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.
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.