In the Western World, you rarely need to worry about taking a random street taxi, but when you’re outside North America and Western Europe, things get a bit different.
Here’s some general tips to keep in mind when taking taxis abroad.
Moving taxis are safer than stationary taxis
Whenever possible it’s safer to hail a moving taxi than taking a one that’s waiting (unless it’s a taxi rank). This specifically applies to taxis waiting near touristic landmarks (see #2 below).
Do not take taxis near touristic landmarks
Taxis that like to prey on tourists usually do that near touristic landmarks, etc. For example in Rio’s Sugar Loaf and Corcovado areas, taxis like to stiff foreigners with an inflated flat charge to a nearby destination.
In such situations, it’s best to walk a few blocks out of the zone and catch any moving taxi.
Find out reputable taxi companies and call them when in doubt
Usually locals have their favorite one or two taxi companies that they use over and over again. As soon as you meet a local, ask them what they usually prefer. That’s the first thing I did in Bucharest, and it worked out great.
Don’t take taxis when at airport arrivals.
In most Latin American and Eastern European countries it’s a huge rip-off to take a waiting taxi in the arrivals area of the airport. They would quote a flat rate of 10-20x what you’d pay with a normal taxi. Instead, what you should do is get a number of a reputable taxi company and call for one as soon as you land. Alternatively, you can ask a friend to do the same when you land.
An additional tip is to walk outside the airport, and catch a normal taxi on the main road. Those taxis don’t need to pay fees to get into arrivals area and shouldn’t charge you an exorbitant fare.
Track a taxis path on your GPS enabled phone.
I’ve had few scares with taking random taxis in Mexico City’s airport when, on my way to hotel, they would suddenly turn into small streets in poor neighborhoods. I was almost expecting the taxi to stop and two assailants jump in at anytime.
Since then, I always dreamed of landing in an unknown city, hailing a cab, and then tracking exactly which path the taxi takes to get to my destination.
Now, it’s a real possibility using any GPS enabled smartphone.
Go for the older driver if possible
If I’m hailing a taxi at a taxi rank (especially at night), I like to go for an older driver from a reputable company (see #3) since they’ll probably be "less energetic" to do additional things to you aside from driving you to your destination.
Make small talk with driver
In Colombia, when taking random taxis at night, I liked to make small talk with the driver. That served two purposes: I demonstrated that I’m not a stupid gringo who doesn’t know the language and the city, and two, I’m carefully monitoring his mood and behavior via his voice for any irregularities (like if he’s planning to drive me to a warehouse and rob me).
Be the strong silent type
If you don’t speak the local language, then try to say as little as possible (nothing is the best). Don’t speak in your broken Spanish or even English, thinking that everyone in the world speaks fluent English.
When I was leaving Bucharest, the taxi driver asked me something Romanian, and I just said “Otopeni” (the name of the airport), he then asked me something else, but I just ignored him pretending that I didn’t hear.
Ask the driver what main street he’ll take/offer best route
In Mexico City, since I knew the best way to get from Toluca airport to the center, I would usually ask the driver, "are you taking this street or that?" this would make it clear
to the driver that I knew the city well, and that I wouldn’t be ok with him taking me on a scenic route. Use this for longer trips across town, not for quick trips around the block.
Watch the meter
Make sure the meter is reset when you take off, and always monitor the meter to see if it starts going too fast.
One time in Medellin, at night, I got into a taxicab at night with my date, and when I realized the meter wasn’t reset, I informed my date and she told him to put it back. The driver apologized and reset it right away. If he didn’t, I would’ve been charged a huge fare for a fairly short distance.BTW, have you seen my new Facebook page? Click here to check it out, and click Like :)
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