Travel Talk: Tips on how to tip, when to tip and who to tip
For some people, the most stressful aspects of travel are flying, making connections, losing luggage – things with serious snafu potential. That’s me. I worry about things that are generally out of my control. Bud pooh-poohs that and worries about things that he can indeed control. Hence he often ruminates about tipping the right amount at the right time. He doesn’t want to overdo, especially when we’re overseas and it’s inappropriate. He doesn’t want to be stingy, especially when workers’ livelihoods depend on tip income. Stress!
The Basics: Whether you’re with a group or traveling independently, tipping in the travel world is based on services provided as you progress through your itinerary. Think cab drivers, airport shuttle drivers, bell hops, concierges, maids, wait staff, guides (both general escorts and local specialty guides), bus drivers and so on.
Sometimes the service lends itself to a percentage tip: say, cab drivers at 10 percent of fare or wait staff at 15 to 20 percent of bill in most parts of the United States.
Sometimes the service is more appropriate for a unit (or multiples) of currency. Euros work in Europe, pounds in the U.K., U.S. dollars almost everywhere else. It’s easy to apply this to valets (one to two euros, pounds or dollars), luggage handlers (one to two per bag), maids (two to three per person per day), bus drivers (three to five per person per day), guides (five to 10 per person per day) and the like.
Tour companies and cruise companies are increasingly offering “gratuities included” options in an attempt to make things easy for travelers. This may make it easier for those of us on a long itinerary, but to Bud and me, it doesn’t work as well as a direct smile, a thank you and a folded bill in the hand.
We want the worker (or manager, or waiter, or whomever) to know that we noticed his or her effort and we appreciate the service. It’s personal.
Norms and Timing: Of course, tipping norms vary throughout the world. Here in the U.S., restaurant wait staff seem to expect 20 percent. In Europe, 10 percent or sometimes even just rounding up the change and leaving the coins is the norm.
Part of this is cultural: In Europe, waiting tables is more of a profession (we’ve often noticed the proud gentlemen servers in France, Italy and the Czech Republic, for example) and hence wait staff are better paid. In addition, the tip is often already included in the bill in Europe, so scrutinize it. If you don’t speak the language, learn the word for tip or gratuity. Often you’ll see “service.” Find out if that goes to management or wait staff.
Indeed, more and more we are seeing the tip included on restaurant bills here in the U.S., too. Look at it!
In other service areas – maids, cruise cabin attendants and so on – the quandary is when to tip: before, during or after? Bud and I tend to tips maids daily. We think it ups the level of care. Cabin attendants we tip at the end; though we always tip “as we go” for Bud’s extra pillows or my extra towels.
The Math: Once you’ve researched what’s expected as a baseline (use your travel agent, tour guide, cruise company or just Google), do the math and even visit your local bank.
Bud loves this part. He goes through our itinerary day by day, adds up the expected tips, figures out appropriate denominations, then makes sure he has the right number of singles, fives, and 10s.
Why? It’s not always easy to break larger bills abroad. He tucks them into carefully marked envelopes, and we’re ready to go!