For the average tourist not in possession of a car, native or otherwise, getting from place to place in Iceland can be a hassle. Choices are usually limited to some form of public transit, be it flying or riding a bus. And while both are fine, if expensive, ways to commute, many travellers in Iceland operate on shoe-string budgets and seating on these modes of transport can be limited. Luckily, an alternative is now available for those of us not quite daring enough to hitchhike our way around Iceland’s countryside, but feel adequately adventurous to share our travelogue with complete strangers. I am speaking of a website, and one that doesn’t actually look all that impressive either, until one is impressed upon by the sheer and simplistic beauty of the idea behind it. Those among the Grapevine’s German readership might be familiar with its concept, as it originated there; however, for most, it remains an undiscovered, though environmentally viable, source of thrift and adventure.
The website in question is called ‘Samferða’ (a word which roughly translates as ‘travel together’) and it offers travellers a chance to pool their resources, so to speak. As the site’s operator, Birgir Þór Halldórsson, puts it: “The objective is really simple: to share the cost of travelling cross country. If you are planning a drive to, say, Akureyri on a particular day and need a travel mate to share the cost, you can register your name, e-mail and phone number on the site. Those looking for a cheap ride to there can then contact you, arrange to be your travel mate and share the cost. You can, of course, also register if you are looking for a ride somewhere – then it works in the reverse. It is a known fact that travelling alone can be extremely boring, so getting a complete stranger to share the ride and its cost is a fun way to save some money and meet new people.”
Halldórsson, a computer programmer and photography enthusiast, explains that the idea for the site came from a German friend who told him similar sites were popular in her native country. She had some problems travelling while visiting Iceland last summer and asked him to set something like this up. That’s when www.samferda.net was born.
“It was only a matter of days until we got the site up and running, and I am proud to say that we got some traffic right away. The endeavour seemed very viable to me, as I love meeting new and interesting people… I have used samferda.net several times since we got it up and running. I wouldn’t exactly say that I’ve made many friends using it, but I’ve certainly saved some money whilst managing to avoid boredom. That’s important.”
The site has not been advertised, according to Halldórsson, and instead relies solely on word-of-mouth and the occasional media feature. “We’re not really doing this to make money; that would be absurd, so advertising the site wouldn’t make a lot of sense. I think about it more like a service I provide to interested parties who can seek it out and have done so in the past.” Halldórsson is convinced that once the media starts taking notice, site traffic will pick up even more. Either way, the site doesn’t take a lot of money or effort to run. The internet domain came cheap and a nature preservation organisation called Landvernd contacted him when they found the site and were so enamoured with the idea that they decided to sponsor the initiative.
Since its conception last July, www.samferda.net has been steadily growing, although the frequency and ratio of travellers utilising it depends on the season. “Our most busy time, thus far, has probably been around Verslunarmannahelgi [Merchant’s Holiday]. That’s when the numbers really go through the roof. But the e-mails and stories I’ve been getting indicate that signing-up for a ride is always worth a shot, if nothing else. From what I see, browsing our cache, it seems to me that foreigners and locals are using the site about the same. We translated it to German and English, so I figure most people should be able to understand it. If there’s anyone out there that would like to try his hand at translating the site into French, or maybe Japanese, they should drop me a line at email@example.com It would be cool to make it available in more languages.”
When asked if he has plans to expand the samferda.net network in any way, Halldórsson unveiled his scheme for constructing a similar site, albeit with a slightly different purpose: “Some students from Reykjavík University contacted me with the idea to make a website, similar to samferda.net, which would focus more on long-term, everyday carpooling. A lot of people commute a long way to work or school every day: sitting alone in their cars, stuck in traffic and listening to the radio. Since public transit in and around Reykjavík now seems to be completely disregarded, it would at least be better if people were sharing the ride from Borgarnes to Bifröst, or whatever. I don’t live in Reykjavík so I couldn’t use it, but I think a lot of people would. At least we’d be supplying a venue that makes it easier.”