Take the Stress Out of Tipping While Traveling

Relax: You’re on vacation. These 6 tips will help you establish a tipping plan that eliminates stress and faux pas.

Two friends paying their bill in a restaurant

by the Editors of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine


1. Include gratuities in your vacation budget. As you estimate how much to save for your next trip, be sure you figure in all of the tips you’ll be expected to leave along the way. “Preparing takes away those awkward moments of not being sure who, when and how much to tip, so you can just enjoy your trip from beginning to end,” says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and owner of the Protocol School of Texas.

2. Tip the right people. Certain service providers in the United States rely on tips for the majority of their income. “Going against the grain and leaving less than what is normally an accepted tip can really hurt that person,” says Peter Post, author of Essential Manners for Men (and great-grandson of Emily Post herself).

One service provider you’ll certainly want to thank with a tip is the hotel housekeeper. And because different people may be cleaning up after you each day, you'll have to express your monetary appreciation daily. Each morning before you go out for the day, leave $2 to $5 with a thank-you note or in an envelope labeled “housekeeping,” so it’s clear that the cash is meant for them. Other people you might tip as you travel include the skycap, shuttle driver, concierge and hotel valet.

3. Stock up on small bills. If you carry only $10s and $20s, you run the risk of forking over too much cash when it comes time to tip. “We end up over-tipping sometimes because we don't have the right amount or we’re in a hurry,” Gottsman says. “But if you’re prepared, you won’t have to over-tip out of pressure, and you’ll save money.” So be sure to fatten your wallet with a bunch of $1s and $5s before you take off.

4. Avoid unnecessary services and accompanying tips. If your budget is tight and you need to skimp, you can skip some services and “avoid tipping without being disrespectful,” Gottsman says. For example, you can handle your own luggage by packing light with a no-fuss bag, such as a small roller-bag or backpack. Doing so will help you politely dodge bag assistance from skycaps, drivers and bellhops and free yourself from any obligation to tip them. If you want a break from housekeeping gratuities, put the “do not disturb" sign to work and only leave a couple of dollars on check-out day.

5. Read the fine print. Some hotels, especially high-end places, automatically include gratuities for certain amenities, such as room service. Cruise lines might also tack tips onto your bill. Standard procedure aboard Carnival and Celebrity cruise lines, for example, is to automatically add $11.50 per passenger per day to your onboard account. (You can adjust that amount at the guest services desk. The charge will be clearly labeled as a gratuity or service charge on your bill.) At the onboard bars, your bills will include a 15% tip. So before you’re too unintentionally generous, check your hotel’s or cruise line’s policies.

You might even find some places where tipping is forbidden. Many all-inclusive resorts, such as Beaches and Sandals, already factor gratuities into the package prices and discourage guests from giving any additional cash to staff members. You might even get employees in trouble if you insist on slipping them a tip. In such cases, you can still do something special for a person who has provided you with exceptional service. “Write a note to the management on behalf of that employee extolling how well you were treated,” Post says. “You will do that employee a tremendous amount of good by doing that.” And it’s free for you.

6. Tips can get lost in translation. If you’re traveling outside the United States, you can avoid an international incident by studying up on the host culture’s tipping tendencies. In Italy and much of Europe, for example, you should tip taxi drivers the same way you would stateside -- about 15% of the fare. But at restaurants across the Atlantic, our standard 15% to 20% tips would seem extravagant. “People sometimes just leave the change from their bill or up to 5%,” Post says. In Japan, tipping in any situation is not part of the culture and would be considered awkward or even insulting. Instead, you can express appreciation with your words or by bowing.

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