21st Century Travel in a Foreign Country

6 May 2015 #Thoughts

Having done my fair share of travel I’ll share with you this piece of advice. Make your first destination on arrival anywhere in the world a phone store. Data roaming is prohibitively expensive and most countries have pre-paid SIM cards that are simple enough to obtain.

The modern smart phone is just far too useful in a foreign country to do without. Especially in a country with a foreign language. I’ve been working in India now for a week and I couldn’t do it without my iPhone. Specifically for Google Maps, Uber and Ola Cabs.

The OMR, Chennai, India

Before arriving I scoped out a few co-working spaces and settled on one not too far from where we are living. Using either Uber or Ola Cabs apps I can request a car, let them know the destination and pay for the cab all without having to fumble around with the language.


They’re a terrible company but they provide an incredibly slick service. For just a few dollars here I can get to work and back every day in an air conditioned private car. The cost of an Uber ride is actually comparative, or cheaper, than the iconic auto rickshaws that fill the streets. Better yet it’s air conditioned too.

Pre-Uber I would need to call a Taxi company or figure out the public transport system. Both of which would require fumbling around with the language. So far I have found Tamil, the local language in Chennai, completely impenetrable. Being able to organise the entire trip without speaking a word is ideal, right?

Well, then there’s the execution. More than once now my Uber driver has decided to park on the nearest main road, instead coming to the pick up point. So either I send a text to the driver or have to walk to the car, following it on the GPS.

Secondly, many of the drivers here either do not want to use, or are oblivious to the app’s feature to use the in-built GPS to get turn by turn directions to the destination. Some have simply pressed ‘navigate’, but others have asked for the destination even though it is written on the screen. This may be because the address is written in English, not their local language, but even then the GPS function is quite obvious.

So Uber is not frustration free, but it removes a lot of the frustration of trying to figure your way around a foreign place.

OLA Cabs

Uber has stiff competition, particularly in India with OLA Cabs. Their app is not as slick, but they do have the option of calling an auto rickshaw.

The downside as a visitor (and someone who prefers not to use cash) is you need to pay the driver, because the service does not accept foreign credit cards.

My experiences using OLA Cabs have been good, but the payment method is a deal breaker for me.