A Travellerspoint blog

August 2009


The Art of Grabbing A Cab in The Big Wide World.

A few days ago, I got into a cab here in Santiago for a quick, nine block dash to the Metro station. The ride would ostensibly take three minutes....

Twenty six minutes later, the cabbie and I leapt out of our respective doors and stared over the cab roof at each other with angry looks on our faces. The trip definitely did NOT go as planned......

Outside a bar in Prague, by Piecar

Outside a bar in Prague, by Piecar

When I was a kid, the idea of taking a cab was tantamount to being a high roller. My Dad thought cabs were a huge waste of money and instilled that in me. I read an article about London cabbies and their extensive training and encyclopedic knowledge of their city. I just assumed that this was the case in EVERY city. Cabs were for the rich, or the intelligencia, or something...Something, whatever it was, that I was not.

When I was 13 I started collecting comics, and I started with Amazing Spiderman 192. In it, Peter Parker takes a cab into the city, and the driver is a slovenly sort, rumpled and wearing a beat up newsie cap. He tries to run up the fare on ol' Pete, and our hero calls him on it. The cabbie's response, I remember clearly, is "Hey! I ain't tryin' ta rook ya, kid!" But Pete handles it. Spiderman showed me that cabbies could be lowlife rip off artists.

I don't remember my first local cab ride...lost in the mist.... But I remember my first foreign cab ride. None other than London, England. I couldn't get wait to get into one of those black clunky vehicles. I had visions of a guy in a suit saying things like "Good day to you Governor!" and "Where will it be, then, young sir?" It wasn't quite like that, but the man was personable, got me to where I was going efficiently, using a side street or two, maneuvering like the pro that he was. It was great.

My second was not so great - Caracas, Venezuela. I considered myself well travelled then with five different countries under my belt. I stood just inside the sliding opaque doors that lead from the safe haven of the country called “Airport” to any country in the world. I steeled myself, and went through. On the other side, the first people I saw were cab drivers. Every one of them had a laminated card that said “Tourist Information” clipped neatly to their lapels. The trouble was, no two of the cards were the same. I was ready for these guys, and just blasted through them. There is a second level to the Caracas airport, and I went up there to sit for fifteen minutes while the hooplah of a new flight full of tourists died down.

While I was up there, a fellow without a tourist badge came up to me and told me in broken English that he knew where to get a trustworthy cab. I bought his line, and followed him out, past the other cabs and into the parking lot. That was mistake number one. (A real cab gets the privilege of pulling up front. The shady operators live in the parking lot... hey, I was new!) The fellow got into the front passenger seat, and the driver started the car. (Mistake number two, and three. Two, if there are two people in the cab, don't get in, unless it's a colectivo. Three, I was getting a shifty feeling and rather than listen to it, I ignored it.... Never do that.)

Oh, I got to my hotel okay. I dropped my stuff. I felt confident that things were going to work out. The two guys were friendly enough and invited me to hang out with them. I spent six hours getting drunk (mistake four...Don't get drunk when you don't know where you are, or how to get back) as the driver drove us to different spots around the city, and the other guy led me into place after place. I never paid a cent, and never found out the price of anything. I actually picked up a girl, but she was shooed away. I was their pigeon to pluck, no free riders.

After the six hours, I was drunk lost and defenseless... Then they stopped the cab and got me out. The driver waited in the car while the other guy introduced me to two tough looking friends. He told me I owed him 400 hundred dollars, or I was going to get tuned up. I only had 200, and had just enough latent toughness not to let them force me to use the ATM they had stopped in front of.... A two hundred dollar lesson I told myself as I staggered down Avenida Sabana Grande at three in the morning towards what I hoped was my hotel.

Havana taxi, by DinaRosado

Havana taxi, by DinaRosado

Since then I've had my ups and downs with drivers. Some are great. Some are horrible. Some are honest, some are lowlife sleaze-buckets who deserve a solid kick in the 'nads with a steel-toed workboot. A guy once stopped and drove me out of a neighbourhood he didn't like for free...and then left me with a medialuna his wife had baked.... Another guy tried to charge me double because I had a backpack. Guys have led me to a good hotel that was cheap when I asked for an overpriced one I'd found in a stray guidebook.... Guys have taken me to broken down hovels when I asked for a decent low-priced option because they got a kickback from the owner.

So, I've developed rules for taxis..

Before you leave my fave country - the Airport - ask someone inside what the regular price of a cab is. Tourist info is fine, but try to ask a cleaner or security guard too. They'll have the lowdown, and now you have some ammo before you go through those magic doors.

The less a cab driver cares if I get into his cab, the more I want to get in.

Bring a compass. I am amazed that people don't do this. At least know the four cardinal points. Not just for cabs but for everything. You save yourself a ton of time on a winding street that started pointing North but now is heading East if you have one of these things.

The less a cab driver cares if I get into his cab, the more I want to get in. If a guy is reading a newspaper on the hood and only begrudgingly gets into the driver's seat....that is my favourite guy. He's not trying to put the moves on me.

Keep a Weather Eye. You're in a new place. Look around for landmarks. If only to see whether you see it twice in the same cab ride.

Seem confident, (even if you ain't) Sit forward, Be squinty and look dubious. Cock an eyebrow every now and again. Make 'em think you won't buy their act, if, indeed they have one.

Check for a meter, make sure they use it. If a cabbie has a meter, the only reason he's going to negotiate a fare is so he comes out ahead. And how are you going to adequately negotiate with no information or local knowledge?

Do your best to know where you're going. If you've reserved a hotel ahead of time, ask the hotel dude(tte) for a local TALL landmark so you have something to shoot for...and you can tell the cabbie that the place is near this landmark, implying you have local knowledge, making you seem informed, and giving the cabbie something to shoot for, because.....

Cabbies don't always know where they're going! It is a myth that cabbies are knowledgeable about the place they patrol. Don't expect a cabbie to know about that cool little hole in the wall down some side street that you heard about online. Half of them are lucky if they know where City Hall is.

Taxi bug in Mexico City, by malmn

Taxi bug in Mexico City, by malmn

If you're in a cab, and the cabbie stops to pick up "my friend" get out. The guy may the cabbie's friend. It may all be on the up and up and they may think you're a goof for getting out. You can live with their low opinion of you....if you get to live.

Don't be afraid to say NO. The guy is working for you. If he's doing something you don't like, tell him to stop, or get out.

If it feels wrong, it is. Don't second guess that feeling. It may be way off, but better safe than sorry.

Friendly and grinning and funny doesn't mean Safe. In fact, I prefer bemused quiet and altogether ambivalent in my cab driver.

AND on a comfort note....If you are in a hot climate, and you are sweating buckets, and need respite...Wave at the cab with the closed windows...A sure sign of air con, kids.


...So there we were staring over the roof at each other. I wasn't mad, in fact I was amused. The cab driver had given me the "run-around" Drove me all over the place, at one point taking me around a roundabout four times. Had driven North, East, South, West, and then back North before back tracking East to the Metro. I'd seen it all, and even though I was late, I was having fun. I took out some big bills as the ride got more expensive on the meter, and let the driver see them. He thought I was buying his trick. I was hoping he'd turn and say, in broken English "I ain't tryin' ta rook ya kid!"

The driver wasn't really mad. I'd paid him what the trip would have cost if he'd played it straight. But you have to play the act.

We looked at each other for about ten seconds. Then the driver shrugged and got back into his cab. I waved and headed to the Metro. We had just wasted each other´s time. I screwed the driver out of about two fifty worth of gas. Just 197.50 left to go before I get even for Caracas.

Posted by Piecar 06:35 Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (4)

A Few Ways to Avoid Getting Robbed in Central America

I bet you're wondering, "How does she know how NOT to get robbed?" Well, I'll be honest with you. I've gotten robbed plenty of times, enough to know exactly what I did wrong and how I could have avoided being robbed from the get-go!

Good example; my sister-in-law and I went to the coastal areas of Guatemala. I had my little purse on me and pants with many pockets. My sister-in-law, said, "Marina, I really recommend you put your credit cards and money in your pants pockets." I listened to her very carefully and didn't do a thing about it.

It took us three hours to arrive. Five minutes after we got off the bus and started headed in the direction of the hotels, two teenage boys on a bike came booking at me and -guess what - ripped my purse right off my shoulders. Thirty minutes after hunting them done and being left with nothing, we were right back on the same bus going back to the house. Let's just say it wasn't a very successful trip!

So, after all the wonderful lessons I've been given, I hope I am qualified to share with you what I have learned, so that you can learn vicariously through me and NOT do what I did!

Funky bus in Latin America by Piecar

Funky bus in Latin America by Piecar

Passport Copies

Do you know how hot an American, Canadian, European or Australian passport is in Central American countries? So hot that the black markets can't get enough of them! With the economy in the pits, more and more people are becoming unemployed and thinking that these nations have the answers to the good life and buy stolen passports with their life savings to leave.

To protect your passport it is completely acceptable to have a copy with you instead of an ID. Even most banks are OK with a copy these days. To secure the legitimacy of your copy you can get a notary public to stamp it before you leave for your trip.

Note: You still need the real deal when entering the country and leaving. Just leave it in the hotel for safety.

Take What You Need

I used to carry a full backpack with me on day trips or a purse when going out. After having sneaky professionals slyly reach in and clean out my backpack without me feeling a thing, or having my purse snatched off my shoulders, I decided it was time for a change.

I have always had the habit of carrying my backpack on my back. You know, the normal place for it. On multiple occasions I have had someone very quietly reach in and take my wallet, money and camera. So it took me a few times around to learn that one, but after those episodes, I had a long hard think and realized that I didn't need 90% of the stuff in my bags. For one, these days cameras are so small they can fit into your pockets. Money should always be kept close to your body and there's no need for bulky wallets. A jacket or a long sleeve shirt could be hung around your waist giving you extra security for your money and camera. If you have a guide book, it may be a good idea to simply rip out the pages for that particular day trip rather than lugging around the whole book.(Editor's note: I agree with this wholeheartedly, unless you are thinking to trade for a book from another area somewhere down the road.) You can buy a comfortable water holder which also has a safe pocket for a cell phone.

If you do need to carry a backpack, wear it facing front. Even in the safest of cities, you just never know.

Touts waiting to put the con on tourists, Costa Rica/Nicaragua border by Shmips

Touts waiting to put the con on tourists, Costa Rica/Nicaragua border by Shmips


Chances are you are not walking down the red carpet showing off your most precious possessions. There really isn't any reason at all to wear anything of value while traveling to these countries. It's one thing to buy some locally made jewelry but completely another when your engagement ring is worth more than some local person will make in five years.

At one point I was guilty of this, or maybe just plain stupid. Granted, it was one of my first trips out and I wanted to be 'stylish'. Before my trip, I bought a very pretty jewelry holder bag and stuffed all my most precious wares inside. Within two days of my trip, while sitting on a bus dozing off, I awoke to my bag wide open and my jewelry holder gone. That was enough to teach me that it's such a bad idea to do that.

So, leave them at home and you'll appreciate them that much more when you return.


Some of the most common robberies happen on public buses. Since thieving is practically a profession in most towns, they have it down to a science. There are now many affordable options to public transport systems. You can either take a private shuttle like Grayline or Interbus from one location to the next. Most hotels have shuttle services to and from the airport. If you can splurge, there are tons of private drivers that work for reputable companies and taxis.

If you do take the public bus, it's best if you can take your bag with you in the cabin and keep it by your side. The pros lurk around buses watching where you stick your bag and where you end up sitting. Since most public buses fill up fast and have plenty of stops along the way, they make sure to hear where you are getting off and slyly help themselves to your bags. Keep the bags close, and if you must put them below, sit in the seat that overlooks the compartment. And always look out for shady characters.

I had actually started in the right direction when this happened to me. I took my backpack into the compartment with me. It was a small bag, and since I was a newbie traveler and very naive, I placed the bag above my head. Not once did I think that the bus would fill up till you couldn't see in front of you, nor did I think that the nice people piling on the bus would want MY BAG. At one point I remember my friend yelling to me from the other side, "Marina, where's your bag?" To answer, I got up to look for it and, miraculously, someone just happened to hear the conversation and hand it back to me, right as they were getting off the bus. So what do you think I found? An empty bag!


As I mentioned earlier, keep your money as close to your skin as possible. I have seen plenty of amazing pickpocketing moves that are so well orchestrated that you don't have any idea what is happening until you are left with nothing. Spread your riches around. Don't congregate all your money in one place. Put it in your pockets, in your bras, in your socks, in your underpants and always try to have a money belt secured around your waist.

My final example actually didn't happen to me, but to a friend of mine. We went to a local fair that was packed with people. As my friend started turning the corner he kind of got jammed between people. After watching the scene unfold in slow motion, I realized that it was three guys who had him cornered and were reaching into his pockets while the others were pushing as though he was stuck in the crowd. By the time I realized what was happening and started yelling, "They're robbing you!" They were long gone in three directions with his wallet and Ipod.

These five simple rules have made my life so much easier. I walk with more confidence knowing that there is nothing to steal. And, even though I'm a blonde amidst the masses, I don't have anything that is screaming come and rob me.

Marina has been living in Central America for over 7 years and her site Travel Experta is all about traveling in Central America. Marina loves to help people plan the perfect vacation to this amazing part of the world! You can sign up for her RSS feed and join the fun on her facebook fan page and follow her on Twitter at @MarinaVillatoro.

Posted by mvillatoro 17:04 Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

7 Ways to Improve Your Travel Blog

Eye of the Zebra. Photo by snowgirl

Eye of the Zebra. Photo by snowgirl

When you've spent three hours - or more - crafting a brilliant blog post, filled with unique insight and valuable information, you want people to pay attention. Am I right?

People have a very short attention span.

But when it comes to publishing content on the internet, you have to remember one thing: People have a very short attention span.

On the internet, most people don't read. They skim. They might read your first line, scroll down a little, see if anything catches their eye - and if nothing does, they'll be on their way again. There are millions of things to read out there. Why should they waste a second reading what you've written?

In this article, I'll give you a series of tips to help you improve your blog posts and catch visitors' attention. If you want your visitors to engage more with your content, implementing some of these tips can help you achieve this.

1. Write wonderful posts

First things first. You need to be writing posts that are worth reading. To help you do this, ask yourself what purpose your blog post serves: Is it informative? Is it entertaining? Is it thought-provoking? Is it challenging? Figure out why people should read your posts before expecting them to do so.

2. Include photos

Big, beautiful photos go a long way to setting a blog post apart. Remember, people have short attention spans. Give them something beautiful to look at and you increase the chance they'll hang around and delve deeper.

How to include a photo in your Travellerspoint blog:

Adding photos is simple on Travellerspoint with the Img button in your blog editing panel. Just click Img, find the photo you want to add and click the size you want to use (you might have Thumb, Regular and Large to choose from).

3. Use headings, bold text and lists to draw attention to important ideas

You know that people skim articles. By extension, they are also drawn to bits of text that are set apart visually. Headings, bold text, lists, photo captions - learn to use these to guide your visitors and draw them into your post.

How to add a heading in your Travellerspoint blog entries:

If you have spent any time contributing to our wiki travel guide, you'll be glad to know that adding headings in blogs works just the same as it does in the guide. Simply add == before and after your heading to make it a heading. For sub-headings, use === before and after the heading.

4. Use headings to split up long posts

If your blog post is long, consider using subheadings to split it up. Besides drawing attention to the post's most important ideas, this also helps condense each section into a bite-sized chunk. I use subheadings on most posts I publish that are over 500 words long, because it improves their readability.

5. Grab their attention with a catchy title

There is a fine art to coming up with an attention-grabbing title. I wrote a whole article about it on the Travellerspoint blog. For the sake of this article, let me point out a few of the most popular articles on TravelBlogs, a website I am the editor for.

6. Start with a strong introduction

Again, this is a topic I have covered more extensively elsewhere (How to Blog Your Way to the Top), but writing a strong introduction is still one of the most important ingredients in creating a great blog post. Starting with a bang helps you hook readers, and I find that it also helps you develop a good flow as you write the rest of your post.

7. Use your blog description to give your blog context

On Travellerspoint, you can provide a description of your blog, which will show up directly below the blog title. The best blog descriptions aren't just descriptive - they're also enticing. They spark the reader's interest. Here are a few examples of great blog descriptions (with links to the blogs in question):

Do you have some tips and tricks for your fellow travelers? Then join us in educating travelers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team. Each entry published on Travel Unravelled will earn a $5 donation to the Travellerspoint Foundation.

Posted by dr.pepper 03:51 Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (4)

You Want To Stick That Where?????

Health: You're A Human Pincushion & Other Items Of Import

I've been sitting at this keyboard for a while now, wondering just how to start this blog entry. I've actually edited it 5 or 6 times, because it's not easy to write about something as important as one's health. I'm not here to tell you exactly what to do for your specific destinations, but rather to offer up guidelines to help you help yourself as you explore your chosen corners of the world. So, with that, here goes...

Drug Store Products, by jl98584

Drug Store Products, by jl98584

The First And Only Lesson To Learn

Okay, that's an exaggeration as there will be mondo (like big and huge and gigantic) lessons you will learn as you plan your travels--many of them useful, to boot. But, reading through the forums daily, I am constantly reminded of the number of soon-to-be travelers who struggle with the decision between protecting their own health and purchasing that new sleeping bag or pair of hiking boots. No, you may not need all the vaccinations and/or medications recommended for your specific destination(s), but there's a lesson to be learned here: You are NOT immortal, either. (If someone reading this is truly immortal, please contact me because I would love to meet you in person.) As if that weren't blunt enough--your health is the most precious thing you own--protect it. (Here endeth my lecture on lessons.)

The Human Pincushion Effect

Yup - we're going to discuss vaccinations. Regardless of your travel plans--whether they revolve around visiting the most metropolitan areas of Europe or the farthest reaches of Africa or South America--some inoculations are not a bad thing. No matter where your travels take you, Tetanus, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B should be at the top of your vaccination list. Whereas Rabies, Typhoid Fever, Yellow Fever, Cholera, etc. will all depend on your travel choices and the requirements of those countries. (If you choose to read to the end of this blog, you will find links to important sites and articles regarding vaccinations. Hey, it's a good reason to keep reading...)

In some countries these vaccinations can be obtained for free or a small fee, depending on the health-care system. (I'm sorry I can't provide more info on this as I live in the US and nothing is free when it comes to health care. But, I digress.)

Other Items Of Import

I'm going to start this one by addressing Malaria, because it's always a "big ticket" item in the forums. The areas of most concern are Asia, Africa and Central/South America. This one always comes down to your destinations, your own comfort level, your ability to remember to use the insect repellant regularly (no disrespect intended but I never remember to use it), and what advice you accept from other travelers.

The most effective way to guard against malaria is to have a good idea of the areas you plan to visit in relation to the country itself. Basically, ask yourself "will I be east of this area or west of that, etc.", so you can look at the maps (connected with the links below) to see if you will be at risk. As always, if unsure, check the Travel Guide and/or post in the appropriate forum for that region.

Rabies is the second "big ticket" item. (I love this one because I've had my share of (pre-exposure) rabies inoculations! They aren't as bad as they used to be--really.) This is one of the gray areas for most travelers. Do you need them? Probably not, if you are the average backpacker/traveler. (Don't mean to classify things, but stick with me for a few minutes.) Though rabies is a threat around the world, those most at risk either: 1) work in the veterinary field, 2) work on farms, 3) travel mainly in rural areas, 4) can't stop petting stray dogs, skunks, monkeys, and/or other wild animals. Again, rabies vaccinations fall under the "comfort level" heading and your itinerary. When it comes to this disease, only you can decide if your travel plans put you at risk.

There are many other issues that could be addressed in this particular blog. But, since there will be a "table of contents" for you to peruse at your leisure, I will end here and add more information as time goes. Until then, if you have questions/doubts, please check some of the following links:

TP Travel Guide - Travel Health
CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention - US)
WHO (World Health Organization)
Mayo Clinic
NHS (National Health Service - UK)
Global Health (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health & Welfare)

Until next time... happy travels!!!!!!!!

Do you have some tips and tricks for your fellow travelers? Then join us in educating travelers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team. Each entry published on Travel Unravelled will earn a $5 donation to the Travellerspoint Foundation.

Posted by Isadora 13:28 Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (2)

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