Chugging slowly back to Can Tho along the muddy and often polluted Mekong river, it hadn’t exactly been a great day.
The “off-beat” floating markets trip that we’d been promised, was very much “on-beat” – not only were we under the distinct impression that the market by now operated solely as a revenue making from tourists opportunity, but we’d also arrived so late that we’d almost missed it. Our boat had had engine problems, which combined with a late start, had set us behind. So you can imagine our surprise when at the end of trip when we were asked persistently for tips by our clearly far-from-wealthy boat driver.
What to do?
When travelling, not only do we find ourselves outside of our comfort zones and outside of our social norms, but we also (if travelling in the developing world) can find ourselves in situations where it’s hard to know what’s right to do when it comes to tipping responsibly.
To help with this tricky question, we’re taking a look at tipping practices around the world, in some of our favourite Better Places Travel destinations. We’ll also cover the ethical questions too!
Within this beautiful region, tipping practices while travelling can vary significantly from country to country.
Tipping is quite common in Argentina, from bars in Buenos Aires, to tours and even a trip to the barbers, it’s usual to leave a little extra. In restaurants and cafes, 10% is normal. In bars, if they are high end and serve great cocktails, tipping is appreciated. Taxi drivers do not need tipping, but on the other hand the trapitos who help you park and look after your car will have set charges. It’s usual to tip in local currency, but for tours where you are very happy, 10%-20% of the price is not uncommon, and USD are very much appreciated due to the currency situation in Argentina.
Tourism has been increasing sharply in Cuba since the easing of sanctions (although that has recently seen something of a reversal for US travellers) and many more people have been making the journey to see Cuba. Tipping though, remains unexpected – that is outside of the all-inclusive resorts. Assuming you’ll be staying in more locally owned accommodations, then tips should only be given where you feel you’ve received really good service – in restaurants, to drivers, or in hotels. Always tip in local Pesos rather than dollars or other currencies.
In general tips in Peru are welcomed and appreciated. In restaurants and any sit-down bars / cafes, tips are not included in the bill and it is customary to add 10-15% based on your experience and appreciation. While trekking (including the Inca Trail) tips are an essential part of the tourism infrastructure there and lower-paid work often depends on gratuities. Guidelines are to tip a tour guide the equivalent of 10-20 USD per person per day. Tips for the cooks, porters and drivers are important as this work is often underpaid. Tips can be handed to your guide to be distributed and guidelines are around 5-7 USD per person per day of the trip for the group of support staff.
For travel to Bhutan (assuming you do not have an Indian, Bangladeshi or Nepalese passport) there is a daily fee for travel in Bhutan. This covers accommodation, meals, guides, drivers and site entry. However, tipping for guides and drivers is still welcomed (and even expected) as the average salary in Bhutan remains relatively low. As a small country, Bhutan has relatively few industries, and tourism makes up a large amount of its revenue. 10 USD per day is the recommended amount for guides and 6 USD per day for drivers. If trekking in Bhutan make sure to tip your cooks and porters, around 5 USD per person per day total (the guide will divide the tips).
Tipping is only really expected at high-end establishments, and by drivers and guides working in tourism. For small, casual/local thali restaurants, a tip directly given to your server (think 10-20 rupees) is a nice gesture if you enjoyed the food and service.
In more upmarket restaurants expect around 10% to be added to your bill, although you may need to check if service charge is included or not – as places vary. If no service charge is added it is customary to tip 10% in high-end places. You certainly don’t need to tip taxis/rickshaws (chances are your tip has been included in the price ;-)), and in hotels for staff who carry your bag you can tip between 20-50 rupees per bag depending on the level of hotel (less for budget hotels). Drivers and Guides will appreciate a tip.
Tipping is not the norm in Vietnam, and locals rarely tip (an exception is ladies going to the hairdresser!). As a tourist, however, you may find that many ask for – and even expect – tips from tourists. The ethical discussion of tipping aside, if you’d like to tip then you can tip a small amount, for example, rounding up to the nearest 20,000 dong if you’ve received good service while having your coffee in a cafe or to hotel staff who have helped carry your bags.
In restaurants you can add 5-10% for the bill in higher-end places where this will be more expected. In some luxury establishments a service charge is added to the bill, but unfortunately this service charge does not usually find its way into the pockets of the waiting staff. You can tip them an additional 5% if you’ve received good service.
Like anywhere else in the Middle East, tipping (sometimes referred to as baksheesh) is an integral part of daily life and the tourism culture. In hotels 1-2 USD for bellboys and luggage porters is customary, 5-10% in cafes and restaurants, and around 5 USD per day for drivers. For private guides, a price is usually negotiated, and so tipping on top should not be done unless you have received great service.
If someone goes out of their way to help you do something that is not normally possible (e.g. opening a closed museum or monument) they are likely to ask for Baksheesh. You can give a small amount at your discretion – but if you suspect that they are pretending / attempting to con you, walk away. If people are exceptionally helpful, you can offer some small change for their children as a way to thank them without giving offence.
The Ethics of Tipping While Travelling
Understandably, there’s a lot of debate about the responsibility of tipping, particularly in countries where tipping by locals is not at all the norm. On one hand, it’s a nice thing to do to show appreciation of good service, and help provide additional income in a country where salaries may be (very) low.
On the other hand, it can also set a precedent for tipping from future visitors, so that it becomes expected from future visitors, and even (in extreme cases) a pain for visitors if everyone wants a tip.
The problem often is that service workers come to rely on tips to provide their basic income due to unfair distribution of money for tours and services sold to tourists.
It can be hard to work out where the initial money that you’ve paid for a tour or other service is going. In my Vietnam example given at the beginning of this article (which was not through Better Places Travel) – hardly any of the ~40 USD we had paid for the trip was going to the staff we actually met. Of that ~40 USD, only ~2 USD went to the boat driver, and from that lowly 2 USD he also had to pay for the fuel. In that context, it seemed only right that we should tip him, even if his boat had been very slow. But the problem is that it fell to us, as visitors, to work out where that money was going, and to fix the unethical distribution of money of the tour company we had gone with.
When travelling, choose a known, recommended and ethical operator, and always ask questions to different people about salaries, where the money goes and the financial situation in the country to get an idea.
In some countries – such as Japan – tipping can also be seen as an insult. In general, around the world, tip service workers and guides; managers and owners of any business are too senior to be tipped and might take any such effort as an insult
Tipping preferences also vary from person to person, and you should only offer a tip where you feel you have been offered a good service, or you feel that it is the right thing to do.
Still have doubts about what and how to tip on your travels? Better Places Travel works with local experts who can always give you advice on what to do, and we choose ethical local companies who pay guides and staff a fair wage.
Read our various blogs on travel tips, sustainability, plastic-free travel and more.
ABOUT ELLIE CLEARY – SOUL TRAVEL BLOG
Creating positive impact through travel.
Former hotelier turned travel blogger, Ellie is the founder of Soul Travel Blog, a blog that looks to turn travel in to a win-win equation: benefiting the destination as well as the traveller. Ellie is always on the lookout for the next sustainable or responsible hotel, tour company or destination to share with her readers.
After 5 years working in the hotel industry in her hometown of London, UK, Ellie moved to the Netherlands to work for Booking dot com from 2010-2016. There she headed up their Global Accounts team, managing relationships and contracting with major international hotel chains.
In 2016 the call to do something related to responsible travel became impossible to resist, and since July 2016 Ellie is location independent. Alongside running the award-winning Soul Travel Blog, Ellie works as a freelance writer and consultant for sustainable travel brands. When not travelling or writing about travel, Ellie enjoys yoga, a good book, and scenic train journeys.