Travel Travel Tips USA

The Art of Tipping

I’m putting it out there – I am a terrible tipper.

I used to hate it. The first few times I travelled around the USA, I was on a shoestring budget and I loathed having to add on an extra to what I was paying. It was borderline un-Australian to tip twenty-odd years ago – well, that was my excuse!

This trip things are different. Maybe it is because I’m older, or have a few more travel experiences under my belt, or a travel budget that doesn’t have to stretch for months. Whatever the reason, I’m finding that I’m a lot happier to tip. However, even though I get that most hospitality staff make their living largely on tips, there’s a problem. Sometimes I simply forget.

Take the shuttle bus driver I had yesterday. He hopped off the bus to help me with my bags. He was chatty and helpful, dropping me right at the door and then hauling my bags off the bus again for me. I offered him profuse thanks for his efforts – but that doesn’t pay the bills, does it? I would happily have tipped him a couple of dollars, but it didn’t occur to me. I completely forgot. He’s probably thinking, “Goddamn Australians! Then never tip.” Sorry, Mr Shuttle Bus Driver!

At lunch yesterday, there was no way I couldn’t forget to tip my waitress. The automated payment machine on the table kindly added 20% to the total and asked me to press a button if I agreed. Sure! Thanks for the reminder! Keep the change!

Then last night, I watched as a couple of patrons at the bar paid their bill for the last drink. After they left the barman showed me the bill – on the line where the gratuity should have been added they had written SMILES 🙂 Fortunately the barman had a sense of humour!

So how much do you tip? Who do you tip? When do you tip? For travel-related services in the US, this is what my “research” (also known as asking a few locals) suggests:

  • At a restaurant – 15-20% if the service was good or great, and 10% if it was poor.
  • At a bar – $1-2 per drink
  • A shuttle bus driver – $1-2 per bag
  • A hotel porter – $1-2 per bag, given when he drops the bags off.
  • A hotel maid/housekeeping – $2-3 per night, left in the room when you check out.
  • A taxi driver – 10-15% of fare
  • At a day spa – 10-20% of the bill
  • A tour guide – 15-20% of the tour value, depending on how good they were, how informative they were, and so on.

For a far more detailed and thorough explanation on this, have a look at this article. There are also some handy apps that you can download which calculate tips quickly. I like Cool Tip Calculator – you nominate the percentage, enter the total bill amount and it tells you how much to pay. It’s particularly helpful if you’re not really a numbers person.

My final “tip” is to get lots of one dollar and five dollar bills for any trip to the USA (or in fact any country that deals in US dollars, such as Cambodia, Kenya and so on). Small change is your friend here!

The Art of Tipping
The Art of Tipping

Got any of your own tipping tips? I would love to hear from you – add your comments and hints for us to share.


Safe Travels,

x Sonia x

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