Updated: Oct 3
Your first thought after landing in a foreign country is selecting the next mode of transportation to your hotel. The obvious choices are taking a taxi, ride share, train, bus or rent a car. These are all good choices but how do you decide which one is best considering availability, price, convenience and safety? Consider some of this practical advice on your airport transportation options from an expert traveler.
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What Are My Airport Transportation Options When I Arrive Overseas?
Pre-Booked Limo, Shuttle or Taxi
Ride Share Service
Let’s start with the most obvious choice from the airport which is a taxi. You should always take a taxi if you are so tired you can’t think straight. The advantages of the taking an airport taxi are many.
The taxi line is easy to find at the airport, quickest way to get to your hotel, you won’t get lost driving in the streets with a rental car, you get door to door service, you don’t have to drag around luggage, you don’t have to speak the language and you feel relatively safe locked inside the car.
Things to Consider:
Follow the signs from Baggage Claim
Use only the authorized Airport Taxi Company
It's the most direct way to your hotel
Provides door to door service
Overcoming a language barrier is not an issue if you pre-book
Most take cash and credit cards
Airport Taxi Caution
The airport taxi is great but don’t let your guard down. Some taxis are notorious for shady dealings and taking advantage of tired tourists. The driver may take you on the scenic route at your expense or charge you extra for handling your luggage. These things happen but not often.
Occasionally, you'll be approached after leaving baggage claim or immigration by a person asking if you need a taxi. It's tempting to say yes. Usually these are not the official taxi service for the airport. They will get you to your destination but will cost twice as much. Politely refuse and go to the airport taxi line.
How To Book an Airport Taxi in Advance
If getting into a taxi at the airport makes you uncomfortable, then you can always pre-book a taxi or limo from home. Pre-booking airport transportation can be your best option depending on your situation. If you are traveling alone, have a lot of luggage or are accompanied by your family, pre-booking a taxi or limo takes the stress out of the trip.
Having one of those well-dressed limo drivers holding a sign with your name on it is a welcomed sight after leaving baggage claim.
Pre-booking can easily be done through your hotel, or using an airport transfer tool like Kiwi Taxi.
It will cost you a bit more but its worth not putting up with the hassle at the airport or using public transportation with the family.
Do a little homework by researching the limo services online customer reviews. The cheapest in usually not the best service.
Airport transfers are convenient, provide door to door service and are safe. Don't hesitate to use the airport taxi to your hotel.
Take a Ride Sharing Service
Ride sharing services such as Uber or Lift are very popular here in the USA and overseas. There is no haggling on price, you don't have to speak to the driver and in most cases a lot cheaper than a taxi.
The only problems I've experienced are that some airports make it extremely difficult to use the service by designating pick up areas that are hard to find or a long walk from baggage claim.
Some countries actually ban the service from entering or operating in the city. If you plan on using a ride share , check in advance it's availability at your destination and where the pick up location is at the airport. It may be easier to just take a taxi and avoid the hassle.
Pro tip: Be aware of driver ratings before hopping in a car with someone in a foreign country.
Travel By Train
A good option for some travelers is to take the train. Many airports throughout Europe have train service directly to and from the airport terminals.
The trains run frequently and usually connect directly with the main train stations. London, Paris, Athens and Rome are good examples of cities with excellent train service from the airport to the heart of the city.
You just follow the signs from the terminal to the train station, buy your ticket at the ticket window and board the train when available. The service is reliable, fast and safe.
Things to Consider:
Convenient station inside most airport terminals
Fast and reliable service into the city
Easy to Book in Advance from home
Difficult with a lot of luggage
Can get crowded, watch the kids
A disadvantage of taking the train is that they get very busy during peak hours. If you have small children in tow, getting on the train can be a stressful experience having to manage children, strollers and luggage on a crowded platform.
Airport trains also leave you at the main station in the city. You'll have to connect with another train, take the subway, ride share or a taxi to your final destination.
How to Book a Train Ticket
Train Tickets can be bought online from home. I use Rome2Rio to find out what trains are available from the airport then either book directly on the website or go to the train company website and book.
Sometimes booking directly on the train company's website you'll find discounts not available on other sites such as senior discounts or special promotions. Once you pay by credit card, you'll get a QR code sent to your email or phone for your boarding pass. I've done this many times and its perfectly safe and convenient.
Here's a few great examples of booking platforms:
Take The Bus
If you are looking to save a bundle of money, there is usually a bus service to the city. These are clean, big buses that resemble nice touring coaches.
They typically make stops along the way to pick up and drop off passengers and take a little bit longer than the train.
Follow the signs at the airport to ground transportation. You can buy tickets at the bus stop before boarding or from the driver. Look for a uniformed person selling tickets and directing people where to go.
Just like the train, these buses get crowded and you have to manage your own luggage by placing it in the storage area under the bus. Airport buses take you to the main train or bus station in the city. From there, its the subway, ride share or taxi to your final destination.
Airport Car Rental
The last way out of the airport and most expensive is to rent a car and drive. This is not for the novice traveler.
First of all most of the rental cars overseas are stick shifts or you pay dearly for an automatic transmission. Some countries drive on the left side of the road so the steering wheel is where the passenger normally sits and you shift with your left hand. Assuming you can handle all this and understand the traffic rules of the country, then renting a car is a nice way to get around.
Things to Consider:
Follow the signs from Baggage Claim
Most cars have a manual transmission and stick shift
Video and report any car damage prior to leaving the airport
Know the countries' traffic rules
Use your phone with CarPlay for navigation
Expect traffic and parking headaches
Finding the Rental Counter
Renting a car is easy at the airport. Follow the signs to the rental car counters and find your rental car company. They usually speak English at the rental counters so don't worry about language.
Pre-Booking a Rental Car in Advance
Most travel websites have an option for car rental. Shop around for the best price and book in advance. I like to buy the fuel option where you bring the car back empty since finding an open gas station at 5 am near the airport can be a challenge. Be sure to get unlimited mileage and skip the GPS option. I use Google Maps on my phone and bring a USB phone cable to connect to the Car Play system for navigation.
Don't forget to check the countries car seat rules if you are traveling with children. You can bring a car seat from home or rent it from the car rental company. There are crazy drivers all over the world so keep the kids safe.
Check the Rental for Damage
Before you drive out of the airport, check the car for dings and dents. I video the entire car with my phone so I have a record of the cars condition when I picked it up. Show all damages to the car rental representative and be sure its documented in your paperwork.
Remember that parking is always a problem so pre-book parking at your hotels if you can and expect to pay for it. Street parking is very difficult to find and mostly reserved for residents. You'll find plenty private parking garages available as long you as you are comfortable driving in very tight spaces and underground.
My advice is to rent a small car for the greater maneuverability. I try to stay outside of cities at hotels that offer free parking. Booking.com always indicates if a hotel offers free or paid parking and makes it easy to reserve in advance.
Understand The Rules of The Road
Follow the traffic laws especially for parking and speeding. I've known people that received two or three speeding tickets in the mail months after returning home. There are speed cameras everywhere that work so follow the posted speed limits.
I've received tickets for parking and driving in the bus lane around the Milan train station. I had no idea I was breaking any rules. Pay the fines when you get the notice if you ever want to visit that country again or rent a car.
Whether or not you are considering a taxi, train, bus or rental car from the airport, remember the best option for you is one you can handle easily. All of these choice will get you to your final destination or hotel. Pick the on that works best and enjoy your trip abroad.