Destination Wednesday: 5 Tips On Tipping, Wherever You Are

By Cat Zuniga

Let’s talk tipping. You know you have a basic obligation to tip some people sometimes – but who? When?

Tipping requires more than just cash and generosity; it requires sensitivity. But what does that really mean and where does it really start? At your travel specialist? Your transportation provider? Your luggage handler? Your bellhop?

Just because you’re a generous traveler, it doesn’t mean you should hand out gratuities like they’re Halloween candy, just to cover your bases. On the other hand, you don’t want to be a traveling tightwad who stiffs people on their service. Millions of service employees like waiters, tour guides and bellhops rely on tips to feed their families and pay the rent. There’s a happy medium between being a spendthrift and a scrooge, and you need to find that happy medium before you travel.

Hold onto that thought, because here are five tips that will help you tip appropriately while you’re on vacation.

Tip #1: Cover your bases. Tipping rules vary by country, region and scenario. In some countries, like China, tipping is not generally practiced … except at some western hotels. In other countries, like Japan, it can be an insult. Destination-specific tipping information is vital to avoid awkward or potentially offensive encounters with a service person during your trip. Two great resources for country-by-country tipping advice I often recommend to my clients are Condé Nast Traveler and CCRA International. But when in doubt, ask a travel specialist. They’ll either know the answer off the top of their head or will get you the answer fast.

Tip #2: Consult Your Specialist. Speaking of which, most likely your first interaction on any given journey was with the person who booked your trip. If you booked your vacation on your own, you paid someone else while you did all the legwork. Use a specialist! They do all the legwork and usually don’t charge a service fee, so they don’t expect a tip (though a thank-you is always nice, whether that’s delivered through a review, a referral, by returning as their client, or even by sending a card). While your specialist doesn’t expect a tip, they’ll know who will expect a tip, how much to tip them, in what currency, and at what point of your trip.

Tip #3: Consider whom you’re interacting with. When trying to figure out whom you should tip (including how often and how much), remember that guidelines vary by destination. Tipable service providers you’ll encounter while traveling abroad include waitstaff, bellhops, tour guides, concierges, taxi/van drivers, restroom attendants, bartenders, childcare staff/day-camp counselors, hairdressers/masseuses/manicurists, porters, and many more. Don’t let this list overwhelm you, and don’t feel as though you have to tip every one of these people every time you come across them on your trip; these are just some of the types of service people you might encounter. With services like these, you might want to have some extra euros, pesos, or dollars to pass out; just always remember to pay cash, and when in doubt, remember that dollars speak loudly everywhere. Even with destinations that are truly all-inclusive and have tips included in the total vacation cost, the extra thank-you is always welcome. Also, consider the fact that service workers are generally not well-paid, and getting a bit of a boost never hurt anyone.

Tip #4: Use Common Sense. If you forget to research acceptable tipping practices, or simply don’t know what to do, see what other visitors are doing. Don’t make the mistake many travelers do and ask their service person if he or she requires a tip. Not only can this be a conflict of interest, it’s just awkward — and it makes you look like a clueless traveler.

Tip #5: Employ The Basic Rule of Thumb. Tip 5 percent to 10 percent, or a few dollars (or their equivalent) to anyone who is providing you with a service. If you’ve purchased their service, and it’s one that traditionally doesn’t have a tip associated with it, then don’t tip. But, if you know they don’t make a livable wage, and you want to help them along, by all means tip them.

Cat Zuniga is an award-winning travel specialist. She specializes in tropical vacations for families, groups, destination weddings, and honeymooners. Visit her today at

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