The Attack Of The Airport Touts

Derek Travel Tips & Advice 19 Comments


A few weeks ago I wrote about the excitement we feel upon finally booking a flight for that long awaited adventure to foreign lands. There’s that point when all the tension of planning our trip instantly turns in to calm bliss as soon as we click on that “Confirm Purchase” or “Book Now” button.

And then, at least for me, the excitement grows steadily during the days leading up to the actual flight and typically, I am so over-excited during the flight itself that I am unable to do anything but stare into the window and try to count the number of tiny micro-organisms I see floating around in the plexiglass.

It goes without saying, that once the plane lands, my enthusiasm refuses to subside as well, and off I go, giddy with anticipation about the unique adventures that await me in a country I’ve yet to explore.

Unfortunately, this happiness sometimes comes to an abrupt end a mere ten seconds later and I soon find myself wondering if getting off the airplane was such a good idea after all.

“TAXIS, HOTEL ROOMS, MONEY EXCHANGE”…HELP!!

While some countries do offer a pleasant arrival experience, one complete with Welcome Desks staffed by friendly individuals ready to assist you with your transportation needs, many other places around the world are not exactly as organized.

These are the places where, after grabbing our bags and making our way through an indifferent customs inspection, we are bombarded by a mob of aggressive touts, all shouting at us from in front of their booths, all trying to sell us bus tickets, reserve us taxis, exchange our money and book us a hotel room for what they claim to be the best rates we’ll find anywhere. Some of these people will hold up signs or badges with words such as ‘Official’ and ‘Government Agency’ written on them as they try to convince us that listening to anyone else would be a serious mistake.

At this point, we start to feel dizzy and confused and we begin to think that some of these people might actually be telling the truth, even though we’ve been through all of this before and know that they’re not. But those first moments in unfamiliar surroundings warps our minds and typically leaves us incapable of rational thought.

All we want to do is find the official ‘Official Government Taxi Stand’ and be on our way, but we can’t walk more than three feet without another group of people approaching us, using their well-honed tactics to do their best to part us with our money.

WHAT SHOULD A TRAVELER DO?

Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up over the years that help when faced with the above situation:

Just sit down, anywhere! People tend to stop hassling you when you’re sitting down in an airport. Find a bench or even an empty place on the floor, throw down your backpack and take a seat. And once you’re left alone, you can take a few breaths in peace, gather your thoughts and plan your next move. John Bardos over at JetSetCitizen.com once mentioned that he and his wife often sit down for a cup of coffee inside the airport upon landing in a new country. This helps them adjust to the surroundings and get their bearings before setting off into the unknown. I thought it was an excellent idea!

When people approach you either inside or outside of the terminal building, simply reply to their offers of assistance with the line, “No thank you, my friend is picking me up”. I use this all of the time, even though after five minutes it is clearly obvious that my imaginary friend is not picking me up! But by that time, the touts have most likely moved on to a new group of passengers and I’m left alone as I continue to seek out that ever elusive official “Official Government Taxi Stand”. (It can also be a good idea to put your mobile phone to your ear and pretend that you are calling your friend. This makes it significantly more convincing.)

The official “Official Taxi Stand” is almost always located outside the terminal building or if not, then right before you exit, while the highly-inflated taxis offered by agencies are almost always located inside. There’s a reason the unofficial agencies are so pushy as soon as you come through the doors leading out of the customs inspection – if they don’t convince you right then and there to use their services, they’ll lose your business as you’ll discover the cheaper options once you get outside. Also, I’ve found that the official “Official Taxi Stand” in almost every country rarely participates in the active solicitation of business, so anyone who approaches you claiming to represent them is almost certainly trying to get you to book a more expensive option.

Ask advice from people who have no interest in leading you astray. Such people include those working in a cafe, the police or military patrolling the airport, fellow passengers, airline employees and airline crew members who probably have been to this airport dozens of times before. Generally, I’d avoid taking advice from the well-dressed man who approaches you with a generous offer to help you with whatever you need.

Finally, remember that ‘official’ and ‘government’ are words that in many countries mean ‘unofficial’ and ‘non-government associated’, so as weird as it may sound, don’t assume that something is official just because it says so.

And if all else fails, just start doing something slightly odd, such as singing out loud or jogging in place for a minute, and watch as everyone moves away from the strange traveler in fear, leaving you free to roam around in peace until you find the transportation you’ve been looking for.


Do you have any other helpful suggestions for how to handle an arrival into a foreign land? Or any arrival stories to share?

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Comments 19

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  3. Dina

    I did get overwhelmed easily in that situation. Maybe I should take the “sit down” trick? Take a deep breath sounds like a good idea! The funny thing is, my experience felt that way not where I was traveling to, but in my long time home country of Indonesia. And this is not necessarily after international flights, and happen in airports and train/bus station alike.
    The reputable taxi line’s drivers could appear as intimidating as the non official taxi drivers, because they don’t want to loose potential passengers over this unofficial one. Unofficial taxi drivers here I mean are not even “taxi” drivers, they use their own whatever cars. And sometimes even the official reputable one, they still try to not use the meter to gain more money. At least I speak the language 🙂
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..New Zealand’s Hidden Valley: Orakei Korako, the land of silica terraces and geysers =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dina – I remember getting off the ferry in Sumatra coming from Singapore and suddenly being surrounded by dozens of taxi drivers all claiming to be official and telling me not to use the others. In the end it was cheap enough where it didn’t really matter who I chose, as long as he took me to my destination. But I highly recommend just sitting down when it gets too overwhelming as its never a good idea to make decisions when you’re flustered.

      I’d think you’d be at an advantage with speaking the language. Apart from jalan-jalan I had no other words to turn to for help. So thanks for the lesson, I’ll be using dijemput next time I’m there!

  4. Liz

    Hahaha… so true!

    That is my less favorite part of my trip, trying to get rid of them while trying to figure out what is the best move. I just traveled a few days ago (Friday) and the taxi was sooooo expensive, that I just took my time and found a nice family who took me somewhere closer where I could get another cab.

    Thanks for the advice! =)

    1. Earl

      Hey Liz – That’s impressive! I guess finding a family to take you somewhere is a good option if you can pull it off. I’ve never tried that one, but just might have to next time I land somewhere new.

    1. Earl

      Hey Maria – That is definitely true, these suggestions do work for train and bus stations, both of which are places that are often more intimidating than airports when you first arrive. And it’s funny you mentioned Indonesia, because I remember saying ‘jalan-jalan’ all the time as well! And it worked!

  5. Guy McLaren

    Hey Earl, found you via Brian at Bike and Boots. My only comment is that the cellphone trick may not be great in some places known for mugging and shite. I would also suggest you stay where there are people if trying that one.

    I’ll be reading more as we’re are planning our own adventure, Check out our site and blog
    .-= Guy McLaren´s last blog ..Autism Awareness =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Guy – Thanks for visiting! Yeah, its not the best idea to pull out a brand new iPhone when walking through dark streets in an unknown place, but usually pulling it out in the airport just helps you blend in with all of the other travelers and doesn’t lead to any problems.

      And that’s an interesting adventure you have planned, it’s quite a route to take!

  6. Moon Hussain

    Earl, you have nailed it. I bet that even if I visit Pakistan now (it’s been over a decade since I did last), I’d feel quite overwhelmed myself.

    People can be blunt and touchy-feely as they grab your arms and tug at you.

    I’d personally act on your last suggestion… start jogging in place with some awful singing as you try to get yourself together and sort out a plan.

    Are you still in Mexico? I know you’re back from FL.
    .-= Moon Hussain´s last blog ..Fun Friday Round-Up: Delish Posts to Savour =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Moon – Yeah, there is a lot of grabbing going on in some countries. People just walk up to you and try to grab your bag as if that will seal the deal that you’ll use their taxi service. I tend to use the people who refrain from tugging at me or my belongings! I am back in Mexico at the moment…have you made it to Florida yet?

  7. Raam Dev

    Luckily (or maybe not!) I haven’t had to experience this yet. I was lucky to have someone waiting for me at the airport in Bangalore, India who then gave me a ride to his place. Your advice will surely come in handy though when I do eventually visit a place where I’m entirely on my own (most likely Vietnam in a few months)!

    I love the cellphone trick — I use that all the time, even when I’m just walking around a new town and don’t want to look lost. It’s easy to look lost when you’re looking around at everything, but not so when you’re on a phone! 🙂
    .-= Raam Dev´s last blog ..Why There Is No Secret To Success =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Raam – I guess that’s the ultimate way to avoid the confusion (especially in India) – actually having someone there to pick you up! And I use the cell phone trick all the time as well, it’s one of the easiest ways to avoid looking hopelessly lost no matter where you might be.

  8. Sam

    Good advice, Earl. Also, researching where things like the official taxi stand is and how much it should cost in advance never hurts.

    However, I especially like the idea of singing out loud so that people move away in fear! Could this potentially backfire, though?
    .-= Sam´s last blog ..Image of the week: Songkran stamp =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Sam – Researching ahead of time is definitely a good idea, although sometimes I’m still amazed at how confused I can get even when I’ve written out exactly where I need to go! And the singing has worked well for me so far without any problems. It at least clears some room and buys me some time so that I can find a more official person to direct me to where I need to go.

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