Best Travel Splurges – Part 1 (Private Transfers)

For the next few days, I am going to do a series on things that are worth a splurge while traveling. Most people, myself included want to keep costs down. But trust me, after being cheap in multiple ways and learning a few lessons the hard way, I am going to review a few things that are worth “investing” a little extra money in so that your your trip improves exponentially. So here’s Part 1….

Private Airport Transfers

Have you ever entered the baggage claim area or exited customs in a foreign country and seen a nicely dressed driver holding a sign with someone’s name on it? You probably thought it was for the rich and famous right? Depending on what airport you were at, the person on the sign was not ultra rich or famous. It’s just someone who thought ahead to book a private transfer to their hotel.

I’ll be honest, I never paid for a private transfer from the airport until about 4 years ago. And that was because 4 years ago in Vietnam, I was able to learn through research that it was less than $5 between a private transfer and a taxi with a driver who was unlikely to speak English. I wouldn’t have dreamed of paying more than that for a private transfer. I would’ve been fine taking the time to google translate directions to the hotel in the local language for a taxi driver rather than fork over more than $5 for a private, English-speaking driver that would have provided a newer, cleaner, car and would have never gotten lost.

Why Spend Extra Money For A Private Transfer

Here are the reasons why spending more for a private transfer makes sense:

  • The driver you hire will almost always speak English
  • Private transfers almost always utilize new cars that are clean, maintenance free, and have working air conditioning or heat
  • The cars usually have working seat belts
  • The rate is always negotiated and sometimes paid in advance so there is never arguing over the rates when you’re getting out
  • It’s often very easy to negotiate enroute stops for sightseeing, shopping, etc
  • The driver almost never gets lost because he knows in advance where he is taking you
  • The driver will meet you at the door wherever and whenever you ask them to: airport, train station, bus station, etc

Here are the risks that you take when taking taxis, particularly in developing countries based on countless experiences between myself and other friends:

  • The driver may speak English but not very well
  • The car may or may not be newer, is never very clean, may break down, and likely has sub-standard A/C or heat, or even worse, lets LOTS of fumes in
  • No guarantee of having functioning seat belts
  • Rate may be according to meter or if the driver is shady will try to scam you for a higher price based on how good of a negotiator you are
  • Driver may agree to take you even if he has no clue where he is going and may get lost
  • Driver may not want to take you even after you’ve put all your stuff in and can kick you back to the curb (even in the middle of the trip!)
  • Sometimes the driver will run the meter up by taking you around in circles if they know you don’t speak the language and it’s evident that you have no clue where you are headed (this happens frequently in China)
  • Drivers are less likely to wait at intermediate stops unless you pay them LOTS of money
  • No guarantee of a taxi being available when you’re ready to go. You may have to stand out in the street in the elements to get one.

Here are some of the drawback of shared rides:

  • You have no idea how long it will take to get to your lodging when you depart
    • You may be the first stop or not
    • It could take HOURS to get you to your destination if you are further away than everyone else
    • The driver may stop by his friend’s restaurant or travel agency in the hopes that someone in the vehicle will buy something
  • No guarantee of working A/C, seat belts, or maintenance
  • The vehicle will likely be packed (sometimes with very sweaty and smelly people) with little leg room or elbow room
  • Your bags may be thrown on top of the vehicle and strapped down even if it is raining outside due to lack of space

How to Decide What Works Best

Ultimately, your budget, time available, and number of people in your group will determine which is the best mode of transfer to your lodging. Certain countries like Japan and Singapore have INCREDIBLE taxis such that it makes no sense to get a private transfer. Other countries may have express bus or train service that are very reliable.

I would almost always argue that shared rides are a bad idea unless you’re a poor college student on your gap year and have all the time in the world (it once took me 3 hours to get a hotel that was 40 minutes away). I have stories that I will save for my Worst Travel Experiences series but you get the idea.

Do your research (like all things, just google it) to determine whether or not a taxi service for the country you are visiting will be worth it. Compare prices between private transfers and taxis and see what fits your budget. Also, keep in mind that your hotel can also arrange private transfers but those tend to be more expensive than you arranging your own private transfer.

If you have any questions about private transfers, public transit or taxis please leave a comment and I will get back to you. Also, stay tuned for my taxi/shared ride horror stories which will likely be very entertaining and incite you to never make the same mistakes!


*Image courtesy of Viator – a company that I trust for booking private transfers through*