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Why your large family needs to prearrange its airport transfer taxi service in Europe and Asia
Sometimes Minivans Will be Your Only Option.   Phuket, Thailand
If your big family is frugal like ours, you may be planning to avoid costly private transportation services as much as possible.  Like me, you may be thinking: hey, we have feet, and they're made for walking. Or why not figure out the metro or bus system?  It will be fun and adventurous, and we'll save a bundle, right? Not so fast!  Here are our 8 Reasons Why a Big Family Needs to Hire a Private Minivan Transfer, plus our tips on choosing the right one...

There are many times and places where walking is the perfect form of transportation, especially for a frugal family like ours. However, there are times when having a private minivan transfer will be the best option for a big family, for instance...

#1:  First Day in a New Place
The main situation in which walking or using public transportation is very seldom the right choice for a big family is:  the day of your arrival to a new city, or new country. Picture this:  you've been traveling for hours...your kids are tired and just want to "get there" already. You're tired, you're cranky, and you might also be hungry. You've just grabbed all your bags and are ready to leave the airport and find your rented apartment or home. Is this the correct time for you to learn how to navigate somewhere you've never been? No. This is the time to spend a little bit to get where you're going as efficiently as possible, with a private minivan airport transfer.

#2:  Baggage
And let's go back to this part: you've just grabbed all your bags. You've arrived by plane, train, or boat, and you've just picked up every piece of baggage that your entire family has for the entire trip. Now, do you really want to venture on to a subway train, or even walk down the street for very long way, while everyone is carrying their bags?

#3:  GPS Estimates are Not Accurate for Big Families
"How Much Further Is it?" is a question you don't want to hear repeatedly, while everyone is carrying their bags down the street, trying to find your lodging. On arrival at a new city, your GPS might estimate that it's "only" a 17-minute walk from the train station to your rented apartment. But don't forget, that's probably how long it takes to get there for this hypothetical person:  someone who is a local resident, an adult, accustomed to the local climate and altitude, knows exactly where he or she is going, and won't be making any stops. With all the typical stops a big family will make for untied shoes, bathroom breaks, and Ineedadrinkawater, you may find that a 17-minute walk is more like 45 minutes, or even an hour!

#4:  It's Always Hotter When Walking
Depending on your destination, it may be very, very hot when you get there. Even if the local temp seems like a nice number, it will feel much hotter when everyone is walking a long way, carrying baggage. Would you like to arrive exhausted, and dripping with sweat? Or relaxed, riding in your cushioned chariot, enjoying the view and the air conditioning? The best tip we ever got for Thailand was to do what the locals do: if you're going somewhere more than 2 blocks away, go there in a vehicle, not on foot. This is how the locals avoid getting soaked in perspiration and becoming unpleasantly odiferous.

#5:  Someone Else Can Navigate
What if you get lost? If you're on your own, you'll be lost, on your own, too.  Having a local driver with you, to make phone calls and read street signs and figure out where you're going can be a big, big help. Many times the local driver will already be familiar with the neighborhood and can take you straight to your rental, without any issues. But when issues do arrive, it's much easier when a local, who speaks the language, is there to help make sure you all get to your destination.

#6:  The Cost May be a Great Value for a Big Family
In Asia, we were delighted to find that nearly every apartment or home rental came with this truly awesome feature: "free airport transfer." This meant having the cheerful host standing at the airplane departures hall, holding up a sign with our name on it. This was such a wonderful feeling, knowing that someone was going to be waiting for you, and that this person knew exactly where the property was located and how to get there quickly. We'd get to enjoy a few minutes chatting with the host, finding out more about their family and hearing their tips for what to see and do in their city. In some destinations, although a private transfer was not offered, they were able to recommend a driver with reasonable prices, often one who was known to the host personally and who knew exactly where the house was located.

In Europe, where such transfers were disappointingly not included in the price of an apartment, we found that we could get a private, air-con minivan for our family for anywhere from 40 to 80 Euros, depending on the country and the distance from the city to the airport. As a rule of thumb, we found that a private minivan transfer would usually cost exactly double the amount of the standard taxi fare for a taxi carrying between 1 to 4 passengers. So that's not a bad deal, usually.  And, on a per person basis, the private minivan airport transfer was frequently the exact same cost as using the public train or metro system to go between the airport and the city!

#7:  A Big Ride Can be Hard to Find
In Europe, we learned through hard experience that there was often no way to get a 6-passenger vehicle (or 7 people, including the driver) unless we had booked a reservation in advance. We'd be out at a museum or restaurant, and when we would try to find a ride back to our rented apartment, there would be only the tiny 4-seater cars, with no vans or SUVs in sight. Unlike in Asia, and South America, where putting 7 people into a compact car like a Toyota Corolla was never seen as a problem (and was encouraged by drivers), every taxi driver we encountered on the streets of Europe adhered to a strict 4-passenger limit, declining our fare because our group was so large. We would also try multiple taxi-hailing apps on our smartphone, only to be disappointed (after several minutes of fiddling with it) to be told that the app had no drivers available in our city.

Sometimes we'd look up a transfer service and call them, right when we were ready to go, and we would be offered a ride if we could accept a one-hour wait. So, in many cases, we ended up just walking...and walking, and walking! With our bags. Without exception, this always made for a more challenging, frustrating, and tiring experience than just using a private minivan service.

#8:  It Avoids the Taxi Scams
Sad to say, but some destinations are notorious for tourists being ripped off by taxi drivers. A few classic examples:

  • The "long way round" route while on a meter
  • "My meter is broken" / Taxis that don't have a meter
  • Souped-up meters that count double-time
  • Using the meter when the city requires a fixed fare for certain routes
  • The old "That price is per passenger" runaround
  • The time-tested "The price I quoted was in dollars" trick
  • "I don't have any change"
Maybe it's just my personality, but, the thought of having to deal with the possibility of a crooked taxi driver just turns my stomach. In some destinations where the scamming is out of control, we've opted for a bus, or even walking, to avoid the possibility of having our day ruined by a con artist. If a ride is usually $20 but there's a chance that a few bad apples might try to charge me $50 without a valid reason (bad traffic, etc.), then I'd happily pay $25 online just for the pleasant certainty of knowing the ride is prepaid in advance and the fare is non-negotiable. That way, no matter what route is chosen, regardless of whether the meter works or not, and without dealing with paying in currency and possibly needing change, the payment part of your ride is all worked out, before you even get in the taxi.  I just love it.

Always stay alert for scams anyway - at one beach town in Asia, we paid for a ride to the airport with a credit card using a taxi app that allowed us to choose a 6-passenger vehicle. But at the end of the ride, the driver attempted to demand cash anyway. He requested to be paid in cash, and to be paid 5 times the amount of the fare that I had just paid by app. He lied, "No no, it's per passenger" and held out his hand for our cash. I'm sure that many travelers are so rushed and flustered when trying to catch a flight, that they have just paid it to avoid further hassle. But I just laughed and pointed at my phone, told him I already had a receipt from him, and walked away. And we made sure to report the scammer to the taxi app later while waiting for our flight. They emailed us an apology for the experience, and confirmed that all prices quoted by the app are per vehicle, not per passenger.

Our Tips on Choosing the Right Transfer Service
We recommend doing your research, and in some cases, asking your host (the owners of the property where you'll be staying) in advance for all the necessary taxi details for a big family, like:

  • What's the best way to get from the airport (or train station) to your rental unit? 
  • If free transfer is not included, then, how much should a taxi cost? (Remember, you'll need to double that fare if you're traveling with more than 4 passengers.) 
  • Do airport-to-city taxis have a fixed fare (e.g., 60 Euros to anywhere in the city, with the same fare charged by every taxi driver) or will they use the meter? 
  • Will taxis be able to fit 6 passengers, or will you need two taxis? 
  • Can the host recommend a driver or taxi company that has larger vehicles? 
  • Can you book in advance? 
  • Which Taxi Apps work in that city?  (You may find that you need 2 to 4 Taxi Apps downloaded to your phone, to complete a multi-country journey.)  
Doing all of this advance research and making the effort to have your big family's transportation waiting for you when you arrive will help you avoid stress and will make the journey much easier on the kids.

And what about nap time? We often found that the airport-to-city private transfer gave the kids the perfect opportunity to sleep in the air-conditioned van, and allowed them to arrive to the rental apartment refreshed and ready for fun.

Speaking of air-con, don't assume every taxi or transfer service has it. If they don't promote it or mention it, you might want to ask - particularly if you're traveling in a tropical climate for a long distance or a full-day tour. Never assume there'll be air-conditioning.

Our Experience
Overall, it was so, so worth it, just to have these transfers prearranged and prepaid, and have a nice young man in a blazer standing at the gate, waiting for us, holding a sign with our name on it.  He'd grab one or two of the bags and lead us straight to his vehicle, generally parked very close to the building, and we didn't have to figure out how to navigate the airport or the public transportation when all the kids wanted to do was get there and get down to the business of having fun.  It's door-to-door service with a smile, and it's worth every penny!
Your family will love the door-to-door experience of a prebooked airport transfer
Our son enjoying the air-con and shaded windows of
a private minivan after a very hot day in Cambodia

More on this topic can be found here, on why you shouldn't walk everywhere with a big family.

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