Believe it or not, sometimes it’s easier to travel cross-continent than it is from Point A to Point B within a city. Should you risk getting ripped off by a taxi with an illegal meter? Can you negotiate a bus route that changes without warning when there’s construction? Or (gasp!) do you test your driving skills and sanity by renting a car?
As two people who sold both their cars before starting their travels, I don’t think either of us is too big on renting a car in a city if we have other options. When you are not familiar with the local traffic regulations or the quirky habits of the drivers, it just feels like too big a leap. I will never forget watching your facial muscles become increasingly tense in Panama City as you muttered under your breath, “Wait, they’re not allowed to do that!”
Panama City was a crazy place to rent a car, but at least driving through Chile was uneventful. Having an International Driving License helps when renting around the world. Fortunately, I’ve never had to provide it for the local policia. In many Latin American countries, if you’re in an accident, both parties are immediately put in jail and a judge later decides who should pay.
Then there are the taxis and, oh boy, have we had some adventures there. We won’t talk about the time that we got in the wrong taxi after pre-arranging for a driver to meet us at our hotel.
To this day I’m not sure if the driver knew he was not the one we expected, but it was like a scene from a movie as we tried to escape and he insisted on driving us to the airport despite our protests.
Many airports have implemented set fares to avoid drivers overcharging the gringos. Even with that, we had a guy who claimed at the end of the ride that tolls were not included and demanded extra money.
Drivers will also claim they don’t have change. Seasoned expats tell us the best response is to thank them for the free ride. The driver will magically find the needed change.
I know that to avoid these conundrums you always prefer to go with a ride service that varies depending on the country.
Most people are familiar with Uber, but there’s a host of other services including Easy Taxi in Latin America, Grab in Southeast Asia, and Didi in China. Among the advantages is not needing to be fluent in the language to communicate: before you get picked up, the driver already knows your destination and can track the route via his GPS system.
In some places, like Cambodia, these services are so new that the drivers are having a hard time learning how to use the driver application. At least I can use my phone GPS to track our progress and give the driver directions. There are also places where taxi drivers are getting very aggressive with ride-sharing cars. I’ve had to get in the front seat many times, so it’s less obvious why we’re in the car.
Let us know your stories of how you get from place to place. It’s always an adventure…
by: Mike & Eileen Brill-Wagner