Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, once you step off the plane, patiently line up at immigration, and remove your bag from the carousel, it’s finally time to exit. My advice: Now is not the time to pinch pennies; Take a cab.
I know it’s a luxury, often expensive, but trying to figure out complicated ways to get to your accommodation on an unfamiliar (albeit climate-friendly) public transport network robs you of that rich first experience, where you you can hang your head out of a window like an impatient Labrador and drink in those precious first moments in a whole new land.
I will admit that if I’m traveling with friends I’m usually the lazy member of the group who will follow the leader and leave them to worry about itineraries and logistics. I’m busy ogling at the funny signs or the wonderful store names, as they scratch their heads, gallantly wondering how to get us from A to B.
But, when I’m traveling alone, I love nothing more than waltzing to the inevitably long taxi line outside an airport, haggling, chatting, and letting someone familiar with the country take me. in what feels like a personal private tour as the landscape unfolds ahead.
I still remember landing in New York for the first time and crossing the Brooklyn Bridge from JFK airport wide-eyed as the Manhattan skyline I had seen in so many movies appeared on the other side of the water. In Azerbaijan, my cousin and I laughed at the black taxis that mimicked the ones we knew in London, as we obviously got ripped off on our way to central Baku. In Iceland, taxis cost a small fortune – but how can you admire the spooky scenery and the sun that still hasn’t risen even at 10am?
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When I moved to Libya for work in 2012, my airport taxi driver assured me that the gunshots I heard were jubilant rather than sinister, as people cheered the Arab Spring and the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. During this chaotic and memorable journey, I could interrogate my driver for local information (always fun for a curious traveler), admire revolution-inspired graffiti on sandy sidewalks, and pour over bombed-out palaces as I was sitting in traffic, in a place that would become my home for the next few years.
In Lebanon, I took my first international taxi across the Syrian border from Beirut to Damascus, lying in the back seat. I was invited to dinner with my driver’s family after he explained to me that my accommodation was just around the corner from his house.
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When I was backpacking through Asia and trying to get from Thailand to Cambodia, I realized in a panic that I needed a full page visa (rather than a stamp) in my passport, which had no more pages. It was my taxi driver who helped me as I swung an old visa sticker (probably illegally) over a pot of boiling water in a roadside tea shack to free from space. Angkor Wat was worth it.
Of course, if you’re traveling somewhere you’ve been a lot, ignore me. If you prefer carpooling to traditional taxis, that’s fine. And that advice doesn’t mean you can’t get cheaper, cleaner transportation throughout your vacation or even back to the airport on your way home. But for me, as an avid traveler to nearly 60 countries, I often wish I could bottle that magical moment of entry. I implore you to splurge, relax, and watch the big smile dance across your face as you take in the sights and sounds of a new land. It is priceless.