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Avoid Taxi Scams Like a Pro

It’s been about eight months since I’ve done some adventure traveling, but as soon as I got to Colombia I quickly remembered that no one enjoys being ripped off.

One of the best things about coming from a developed country is that, in comparison, most places are quite affordable and, in some cases, much cheaper than our own living costs at home. This fact isn’t lost on poorer countries like Vietnam and Mexico, who realize that earning power can be so much greater abroad. And with this, there are lots of people who like to capitalize on tourists who just simply don’t know any better.

In my defense, my traveling patterns have changed significantly over the years in tandem with my own earning power. I can often afford most places I want to go to these days, with the exception of a few ridiculous places. As a result, I’ve also done a lot less adventure travel in developing countries than I have in the past — my travel is a more of a mix of developed and developing these days.

But basically, hey, that’s just a long-winded way of saying I pulled a super noobie mistake the other day upon landing in Cartagena. Hey, everyone is allowed to get a little rusty from time to time. But it did remind me of the basics of not being gouged as a tourist.

Learn the language basics. Doing this alone won’t stop you from getting ripped off; my Spanish is more than proficient and it still happened to me. The nice thing about picking up a few phrases, though, is that it can help you spot a fishy situation much easier.

Put in the time to research. This step is underestimated; in my case, I had been lazy with my trip planning—hey, I’ve got real-life stuff to deal with—and was pretty much just winging everything as soon as I got to Colombia. Had I even spent *three minutes* reading the Wikivoyage travel of Cartagena, I would have known that the cost of a taxi to that particular neighborhood would have cost 5,000 to 10,000 pesos instead of the 16,000 I ended up paying. Even a quick email to the hostel would have cleared this up.

Every country or city has its own set of scams. For instance, in Ho Chi Minh City, even if you’re careful, you could still end up in a fake taxi where the meters have been rigged. There will always be a few indicators to look for, to figure out if you’re being scammed. For instance, in Vietnam, you’ll want to make sure that the drivers are wearing a tie and are in the official driver garb.

Though sometimes the money lost is minimal, in principle, I’m generally against overpaying because I believe it leads to inflation within the local economy and adversely affects its residents.

Think twice before using the taxi stand. Taxi stands are there to prevent you from getting ripped off — in theory. This isn’t always necessarily true; and it’s not certainly the case in Cartagena. In Bogota, Colombia’s capital, you might be better off. I would try getting another quote besides the taxi stand’s price before you decide on your method of transportation. If in doubt, I resort to some of the other tactics below.

Use the cabs at the domestic terminal instead of using the cabs at the international terminal. International tourists are more likely to be gouged when it comes to taxi scams, cause guess what? You’re bound to get a few people who aren’t from around town and wouldn’t know the real prices of things if it slapped them in their face. After all, they’ve only been there for 40 minutes and they’ve just been going through customs. At small airports, this trick often works especially well.

Walk down the street for five minutes to get a cab instead of grabbing one right outside. This advice pretty much falls in line with the previous trick; the important thing here is you actually don’t want to grab a cab at the curbside. This can work well for other places where taxi drivers can target tourists, such as bus stations.

Get a price estimate before you get in the car. This goes for anything, really, whether you’re about to jump into a taxi or about to eat some dumplings. I once had a friend price gouged for $8 USD for dumplings in China; the real price for a dozen dumplings works out to $1 or $2 USD. Instead of slapping him for being an idiot, I just let him learn his lesson.

Because, truthfully, that is probably the best way to learn.

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