I’m always so excited when I stumble upon a new (or new to me tool) when it comes to travel. Or sometimes, it may not be a tool, but a new way to do travel that I can’t wait to share with anyone who will listen. I’ve written about the sharing economy before, and the benefits it can have to travel. And my family has used Airbnb extensively on our travels throughout North America and Asia. Recently, though, I’ve gotten hooked on Uber, and just love using it whenever we travel.
Uber is not new, of course. It’s been around the United States for years. But as the company has grown, its reach has also expanded. Uber is now in over 488 cities around the world. What this means for the traveler is that it’s now easier than ever to get around a new city. Your transport options have widened, and as long as you have an internet connection and the app, you can essentially get to where ever you want to go. And for women especially, it can be a much safer option for local transportation.
I use Uber from time to time when I am getting around Seattle, and have also used it on my travels in Milwaukee, DC, Las Vegas, and even New York City. We also use Uber when we travel overseas: while I was in Johannesburg, South Africa last fall, and when my family and I were in Delhi and Mumbai last summer. While it’s certainly not the cheapest option, it’s slowly becoming my new favorite way to get around town, especially in places where public transportation may not be that great. Of course, using Uber is not without its drawbacks. There are still some challenges to using Uber, particularly in another country. For those planning on using Uber on their international travels, here are my tips for using Uber overseas.
Have a good phone plan
The most important requirement to using Uber is having an internet connection. When you’re in your own country, this is a non-issue since most phone plans or SIM cards have data included. But in another country, that all goes out the window. Before your trip, make sure your phone plan has the ability to access data overseas. Since I’m based in the United States, I like my T-Mobile phone plan, which gives me unlimited 2G or 3G data in many countries around the world. It’s not enough to stream videos without wifi, but it’s enough to load the Uber app. If your phone takes SIM card, get a local one with data, so you can use the Uber app without paying for data roaming.
Use exact locations
When entering your pick-up or drop off points, make sure you use exact locations. This means waiting exactly where the pin is located, and entering the exact address of your destination. In an unfamiliar city, this will help ensure that you’re not waiting around for an extended length of time as your driver is trying to find you, or you and your driver are not driving around the neighborhood trying to find your destination because you didn’t put an exact location. In Delhi, we made the mistake of not waiting at the exact location of the pin, and our driver spent an extra ten minutes trying to find us. And on a different occasion during that trip, we had put in the wrong address, and our driver refused to take us around to look for the place. Uber drivers rely on the GPS on their apps, and may sometimes be reprimanded for deviating from that route. So they’re often reluctant to drive around unnecessarily when they’re on the clock.
Don’t be afraid to call the driver
As a way to prevent unnecessary driving around, especially during pick-ups, don’t be afraid to call the driver. In countries where you may not speak the language, this may be a bit challenging, but it’s still worth a try. Also, if you don’t have a local number, this is a more courteous gesture as that saves your driver the effort and money to call you.
Bring along a car charger
This may seem like an out of the blue tip, but it makes perfect sense when you think about it. Using data to run the Uber app can be draining on your phone battery, and it’s even more so if you’re putting in a full day’s worth of sight-seeing. Most drivers won’t mind if you ask them if you can charge your phone during the ride, especially if you have your own cord and/or charger. This also ensures that you’re not stranded somewhere in the city, trying to pull up the Uber app with 5% battery life left. In Johannesburg, I carried a car charger with me throughout the trip, and used it on many of the long cross-town Uber rides.
Take safety precautions
While I did say that Uber can be a safer transportation option, especially for women, it’s still wise to take some safety precautions during your ride. Before getting in the car, check that the license plate matches with what is listed. And also check that the driver’s name matches what’s listed. If you’re riding alone, get in the back seat, preferably behind the driver, so that it’s harder for the driver to reach you and you can jump out if things feel unsafe. I’ve never actually had an instance where I felt unsafe during an Uber ride, but it’s good to be prepared.
Give yourself time
While Uber can certainly be more convenient than a taxi, it may not always be that much faster. Sometimes wait times can be 10 to 15 minutes long, so be sure to account for that in your daily activity planning. It is possible to cancel a trip and rebook using a different driver who is much closer, but you need to make sure that you do this within the first five minutes of making your initial booking, or else you’ll get charged a fee.
Have a back-up plan
As in all travel, sometimes things don’t happen as planned. Several times in Johannesburg, I found myself in a place with no cellphone service, and had to walk a few blocks until I get service back on my phone. And on another occasion, I foolishly took an Uber out to the Cradle of Humankind museum, only to realize it is out in the middle of nowhere, over 30km OUTSIDE of Johannesburg! This is all to say that it helps to always have a Plan B. In the case of my Cradle of Humankind museum visit, I offered my driver a couple of hundred Rands to wait for me (I know that this was way too much, but I felt so bad!), and he did. And when we were in Delhi, after being dropped off in the wrong location, we took an auto to take us where we needed to go. It helps to bring along enough cash to cover a taxi that can take you back to your hotel or accommodation, in case you are absolutely unable to find an Uber.
As I mentioned before, Uber is making it easier and more convenient for travelers around the world to get around new cities. While there are still certainly plenty of challenges to using Uber overseas, these tips will help you navigate those challenges with ease. Like all other things in the sharing economy, Uber is slowly but surely changing the way we travel, making the world smaller and more accessible for travelers.
Have you had experience using Uber on your travels? Share your tips in the comments below!
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