Even veteran travelers struggle with the age old issue of tipping. There are countless charts, calculators and apps that should be able to answer a lot of tipping questions, but it still seems to be a conundrum for many. When I travel I enjoy rewarding good service and I like to tip well. Here is some basic tipping advice, from my own experience as well as some etiquette experts.
Prepare before you leave home - Go to the bank and request ones, fives and tens. There is nothing worse than only having large bills when it is necessary to tip a valet or bellman. If you are budgeting for a vacation, include gratuities in your budget and plan ahead how much you should tip various service providers.
Research tipping guidelines for where you are traveling - Some cultures frown upon tips (Japan and the South Pacific), others are offended if you overtip (China) and many include gratuities on dining bills (many European countries). Arm yourself with knowledge about the cultural norms of the countries where you are traveling and you will not risk offending anyone. For tipping guidelines around the world check out CN Traveler's Guide to Worldwide Tipping.
Tip higher than the recommended guidelines to recognize exemplary service - A few extra dollars probably doesn't mean that much to your travel budget but recognizing excellent service by tipping a little extra will be remembered by the staff. This is particularly true if it is a place where you are a regular (or hope to become one).
Use the local currency - Whenever possible, tip in the local currency so the person receiving the tip doesn't have the added concern of exchanging dollars into their own currency.
Don't penalize waiters and other staff for things that are not their fault - Many waiters and service staff rely on tips for a living. If the restaurant or the hotel makes a mistake, don't penalize the waiter, bellman or other service staffperson.
Don't forget housekeeping - It's hard work keeping a hotel room spic and span and it's thoughtful to recognize this in the form of a tip. Leave a tip for housekeeping daily because it may be a different person cleaning your room each day. I like to leave an envelope or a note marked "Housekeeping" by the bathroom sink where I know they will see it before I head out for the day.
Read the fine print - Many all-inclusive resorts do not allow tipping at all. Many cruises include a gratuity charge on your rate so you don't have to worry about tipping. Most hotels include gratuity on room service bills (but remember gratiuty is not the same as service charge - the service charge goes to the hotel not the person who delivers your food). In the US, restaurants often add gratuity for larger parties, so be sure to check to see if it is included. In Europe, particularly Italy and France, gratuity is usually included in the bill at restaurants, but if service is excellent, it is nice to leave a little extra. Be sure to read your hotel rate rules and check restaurant bills so you don't double tip.
A few guidelines for tipping while traveling based on customs in the US are:
$5 first three bags, $10 if more
A smile and thank you when he opens the door; $2-5 for carrying luggage; $2 for
hailing a cab (more if it’s raining); $5 beyond the call of duty
Valet: $2-5 when your car is returned to you
Bellman: $2 per bag – minimum $5 ($10 if you are in a five-star hotel)
Housekeeper: $5 per day ($10 if you are in a suite) left daily with a note marked “Housekeeping”
Concierge: If just answering questions, there is no need to tip – a thank you is enough; $10 for ticket or restaurant reservations, more for hard to get tickets or reservations
Taxi Driver: 15-20% of the fare
There is something very rewarding about making someone's day with a good tip in response to their hard work and service - always be generous, thoughtful, and, remember, a smile and thank you also go a long way.
For more travel advice and information, check out my blog at www.youmaybewandering.com.