Despite all the ink—and more recently, pixels—devoted to the subject, many travelers are still unsure about when, how, who, and how much to tip. A reader put his question succinctly:
“How much should I tip a tour guide in Penang Malaysia for a day tour?”
The short answer is, “Most travel writers would recommend $5 to $10 a day.” But our reader’s question brings up the broader question of tipping, generally, which deserves a bit of a look.
One learned source traces the history of tipping back to Roman times (or maybe even 2,680 BCE). Until recently, however, tipping was often practiced only in limited situations, and many countries developed no-tipping cultures.
As far as I can tell, the current worldwide practice of tipping practically everybody emerged after World War II: Those days, tip-happy Americans did most of the world’s leisure and business travel, and they exported their tipping culture just as they exported entertainment and music cultures. I remember in my first visit to Australia (in the 1950s) hearing complaints from locals about how Americans were “ruining” the country’s no-tipping restaurant and hotel environment.
Whatever the history, today’s travelers face a wide array of potential tipping situations. And although most of us can make reasonable estimates in most situations, two situations remain something of a challenge:
- What to do in supposedly no-tipping countries or situations, and
- What to do when a “service” charge is automatically added to the bill.
Although you can find some guidance, these questions are by no means settled.
Restaurants, Porters, and Taxis
Although lots of online sites post “tipping guides,” many of them reference the same basic source: The extremely comprehensive Worldwide Tipping Guide posted on the website for Magellan’s travel supply mart. It covers tipping for restaurants, porters, and taxis in 77 countries from Argentina to Wales, including most of those you’re likely to visit. Here are some highlights from this tabulation:
- Absent service charges, the most common tipping rates around the world are 10 percent in restaurants, 10% in taxis, and the rough equivalent of $1 US or €1 euro per bag in hotels.
- In Western Europe, where restaurants typically add a 10 to 15 percent service charge, the standard recommendation seems to be to add something between rounding up the odd change to about 5 percent.
- Current no-tipping countries include Japan, Malaysia, Oman, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam.
The Independent’s non-tabular guide is in general agreement. However, it recommends tipping the maid in Japanese-style accommodations. It also describes Australia as a “no tipping country,” in contrast to Magellan’s recommendation of 10 percent in “fine” restaurants and $2 per bag to porters.
One other general rule: If you’re eating or staying on a voucher, at a huge discount, or on a meals-included package, calculate the tip on the “list” price rather than what you actually paid.
Tour Guides and Drivers
Most sources tend to recommend tipping a tour guide anywhere from $2 for a short tour to $5 for a full day or multiples of a day. Some recommend up to $10 for a full day, as well as $2 or so to the tour bus driver.
The general rule seems to be tip only when an employee has performed some special service for you. Typically, that means $1 or $2 per bag for porters, $1 or $2 for a doorperson—maybe a bit more for hailing you a taxi on a rainy day—and more for “concierges” or others who take time to make special arrangements for you.
When I started traveling, nobody ever considered tipping the maids who maintained hotel rooms. These days, however, most sources seem to believe that a tip of $2 to $5 a day is expected, depending on the class of hotel and how much of a mess you generate.
One area of more than usual confusion: tipping at all-inclusive resorts that supposedly include a service charge. In the Mexico Forum at sister site TripAdvisor, the consensus seems to favor some additional tipping, although nobody suggests any firm dollar figures. As far as I can tell, tipping at supposedly “no tipping” inclusive resorts is most prevalent in Mexico.
Cruise tipping has generated a disproportionate amount of attention. Although you may disagree with some of the specifics, the most useful cruise tipping guide I’ve found is the Cruise Tip Calculator Calculator, an interactive site with specific information for most major cruise lines. According to this site, most lines now assess overall service charges on a per-day basis, to be paid separately from the base cruise price as promoted. The site shows charges for each line, which generally run $10 to $12 a day, with a few lines above and below this range. Of course, you may be able to opt out of the charge and tip individually—but you probably won’t pay any less. For the lines that do not add service charges—Crystal, Disney, and Royal Caribbean—the site calculates appropriate levels of daily tips for the long list of candidates: stewards, waiters, bartenders, and their various assistants. As with all-inclusive land resorts, despite official “no tipping” policies, travelers may want to reward individual employees for outstanding service.