A few days ago
I found myself
screwed over by a taxi.
The details are irrelevant.
I believed him. Why?!?!!!
I ended up in a less than desirable situation
stuck at the Nicaraguan border
in the dark
with no connecting bus.
And this happens to me
and many travelers
all of the time.
Paying ten times the going rate.
Told my hostel was shut down.
Brought to an abandoned bus station.
Driven in circles while the meter soared.
In an attempt to finally break this pattern
I’ve created some guidelines for all of you.
Do not speak their language
Literally. If you actually don’t speak any Spanish, congratulations this step will be very easy for you. If you do speak Spanish, no matter how limited, keep that card close to your chest. This is usually my downfall as meeting people, learning about local culture, and practicing the language are some of my favorite aspects of travel.
If you must communicate, offer as little information as possible
The more information you offer the more power they have in their ability to manipulate you. Particularly if you say anything with hesitation or uncertainty. Be confident and decisive. “Go to x location where I have a reservation at y time.” No additional information regarding your needs is necessary. Asserting that you might not like the hotel, that the place might be fully booked, etc. swings the door wide open for them to direct you towards their agenda.
Do not heed their advice, stick to your original plan
Unfortunately the advice of taxi drivers is usually self-serving. They do not want you to take the bus. They want you to take a taxi, especially if that means hours and hundreds of dollars. They want you to stay in a hotel that they suggest, for as long as possible, as it will be one that pays them for their referrals. You need to look out for yourself, no matter how nice and accommodating they may seem. Remember that it is your responsibility to have your own best interest in mind, not theirs.
If they ask if you have a ticket or a reservation always say YES
See above. They are looking for opportunities to tell you that the bus is sold out or not running. That your hotel is booked or in a dangerous neighborhood. Trust yourself and your research. Whether you have the ticket or reservation or not sticking to that plan will likely produce a better option.
Establish the rate before you enter the taxi
Better yet do your research on what the rate should be before you get in so that you have a clear frame of reference in your negotiations. Too many times I’ve been given an absurd rate at the end of the ride, but I pay anyway as insulting them with less doesn’t sit well with me. This could be avoided by simply determining the rate first.
If it’s your first time in the country be certain on the exchange rate
Ideally have your guidebook with the exchange rate in it. I made the terrible mistake of asking my taxi driver my first night in Granada what the exchange rate was… even though I was pretty sure I knew. He asserted that it was twenty times in his favor. When I argued, he pretended to call the tourism board then put me on the phone with someone who lied to me as well. When I continued to argue (apologetically) he held me hostage, saying that the road to my hostel was closed, until I confirmed his lies with strangers on the street and got out of the taxi. In the end I paid ten times the going taxi rate rather than two hundred times and walked to my hostel. Maybe I should have paid him nothing? Karma keeps me generous.
Some common lies to look out for:
“That hotel is full, let me take you to a better one.”
“The buses aren’t running, it’s better to take a taxi.”
“The buses are all full and sold out. They have nothing until next week. Come, let me take you to a nice hotel.”
“I can’t take you there, it’s much too dangerous. Let me take you here instead.”
The sad reality is that there are desperate people who see tourists as disoriented money trees ripe for manipulation. However, this is not always the case and I don’t want to discourage anyone from talking to people when traveling. In fact, it’s one of the best parts of traveling! Interacting!
However, be selective when you choose to be chatty. Why not reserve your candor for the times when you are not vulnerable? For instance in the day with friends when you have no cares, no agenda, and no luggage. The times I have been swindled are typically at night, alone, with all of my belongings. Particularly when I am fresh off of the bus looking for my hostel or in a hurry to get somewhere with no ticket nor reservation.
My general rule of thumb in every situation, particularly as a woman traveling alone, is to take a deep breath, be confident, and use your instincts.
Do you have any taxi nightmares or lessons learned to share?