If something happens in a country you're visiting (major weather events, terrorist attacks, or any other possible danger), you'll be contacted by them and kept in the loop about their recommendations.
It also gives you a failsafe in situations like mine... more on that in a sec.
3. I always ensure I have cell phone service before leaving the airport
Whenever I'm in a new country and traveling alone, I always make sure I have access to cell phone service. Sometimes this is with eSIM cards (which I explored in more depth in this newsletter
) or buying a local SIM card.
This is mainly for practical reasons like ordering a taxi, navigating to my hotel, and using translation apps to communicate with drivers.
It also comes in handy when you're being driven into the desert unexpectedly.
I was able to quickly call someone who had my location, explain the situation, and instruct them to contact the police and the U.S. Embassy if my driver didn't change his tune in the next minute.
Since this person had my location, they could easily share it with the local police and U.S. Embassy if things went south.
4. I do my research
There's nothing sexier than cold, hard well-researched data.
And thanks to my research, I knew that Tunisia has not been known for violent crime in recent years. Most of the time, people pulling scams like this will not harm you but merely want to intimidate you.
When you decline their demands, they don't have many options but to bring you where you want to go. After all, stealing some money from a tourist is a lot different than harming them in the eyes of the local law.
Quick note: I have to mention that I'm a tall, white male and have it easier than most people in these situations. I can't speak to what it must feel like to be a solo female traveler, someone of another race or ethnicity, or a less-experienced traveler (or all of the above). Sadly, there are some places in the world where people may have a particularly difficult time because of these factors. Therefore, I can only speak to my own personal experiences rather than recommend you do exactly what I do.
Anyway, the driver turned around when he heard me talking on the phone about calling the police, sharing my location, and coordinating with the U.S. government.
Once he got off the highway downtown, I promptly got out of the car and made my way to my hotel, where I shared my experience with the hotel staff.
They explained that, sadly, the police and local taxi drivers at the airport work together to scam tourists like this, comparing them to the mafia... yikes...
As it turns out, the Bolt car I got into initially was very much legitimate, and it was just the police abusing their power.
If I come back to Tunis, I would do one of the following:
Order a Bolt again. If the police pull the same move, I'd simply return to the airport and/or order another Bolt - I would NOT get into the taxi that the police try to nudge me into.
Coordinate with the hotel. Even if they don't have an airport shuttle (which my hotel didn't), they can at least schedule a pickup with a reputable taxi company.
This isn't the first time something like this has happened to me, and with the amount of travel I do, it won't be the last.
I'm thankful that things worked out the way they did, and I hope that using some of these tips will help you out should you be unlucky enough to find yourself in a similar situation.
Aside from this unfortunate incident, my time here in Tunisia has been fantastic, and I've really enjoyed seeing the history, eating all the amazing food, and watching some of the best sunsets of my entire life.
So I still recommend you visit if you ever have the chance.