In many cases, one’s exposure to locals while traveling would be the people involved in the service industry – in a taxi, at a restaurant, in a hotel, at the airport, etc.
Here are some of my notable (positive and negative) experiences dealing with taxi drivers around the world.
1- Trying to pile too many people
The cab from Beirut heading back to Damascus was full with 4 passengers. As we were leaving, a man knocked the driver’s window saying he wanted to come along. The driver signaled saying sure get in and asked me to sit behind. I refused to squeeze at the back with 3 men on a 4 hour ride for the same price! I stood my grounds and said no chance that was happening (I don’t speak Arabic, the cab driver spoke no English). I ended up leaving the cab and got transferred to an 8 seater MPV. It still wasn’t very comfortable but at least there were the right number of people in the right number of seats.
At the border crossing into Tajikistan from Uzbekistan, our cab driver kept picking up people on the way to town. Our cab which really should have been for the two of us suddenly became a “bus”. Luckily we’ve never experienced anything as bad as the picture below.
2- Passing on the buck
I was half awake somewhere en route to Amman when the cab driver stopped the car. He was complaining saying he had just been fined 50 JD (70 USD) by the police for speeding. He later kept telling me to tell my dad to give him a good tip (since he just got fined 50 JD) although it wasn’t our fault.
3- Currency Knowledge Scam
We discovered this trick whilst in Aqaba, Jordan. Both parties agree on the price of the journey and at a stop somewhere along the way (say a petrol station), the cab driver will ask for some money upfront (to pay for the petrol for example). This is when the scam begins.
Say they ask for 5 dollars and you give 5 (or 20 because you don’t have a smaller note). Suddenly he’ll turn back to you and show that you had given only 1 dollar, which is bound to happen as you might not be familiar with their currency and therefore made that mistake. You fall for it, take back the 1 dollar note and give him 5 dollars. In actuality, the cab driver has pocketed the 5/20 dollar note you had given earlier and you get only 1 dollar back. What a great scam!
We realised this right away and said all our notes were 20s so there was no way we could’ve given a 1 dollar note. The cab driver started making up some stupid stories and then said ok ok don’t worry just give me 5 (which we didn’t have). We kept complaining sticking to our grounds that we gave 20 dollars until he gave up and realized that we weren’t going to be victims of his “brilliant” scam.
4- Nowhere to go
We landed late in the evening in Damascus and had no idea where we would spend the night. We told the cab driver to take us to the city center where we hoped to find a cheap hostel. Of course the cab driver took us to his friend’s tourist agency, created some stories and we ended up paying too much for the night staying nowhere near downtown.
5- He knows better
We had 24 hours in St Vincent and the Grenadines and wanted to see as much as possible. We told our cab driver for the day where we wanted to go and he kept saying our itinerary was impossible as one MUST take one’s time to enjoy every site. He was the slowest driver on the roads of the island and we gritted our teeth for the 8 hours of the very slow ride and missed out on many spots we wanted to see as he refused to drive any more than 40km per hour.
The best part was he drove the whole time wearing leather gloves.
6- Dishonest drivers with fake meters
On the way back to our hotel after visiting the One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi in Vietnam, I noticed the taxi meter rising at an incredible speed. We weren’t even half way and yet the price was almost what we paid earlier that morning to get there. I told the cab driver I didn’t have that much cash (not true, I just didn’t want to be cheated). He screamed at me, stopped the cab and made us get out in the middle of nowhere. We had no idea where we were and it took a while before we found our bearings.
7- Let’s get all their money
In my early days of traveling and not having had much experience being scammed, my two friends and I learnt a tough lesson in Bandung, Indonesia. Instead of dropping us off at the next stop where we would get the next “angkut” (like a shared taxi/van) from, this “angkut” driver took us all the way up to Tangkuban Perahu and made us pay an unbelievable amount for it. I don’t know why we even paid and not make him stop his “angkut” way beforehand.
8- You are going to jail
Possibly one of the scariest experiences I have ever faced happened in Turkmenistan. I was sure we agreed on 30 USD that morning when suddenly the guy asked us for 300 USD. He was shouting at the top of his lungs at the reception of the opulent 5-star Oguzkent Hotel in Ashgabat shouting the words “Police Police” “You JAIL” (I believe we only stayed there because it made getting the visa easier). He mentioned the petrol cost him 80 USD which was a joke as Lonely Planet stated that the price of petrol there is about 2 cents per liter. When asking the receptionist how much petrol cost there, the receptionist blatantly lied to our faces and agreed with the taxi driver (surely he will get a percentage of what we would end up paying). In the end, we got the French Hotel Manager involved and I’m not sure why (like what happened in Indonesia), we paid him about 120 USD.
9. No clue where the destination was & new fare
We agreed with this taxi driver at the airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan to pay him 10 USD after a long time haggling. It was soon obvious that he had no idea where he was going and told us that our hotel did not exist. Peter got annoyed and said “Vagzhal vagzhal” for train station as he knew our hotel was near one. Peter ended up spotting our hotel after some time. As we were about to pay the agreed upon 10 USD fare, the taxi driver told us it was 10 USD PER PERSON, so it would be 20 USD.
I was so tired of yet another taxi driver trying to scam us, barged into the hotel to explain the situation to the receptionist to ask for help by typing on her laptop using google translate (that went back and forth in English to Russian and vice-versa) as my Russian was non-existent. This amazing receptionist then literally shouted to the taxi driver (defending us her poor guests) and we ended up paying only 10 USD.
1- To our rescue
Arriving at the train station in Lodz, Poland late one night, we got a cab to take us to the airport where we thought we’d spend the night. We got there and it was closed. The taxi driver spoke no English and being the students we were, were terrified at where we’d spend the night and how much this taxi ride would cost.
This kind man switched off the meter, drove us to the other terminal where the security guard hopped into our taxi, drove us back to our terminal, unlocked the doors to this airport and locked us in. This was possibly in 2007. I don’t think this would happen in our current world today.
2- Don’t get lost
It was end of March, snowing, somewhere outside of Helsinki. We had no idea where our hostel was but got off at the stop where the bus driver thought was the nearest stop. Unsure where exactly to go in the freezing cold, we were startled when we suddenly saw the bus reverse all the way back to where we were standing to point us in the right direction.
3- I will be there for you
We were in the outskirts of Samarkand, Uzbekistan trying to figure out how to get to the border in the south to cross into Tajikistan. I was literally surrounded by a group of local men while trying to explain what I wanted in the very little Russian I had – “zavtra utram Denau” (tomorrow morning Denau – only when arriving in Denau did I realise that this “border” town was 20km away from the actual border and had to renegotiate prices using drawings).
4- You are my family
We were a group of ten arriving late to Cappadocia, Turkey one freezing winter night in December. We were rushing to catch the performance of the swirling sufis and asked our tour guide where we could have dinner after. The driver who heard that one of us was called Ali (in actuality it was Alin) got so excited that one of us had the same name as his son and invited us over to his house after the performance.
When we arrived, a huge feast was laid out for us. His wife and daughter-in-law were slaving in the kitchen the entire time while we were watching the swirling sufis show. What incredible hospitality from a random local Turkish man.
Kindness knows not our skin colour, race, language or religion. Underneath it all, we are all humans that are capable to love and be kind to one another unconditionally.