Welcome to Part 6 of my money-saving series. After airfare, accommodation, and food, the next money-guzzler in your travel budget will likely be local transportation, especially the dreaded ride from/to the airport. (If you haven’t read the first five articles, they can be found here.)
Below I give you several ways to avoid taxis, as well as tips for those times when you just can’t avoid them.
From the airport
You land at your destination after spending a day (or more) in planes and airports. You’re tired, frazzled, sleep-deprived and jet-lagged. Yet there is one more thing you must do: get to your accommodation.
Resist the urge to jump into the first taxi you see. Unless it is really late at night or early in the morning, you probably have cheaper options. And hopefully you have researched those ahead of time.
Take the shuttle
Many airports offer shuttle buses or mini-vans that take a group of passengers to pre-determined stops, passing through or ending at a central location like a train station or central square. They run on a regular schedule so you just need to buy your ticket and wait for the next one.
Take the train
Even better, many countries (Japan, Australia, most countries in Western Europe) have an urban train link directly to their main airport. These trains provide reliable and safe (not to mention cheap) transportation into the city centre and usually link with public transit once in town.
Even Toronto now has a train link to the airport called UP Express!
Take public transit
If you’re travelling with little luggage, consider taking a public transit bus or metro. Yes, it may take more time (although metros can beat taxis for speed), and will require more planning, such as printing google maps, schedules, etc. but the price can’t be beat. This is more easily done during daytime (for easier orientation) and outside the crush of rush hours.
Whether you take a shuttle, train, or public transit, you should know where to get off and how to get to your accommodation from the drop-off point. Research on the web, print maps (or use your phone GPS) and figure it out ahead of time if possible. If not, you should be able to find a tourist office or info desk at the airport to help sort it out.
If you must…
If your only choice is to take a taxi (or you’re too much of a zombie to do anything else), look around the airport’s arrival hall for a taxi counter where you can purchase fixed-price tickets. (This may also be located just outside by the taxi line-up.) You now find those in an increasing number of places, including developing countries.
In the absence of a taxi counter, ask if the taxis use meters. If not, it is likely that you will have to bargain the price with the driver. Do not accept the first rate; propose a lower amount. If the driver won’t take it, try a different cab. Airports are not the best place to negotiate fares, as taxis often have to pay airport fees and tolls that are passed on to you, but you may be able to save a few dollars if you ask. Avoid the guys who start following you, offering taxis while you’re still “inside” the airport. They may not even be official.
Moving around town
Assuming you don’t have your own wheels, you’ll need to use public transit or walk if you want to avoid expensive taxis.
Get a transit pass
Public transit (light rail, metro, trams, buses), where it exists, doesn’t cost much more than a couple of dollars. It might be as cheap as 25 cents! If you’re going to be taking three rides or more in a day, inquire about the existence of a day pass, multi-ride ticket, or rechargeable card, and compare the prices. Get yourself a transit map, and start travelling around the city like a local.
If you plan your sightseeing to focus on one area at a time, you should be able to use your own feet to do a lot of the “travelling”. Even in large cities, tourist attractions often tend to cluster in a few downtown neighbourhoods. Walking is a great way to sightsee and people-watch in itself.
Look for free or cheap ferries
I guess taxis are not really an option here, but if you like water travel, check out the alternatives before handing out the big bucks for the expensive sunset cruise. Whenever locals need to use a boat or ferry to cross a river or channel, it is considered part of public transit, which means inexpensive or even free. Example are the Star Ferry in Hong Kong, the Toronto Island ferry, the Staten Island Ferry in New York City, the ferries in Sydney Harbour, and the Chao Phraya river ferry in Bangkok.
If you must…
If there is no public transit (Phnom Penh in Cambodia comes to mind) or you need to access a location not served by transit, then you will need to rely on taxis, or similar (tuk-tuks, rickshaws, cyclos, moto-remorques). They may come in many shapes and forms. At one end of the spectrum you have air-conditioned cars with functioning seat-belts, and at the other end a skinny man pedalling a bicycle attached to a small cart!
Unless the vehicle has a taximeter and the driver is willing to use it, you need to bargain. How do you know what is a fair price? Ask at your hotel, at a restaurant, or at the tourist office. If the first taxi you stop asks for twice that price (or more), wave him away and wait for the next one. Taxis are easier to bargain in some countries than others. If possible, avoid rush hour, when there is more demand than supply and traffic is slow.
What do I have against taxis?
Beside being more expensive than other options and often overcharging foreigners, taxis are sometimes unsafe. Indeed, in some countries anybody with a car can call himself a taxi driver. In Mexico, muggings and robberies of tourists are common in unlicensed taxis. Mexico is one country where you shouldn’t hail a taxi on the street, but instead ask your hotel to call one, or get one at a taxi stand. As well, the seat belts of most taxis in developing nations do not work, and some drivers appear to be on a suicide mission.
Unless it is late at night or early in the morning, of if I’m trying to get to a far-away bus station while carrying my luggage, or to a remote attraction that is not served by public transportation, I try to avoid taxis.
When going to a remote attraction, try to find a few other travellers to share the cost, and make sure you know how you’ll be coming back (for example you could ask the taxi to wait, return at a given time, or call one from your phone). If you’re sharing the cost with one or more people, then it may actually make sense to take a taxi.
What about a rental car?
If you’re a confident driver and you’re travelling with at least one other person, renting a car might make budget sense. However, in most countries, rental cars are more advantageous when travelling between towns and exploring the countryside rather than maneuvering through crowded city streets looking for parking.
Inter-city transportation will be the topic of next Friday’s post!