After flying for hours on end, it’s a relief to stand finally on terra firma again. After collecting your bags, visa stamp in hand, you’re ready for your next adventure.
This, unfortunately, is one of my most stressful travel moments. We stand at the curb looking at the possibility (actually high probability in some countries) of crossing paths with a taxi driver who will demand the Gringo price. Too many times we’ve experienced a driver who only sees Western travelers as dancing dollar signs.
When the Fare’s Not the Fare
I will never forget the guy in Quito who demanded a fare, at the end of the ride, of course, that was far above the previously negotiated rate from the airport. He had a crazy story about tolls and traffic that he never mentioned at the beginning of the ride. With our bags still locked in his trunk, we had no choice but to pay. This was not the warm, Ecuadorian welcome we had hoped for.
Using mobile smartphone applications, you can easily set up an account and seamlessly get a ride. I like that I can set the destination in the application and get a fare estimate quickly. It also bridges the communications gap when we don’t share the same language with the driver.
Uber—When It’s Available
Uber has made it easy to have a consistently pleasant experience hiring a driver almost anywhere in the world. I say “almost”, since some countries, Ecuador being one, have sadly banned the service. My only complaint is that Uber makes it a challenge in some countries updating your local phone number. I use an unlocked international cell-phone and purchase local service in every country we travel to. Uber, fortunately, has implemented a secure method that doesn’t allow human intervention.
Easy Taxi is a decent alternative in South America since it sets your fare in advance with a local taxi. The application is not as robust as I would like, but is still very handy when you don’t want to wait at the curb for a ride. Grab Car is best for Southeast Asia; we’ve used it in Thailand and Vietnam where it works very well. Didi Chuxing is dominant in China after acquiring Uber China. Only available in Mandarin, it has focused only on the local Chinese market. Didi now has a partnership with Apple and plans to launch an English-language version (watch out Uber!). Lyft in the USA has grown tremendously with plans to expand to other countries.
Many new airports are far from the city center which can result in an expensive ride. Sometimes it makes sense to use an express bus or train service to the city center, which can be much more cost-effective. Once you’re downtown, it will be cheaper to hire a car.
I don’t want to paint a picture that implies taxis are always this way. Our experience is that most drivers are very reasonable. To make the experience better, cities are getting serious about encouraging taxis to be friendlier to foreign travelers. Some use preset fares to popular destinations (aeropuerto to el centro for instance) others require drivers to use meters at all times (thank you Cuenca and Medellin!).
Let us know your favorite taxi tale, I’m sure there are some crazy stories to tell!
by: Michael Wagner