Oh, Uber drivers.

You come across some crazy characters when traveling. You can learn a lot from people when you least expect it, if you only take a moment to listen. Everyone, even people you meet in passing, has a story to tell. I’ve met some of the most interesting people through ride-sharing. Here are the highlights.

Sonder – noun. The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

The five Uber drivers you meet on the road and what you’ll learn from them.

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The Knights Templar Rocker in Bratislava

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You won’t remember a time when you’ve been more scared. You see him on the side of the road, across from the Bratislava bus station. You demand he pull up to meet you because you don’t want to cross a busy street. You immediately regret it.

He angrily u-turns. You can hear the heavy metal music when he’s still 200 feet away.  His bright red car might as well have been stained with the blood of his enemies. When he jumps out of the front seat, he’s way taller than you expected. He’s hefty. His dark gray hair is carved into spikes on the top of his head.

You ride without speaking. You’ll pretend it’s because of the language barrier. You don’t speak Slovak. But the metal he’s blasting is in English, which he clearly understands. You just don’t know what to say to this Uber driver. There’s a Templar cross hanging from his rearview mirror. You’ll convince yourself later that there was probably a sword in the trunk.

When he drops you off at the Most SNP bus stop in Bratislava, you leap from the car in relief, even if your new location is under a sketchy concrete bridge.

What you learn: Never demand anything from someone over the phone. Be polite. Ask nicely. Because they might have a sword in their trunk.

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The Despacito Repeater in Vienna

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You’ve had a long day exploring Schönbrunn Palace. You hop in an Uber because your feet are swollen and the idea of walking all the way back to the S-Bahn station makes you want to cry. Despacito is playing. You think, “Oh, I love this song!” You and your friend even sing along.

I don’t know the words, so I sing poquito.

I don’t know the words, so I sing Dorito.

I don’t know the words, so I sing contingooooo.

The song fades out. Then sharply back in.

Come and move that in my direction…

Odd, you think. Maybe it’s just his phone playing the song again. But then it comes on again. In English. In French. In Arabic. In a language you don’t even recognize. By the time you arrive home, your ears are bleeding. “Never again,” you mumble. You hear Despacito rev up again as he drives away. You clammer into the building.

What you learn: The maximum time that a human being can listen to Despactio in one sitting is considerably less than eleven plays.

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The Lobbyist in DC

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Washington, DC. 5PM. Thursday, the day before Trump’s inauguration. You go to Georgetown in the middle of the afternoon because the dress rental company screwed up your order for the inaugural ball you’re due to attend and you’re desperate to find a replacement.

You struck out and are in near tears with nothing to wear and the fanciest event of your life starts in three hours. Then your fairy godfather appears. He offers to take you to CVS to buy some safety pins and suggests ways of pinning the dress up so it still looks nice. He takes shortcuts to try and beat the DC traffic and tells you stories of fun things to do in the area.

He asks you why you’re in town. For the inauguration, you say. There’s a lull in the conversation.

He takes a deep breath. “So, did you attend a lot of Trump’s rallies before coming up?”

“Omg no,” you immediately reply. “He’s the worst. I’m just here to report.”

The mood lightens up right away.

“Oh, I guess now I can speak freely.”

You learn his heart is really in data collection and communication. He’s poured his life savings and energy into a company that’s completely on hold because of the change in administrations. No one knows what Trump’s stances and priorities are.

Your ride is well over an hour because of DC traffic. The last quarter mile takes 30 minutes, but you don’t get out to walk. You’re invested in this conversation. This man is your friend now.

What you learn: You can get along with more people than you think if you’re actually brave enough to start a conversation. New friends are everywhere.

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The Mario Cart Racer in San Jose

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Most of the Uber drivers you’ve had in your life can actually drive. But you’ve never been as distressed as when you hopped into this man’s tiny car in San Jose. Even Knights Templar rocker was able to stay on the road, so you’re in completely uncharted territory as you grip your seat, dodge bananas, and try to nab power ups on the Costa Rican highway.

You’re on your way to pick up your rental car, but the lack of solid addresses in the Costa Rican capital cause you to circle the block no less than four times. Your driver begins to get irritated because you don’t know where the buisness is. You try to explain that you’ve never been here before. This makes him madder.

You almost roll backwards into a ditch and run over a dog before finally spotting the rental car sign. You swear you can hear the Hallelujah Chorus. You’ve barely shut your door before he speeds away.

What you learn: Life is precious and can end at any time. There are also things scarier than being bitten by an iguana in Costa Rica.

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The Silent Type in Amsterdam

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It’s 3:30AM. The woman in your dorm has been snoring at top speed for nearly six straight hours. You are covered in bedbug bites. Your flight to London is at 7:00AM, but you decide to leave for the airport now because this is one of the most uncomfortable sleeping situations you’ve ever been in.

You use the remnants of the hostel wifi to call your ride. It’s only September, but Amsterdam is freezing in the middle of the night. As you stand next to the canal, shivering, itchy, and exhausted, your ride arrives.

It’s warm in the car. He’s softly playing classical music. He greets you with a smile, puts your suitcase in the trunk, and then doesn’t speak to you again for the entirety of the ride.

You slip into a blissful 20 minute nap, so when you arrive at Schipol, all is well.

You:

Your Uber Driver:

You:

Your Uber Driver:

You: 5 stars!!

He’s one of your favorite Uber drivers ever.

What you learn: sometimes not talking at all is the best way to bless someone.

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