I love taxis. Whether stranded in the middle of the night or completely exhausted after a long flight, taxis are always there for you when public transportation isn’t the best option. Furthermore, taking a taxi can be the safest option to get around for solo female travelers, especially in high-risk areas. That being said, there are unfortunately also unique safety risks that you might face when getting into a taxi. Being alone inside a car with a male driver can not only be a frightening experience but in a few cases pose a real danger to the traveler. I’ve had my fair share of negative experiences with taxis around the world but that doesn’t keep me from taking them over and over again. Taxis are extremely convenient and no solo female traveler should feel like they have to avoid them altogether. Therefore, I decided to compile this list of my top 10 taxi safety tips for solo female travelers.
Read more: The Ultimate Shanghai Transportation Guide: Comparing 5 Means Of Getting Around
My Worst Ever Taxi Experience
I want to begin this post with a personal story because I believe there is a lot to learn from my experience.
One year ago, I was traveling from Germany to Hong Kong and had a 3-hour layover in Abu Dhabi. It was my first time in the city so I decided to use this time to explore the stunning Sheikh Zayed Mosque.
After passing through immigration, I felt like I was under intense time pressure to get to the mosque. Hence, I chose to go with the first tout who yelled ‘taxi’ at me. The driver offered me to take me all the way to the Grand Mosque and back for only 200 dirhams (~ $55 USD), which I believed was a good deal for UAE standards. Quite exhausted, I put my carry-on into the trunk of his private car and got into the front seat.
In the beginning, everything seemed great. My driver was very friendly and even gave me a tour of the beautiful mosque. On the way back, however, I suddenly began to cough a lot. My driver stopped at the next shopping center to buy me hot tea and paratha out of his own pocket, which I thought was very nice of him. He fed me with his own hands, which felt a little weird but perhaps not all that problematic. Then, however, he started massaging my throat, allegedly to relieve the coughing. But before I could say anything, he moved his hand down my chest and tried to touch me inappropriately. After that, the rest of the ride was a constant wrestle of him trying to touch me and me trying to prevent it. Luckily, he still dropped me off a the airport in time. However, this was in no way guaranteed since I was inside his private car.
There’s a lot to unpack here. While abusive experiences of any kind are never the victim’s fault, looking back there are quite a few things I would have done differently. In this guide, I’ll go through the things I could have avoided with a bit more wisdom and share my top taxi safety tips with you.
My Top 10 Taxi Safety Tips
1. Save Emergency Contacts
Although overthinking is bad, it’s best to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Make sure you remember the local emergency numbers, especially for the police. You never know when you might have to call them, even if it’s not a life-or-death situation.
In addition, it’s good to have a list of trusted family members or friends saved as emergency contacts on your phone. Not only can you keep them updated with where you are at but this way, helpers will also know whom to contact in case of an emergency.
2. Enable GPS Tracking
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. I discovered an easy way to do this by accident once when I stayed logged into my Google account on my father’s computer. After I left home, my father told me that he constantly saw my location whenever he opened Google Maps on his PC. As a result, he always checked on Google Maps whether I was outside or not when he planned before making long calls in order to avoid disturbing me.
Now, I understand that perhaps not all of you would feel comfortable with this method. However, if you do have trusted family members or close friends that you feel comfortable sharing your whereabouts with, this can be a great taxi safety tip. Simply open an account that both you and your trusted contact have access to and log into Maps on your phone. Have your contact disable GPS tracking for the time being but make sure yours is on. This way, your trusted contact will know where you are in case something happens.
3. Try Rideshare Services First
Didi, Uber, Careem… Rideshare services have many different names around the world but the idea behind them is pretty much the same. You call a registered driver using an app to take you to your desired destination and the price is already calculated for you. This is extremely helpful for multiple reasons. Not only will you not have to worry about intentional detours but the fixed price will also prevent overcharging scams. In addition, most rideshare apps have security functions such as emergency buttons or the feature to report a driver. This discourages drivers from bad behavior to begin with.
A major drawback of rideshare apps is that you generally need a phone with a working SIM card to call a car. This makes it difficult to use the services if you just arrive in a new country or if your phone is dead. In this case, calling a regular taxi would be a better option but be prepared to stay vigilant and argue the price if necessary.
4. Make Sure Your Ride Is LEGIT
One of the most important taxi safety tips is double-checking which car you get in. Before entering any taxi, you should always evaluate whether your ride is legit or not. What I consider legit rides are either registered rideshare services called through a well-known app or official taxis.
Before visiting a new place, do some research and find out what official taxis in the city look like. What colors are the cars? What do their taxi signs look like? Is there any information out there about the official rate in the city? Generally, the ones you can find at the airport’s taxi stops are all official taxis. You can also see if there are any trusted taxi companies in the country you are visiting and save their phone numbers.
The opposite of legit rides are unofficial taxis, a.k.a. touts. These are non-registered drivers who lure passengers into their private cars, which may or may not be disguised as actual taxis. It’s incorrect to say that all my experiences with touts were bad. However, more often than not these unofficial drivers will overcharge their passengers, especially non-locals. Furthermore, you put yourself in a potentially dangerous position by entering a stranger’s private car, like I did in Abu Dhabi. An unofficial driver is less likely to face consequences for his bad behavior since there is no official license to take away. Therefore, it’s best for solo female travelers to avoid unofficial rides in unknown places.
5. Discuss The Price
Most of the time, official taxis will use a meter to calculate the fare based on the distance during the drive. Sometimes, however, drivers will asked for a fixed price, especially when attempting to rip off tourists. One rainy night out in Shanghai, I approached a taxi to take me just around a few blocks. The driver wanted to charge me 100 RMB (~ $14 USD) for a five minute drive! I went to the next three taxis in row and all of them demanded the same fare. As you can probably imagine, I decided to walk despite the horrible weather.
A good habit is to ask the driver how much the ride will approximately cost. If he offers you a fixed price instead of pointing at the meter, think about whether the price is reasonable or not and try to negotiate at least.
6. Note The License Plate
Take a good look at the taxi’s license plate before getting in and try to remember it! This will help you in two ways. On the one hand, you’ll have crucial information at hand in case you need to report a problem. On the other hand, the driver will likely treat you more carefully if he sees you paying attention.
7. Get Into The Back Seat
While in most places it’s more common to sit in the front seat of the taxi, it’s almost always safer in the back. This can seriously prevent unwanted sexual approaches from the driver. Most of the time, it’s the sheer opportunity that people get to behave inappropriately towards a woman. And I think that was one “mistake” I made in Abu Dhabi. Had I not gotten into the front seat of the car, the driver probably wouldn’t have touched me.
8. Stay Vigilant
Unfortunately, sitting in a taxi is not always the best time to relax for solo female travelers. If you’re in a metered taxi, frequently observe the meter to evaluate the rate at which the fare is increasing. Does it look reasonable or too fast? Do so in a way that the driver sees you’re paying attention.
Another great tip is to open the driving directions to your desired place on Maps. Is your driver taking the easiest route possible or is he making unnecessary detours to charge you more?
9. Learn Basic Phrases In The Local Language
Perhaps 75% of the taxi drivers I met during my travels could not speak English. While that is of course no problem in itself, you should be able to communicate and understand some basic phrases for your own safety. Therefore, it can be extremely useful to look up a few basic phrases in the local language, such as:
- How much?
- Too expensive.
- Stop that!
- I’m meeting my friend/boyfriend/husband/father. (Useful for the next tip)
- Please/Thank you.
10. NEVER Tell Them You’re Alone
This safety tip can be helpful for solo female travelers in general, but especially when taking a taxi. NEVER tell your driver you’re traveling by yourself. Instead, say you’re on your way to meet your local friend. Or that your boyfriend or husband is waiting for you. Make sure to let your driver know you’re being looked after well!
Also pretend that you know the area. Tell your driver you’ve been to this city multiple times before or that you’re staying with a local family. Even if it’s your first time in town, fake it till you make it. This way, your driver will probably think twice about scamming or mistreating you.
In Case Anything Goes Wrong…
…call the police! Seriously. It’s better safe than sorry. Most wrongdoers freak out at the idea of a passenger calling the police on them. Especially if you have the license plate number, the driver will probably give in before you finish the call. I mean, nobody wants to get into legal trouble and have their license revoked, right?
When I was massively overcharged in Shanghai, I had the choice to either call the police or pay five times the regular price. I chose to the first option and was so glad I did. The driver got very scared and offered to let me go without paying anything at all. Of course, trying to be more moral, I gave him the 30 RMB that he actually deserved.
If I scared you with these taxi safety tips, I sincerely apologize! My intention is in no way to discourage you from taking taxis altogether. In fact, my bad experiences were few and most taxi drivers I met were extremely friendly and professional. However, as a solo female traveler, your safety should be your top priority when riding a taxi. Especially if you’re in such a vulnerable situation, preparation is the key. Therefore, I hope these taxi safety tips will help you be a more prepared traveler.
Read more: The Ultimate Shanghai Transportation Guide: Comparing 5 Means Of Getting Around
What a terrible situation, I’m glad you came out of it without physical harm. Your tips are really good. I’ve heard a few other horror stories, though not ones that included groping. I think the tips are great for domestic travel and Uber and Lyft too. Thanks!
Yes, this absolutely applies to domestic in local travel as well. Even though scammers and molesters often take advantage of travelers who don’t know the area well, bad things can happen everywhere.
We always use google maps to track if the taxi goes where we are planning to go. In the past we did that secretly but then found out that it is a good idea to “accidentally” let the driver see that we are tracking the route he takes. Years ago we even had a driver explain to us that he would take a detour because of some construction which would lead to long backlogs. So, I think making the driver aware that you are tracking the way he/she drives add to your safety.
Agreed! I also used to think it would be “offensive” to let the driver know you’re being vigilant. However, after dozens of scams I came to see it more as a preventive practice of self-defense.
It’s so unfortunate that we have to consider all of these things before getting into a taxi. However, they are sadly necessary! Thank you very much for sharing your experiences and this list to help others
So sorry to hear you’ve had such a nasty experience. Thankfully you weren’t hurt physically at least. Thanks so much for sharing your story though and for warning future travellers. I’ve made that same mistake as you before in France by sitting in the front of the car with the driver at times ‘accidently’ brusing his hand on my leg and even resting it on it! I pushed it away, but didn’t respond as I should’ve. It’s weird, when something like that happens, you just kind of freeze. Thanks again for all these tips, especially sharing GPS tracking with someone else is a really good tip!
So sorry you had a similar experience!
It is always better to err on the side of caution. Taking all precautions is essentialwhen traveling alone anywhere. These tips for safe Taxi travel are really sensible and practical.
I am so sorry to hear about the experience you had in Abu Dhabi. Thank you for being open to share out loud. It is so important that inappropriate activity like that is not just swept under the rug because travelers need to know all the things they can do to make their experience as safe as possible. I sometimes have conversations with friends or family members who are afraid to travel far because of the unknown. Tips like yours are really helpful. Thank you!
So sorry for the terrible experience you had to go through – it’s appalling! Thank you for sharing it with us as a cautionary tale. Agree with you to be safe than sorry – it’s ok to over-react than face harm.
A bit surprised about the tip on sitting in the back seat – it’s usually the norm wherever I’ve been to in Asia, Europe or Australia/ NZ, or maybe I’ve been obtuse about the cultural norms and just preferred the back seat! Think I’ll keep continuing the practice then.
Yeah, in most places it’s the common practice to sit in the backseat but sometimes you might be offered to sit in the front.
While in some places I heard it’s more common to sit in the front of the taxi I think the driver in Abu Dhabi just had bad intentions to begin with when he made the offer.
That experience in the UAE is truly horrific! My worst was having a driver accept an Uber and then cancel it after I was already in the car, and by that point we were already moving and I had to accept his rigged meter. I definitely felt unsafe in that situation and felt that Uber did not take my complaint seriously afterwards, but that is still nothing compared to what happened to you. Unfortunately taking taxis is always just something where we have to be very vigilant. I think technology helps prevent a lot of things (given that ride share drivers have a digital footprint and passengers may have location tracking on, etc), but we still have to always be careful… These are great tips though and should help cover 99% of problems anyone might run into!
Sorry that happened to you! I encountered a similar scam when I booked a Careem ride in Pakistan. I waited twenty minutes for the driver to arrive, then he suddenly said the drive started and drove away without me, in hope of easy money. I reported him right away.
Urgh. I am so sorry about your terrible taxi experience. You shouldn’t have to say you “should” have sat in the back – he just should not have touched you. I am glad you were okay in the end, but what a horrible experience.
My worst taxi experience was in China – a taxi took me (and my two friends) to inner Mongolia (we had missed a train, so were racing to catch up with it.) The driver (he had a friend with him) stopped in the Gobi desert and said he would leave us there unless we paid more money! In the end we did pay them more, it was back when we didn’t have mobiles so we couldn’t call the police.
Oh no! That must have been frightening!
I’ve lived in China and know how frequent taxi scams there are. I’ve experienced enough such things in the big cities but can’t imagine how much scarier it must be in the middle of the desert.
It’s definitely worth sticking to these tips, especially when taking a taxi alone. I am sure what happened to you is unfortunately not that uncommon! In England though people never sit in the front of a taxi unless there is a group of you and someone has too. If anyone travels alone or as a couple we would always sit in the back so would do the same somewhere else too. I had no idea it was common to sit in the front in many places! Great tips 🙂
I love these tips, I hadn’t thought of many of them before. I too have had a bad taxi experience where the driver was incredibly aggressive and made me feel very scared. I’m glad you got out of it okay tho and learned from it
Great tips! And really sorry that you had a bad experience! We must say that until now we have had rather good experiences, may it be in taxis or Uber or Lyft. But then… we rarely travel alone.
These incidents are just appalling! I will share this with my female traveller friends as a cautionary tale. A lot of such incidents happen in India and it is really disgusting.
I really hope my story can help some fellow travelers. Thank you for spreading the word.
Thank you for sharing your experience and these tips. I’m always scared of taking a taxi, even in my hometown. I am sorry about the horrible experience you had, this is never the victim’s fault. I will pin this for future reference!
Thank you so much. Hopefully one day no woman will have to feel unsafe taking taxis anymore.
Some excellent advice and not just for solo travelers. My wife & I have been in some oftentimes, uncomfortable situations in strange places riding in taxis. Luckily today, we have so much more technology we can use to be safe. Google Maps tracking is excellent! I always try to do some research before arriving to a new destination, so we have an idea of what to expect and pay. Great Post & Advice. 🙂
Thank you! I’m happy to hear that you do your research before hopping into a taxi somewhere else. So much important information is just a quick google query away yet it can save you from some serious scams!
Thanks for all the great tips! It’s a great resource, especially for first solo travels. Thank you!
Great tips! Everyone but especially women need to be extra aware when traveling. An ounce of prevention as they say! Thanks for sharing and I am definitely going to remember your advice!
good article very informative
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