Hitchhiking, especially as a woman, has never been the safest activity. But the rise of smartphones and social networks has made the prospect of sharing a car—or a house—with a stranger much more palatable. Add that to the fact that young adults are buying fewer cars than ever, and there’s a strong case for car companies to start digging into carsharing and other alternative revenue streams.
Enter Lindsay Rule, University of Pennsylvania student, Architizer blogger, and aspiring architect. As part of a partnership between Architizer and Audi’s Urban Future Initiative, which examines the convergence of mobility, architecture, and urban development, Rule was sent on an ambitious assignment: traveling from Boston to San Francisco in two weeks without spending any money (there was a $100 emergency fund). She succeeded.
I met up with Rule at her final destination: Audi’s Powell Street Promenade in downtown San Francisco. She was surprisingly exuberant for someone who spent the last 14 days coordinating free journeys Westward. How did she do it?
There were a handful of services that made the trip possible: Facebook, Craigslist, Ridejoy (a ridesharing service), and CouchSurfing. When Rule began her journey in Boston, she didn’t know what to do—how could she start organizing the trip without WiFi? So she spent a little bit of her emergency cash on a cheap bus ticket to New York City that came with WiFi and a power outlet. Rule ended up hitching a ride with a photographer that she found on Craigslist all the way to Chicago, where she used Facebook to find a friend’s couch on which to crash. Soon Rule discovered a woman on Craigslist who was giving away a free bus ticket to Madison, Wisconsin—Rule accepted it and continued her journey, staying in Wisconsin with a couchsurfer who later drove her to Minneapolis.
Rule’s trip across the country continued like that—completely unplanned, made possible entirely by the kindness of strangers, including an entire CouchSurfing community in Missoula, Montana called Orange Acres. "This would have been impossible without social media," she explains. And yet, she never realized before the trip how vast this digital sharing network really was. "I had confidence in it. I’d do it again," she says.
Audi, for its part, realizes the significant of how easy it’s becoming to travel in the U.S. without owning a car. "Mobility in cities is getting more and more relevant to us," says Dominik Stampfl of the Audi Urban Future Initiative. "In the future, we’ll need more than cars."