“Life is like riding in a taxi. Whether you are going anywhere or not, the meter keeps ticking.”
John C. Maxwell
Introduction to Taxi Travel Tips
Until my express kidnapping in Puebla, Mexico, I always used taxis, tuk-tuks, and Ubers for most of my daily transportation needs outside the US and Canada. While I continue to use them, I am more cautious than before.
Here is a list of taxi travel tips for long-term travelers and expats over 50 to ensure that the rides go as smoothly as possible.
Hopefully, by following these taxi travel tips, you will never have to suffer something like what happened to me in Puebla.
Ten Taxi Travel Tips
- Fifty Plus Nomads should consider hiring someone to drive them around and/or give them a private tour in Third World Countries. The costs of hiring a car and a driver in much of Asia and Latin America for one day range between $60 and $150 per day. (Frequently, this is not much more than the cost of renting a car). I hired a driver and car for two weeks in Kerala, India, in 2013 for $60/day (plus $10 a day for the driver’s hotel) and considered it one of the best decisions I have ever made. I let the driver make all the plans and enjoyed having the opportunity to learn about his life. Before I decided to hire the driver, I found traveling in India frustrating; with the driver’s help, it was one of the most relaxing trips I have ever taken. It should be noted, however, that hiring a driver in Europe and North America is so expensive that it may not a realistic option. ($300-$600 per day).
- Many places in Asia do not have that many taxis, particularly outside of big cities. Instead, most short distant trips are in what backpackers have come to call ¨tuk-tuks¨ or motorized rickshaws. The word tuk-tuk comes from Thai and means “cheap, cheap” Tuk-tuk-like vehicles can be found throughout Asia and increasingly in rural Latin America. Most of the time, the rules for tuk-tuks do not vary much from taxis.
- In India and the Middle East, tuk-tuk and taxi drivers can be quite tricky. No matter how hard I tried in India, I would be overcharged or (especially with tuk-tuks) taken to souvenir shops on my way to and from my destination. These souvenir trip visits became so much a part of my tourist experience that when I refused in Kochi to be taken to another souvenir shop, the driver told me that he got the gas for his tuk-tuk by bringing tourists to these shops and that he would run out of gas if I did not go into a shop! (So, I went into the shop and left as soon as I saw that he got his gas). I did, however, find that when I hired a driver for the day (usually through the hotel), I normally was able to avoid being taken to souvenir shops. (Some drivers I hired for the day were pleasant and interesting people).
- Know the address of your destination and, if possible, the telephone number. If the driver does not seem to know your destination (common in some Third World Countries), try to find nearby places that the taxicab driver knows. Hotels can be challenging to locate. Names change (One time in Mumbai, the driver could not find my hotel because the Taj hotel chain had recently changed the name from the President to Vivanta. Once he realized the name had changed, after asking several other drivers, we could locate the hotel quickly). Many chains have multiple locations throughout large cities. If the driver does not seem to know where the hotel is, see if you can access the hotel on the internet and show the location to the driver on Google Maps. (Increasingly, taxicab drivers will do this automatically using their GPS). If you can, show the driver the address in local characters, i.e., Cyrillic/Arabic/Chinese. Have the hotel’s phone number so that, if necessary, the driver can call them for directions.
- Avoid being overcharged. Find out average costs from hotel clerks or websites. Ask the driver the price before you enter the cab and if necessary, haggle to get a price near the quote from the hotel. In my mind, if the price is close to what the hotel/website quoted and it is not expensive anyway, I will not haggle if the price difference is less than 10%. Most taxis in the developed world have meters. In Third World Countries, they often do not. Most taxis do not have meters at my home in Merida, Mexico. I usually do not ask how much the trip will cost before I enter the taxi. Instead, I give them what I consider to be a fair price (usually the same as I offer an Uber driver or one of the rare, metered taxis, including a tip): I have never had a problem with this strategy.
- Use taxis provided by kiosks or at the taxi stand at the airport. These taxis are expensive but safe. In many places in the world (including some developed countries), you will be approached by people who want to provide taxi services from the airport. Usually, they will charge you more and, in some places, they can be dangerous. In most developed countries, you can get Ubers at the airport. Some larger airports have Uber-designated waiting areas. You can use the Uber app at others, and the driver will pick you up at the airport.
- Find out about the taxi experience at your destination before you arrive. You should be able to Google to learn about any potential scams and problems with taxis in your destination. (Make sure the information is up to date, some sites report issues with taxis, for example, in Mexico City that was common ten years ago but has all but disappeared today). The most widespread problem is that pirate taxis exist that have meters that will severely overcharge for your trip. Usually, via Google, you will be able to learn which taxicab companies are legitimate. Most legitimate taxis will have a taxi sign and a license.
- In Europe, taxi companies often add legitimate surcharges onto the costs on the meter, such as an airport pick-up, an additional surcharge for Sundays and Holidays, etc. Researching the taxi rules online or in guidebooks will help you identify these surcharges. These surcharges can be substantial. Once in Assisi, Italy, the surcharges were more than the fare! (The hotel owner advised me this would be the case beforehand).
- All these provisos aside, I have had some great experiences with taxi drivers. One time, for example, I was in San Jose, Costa Rica, around midnight in a taxi, and we got lost and ended up in the middle of the red-light district. I told the driver that it was clear we were lost, and when he saw how nervous I was, he told me that he would charge me a minimal amount (about $1, as I recall) and that he would keep driving me until we found the hotel.
- I also had the worst experience traveling in a taxi when I was held for two hours in an “express kidnapping” in Puebla, Mexico, in 2020.