euros.

Cheap and cheerful

Cheap flights don’t compare either – you always have to take into account the journey from the airport into town, whereas with car-sharing, you can decide where you’ll be dropped off. Anna, an American exchange student in Paris, tried it out. Although sceptical at first when a German friend suggested they car-share their way to the Balkans, she soon got used to the idea. "To start with, I felt a bit funny about it – I had all kinds of crazy suspicions about the person offering us a lift." But he turned out to be a perfectly nice electrician who makes the trip from Berlin to the Czech Republic every day and was sick of spending hours alone in his empty van – Anna even picked up a few words of German and Czech. "It was really great," she says. "Everywhere’s so close in Europe. You can get around really cheaply! I’m a bit jealous of you."

Lillian Maria Pithan (Translation – Lindsey Evans)