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Top tips for tipping!

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Some folks do and some folks don’t – and if you walk the wrong way through the tipping minefield, you can ruin your whole trip. Avoid bad service, moody stares and downright offence caused, with our handy guide to who to tip; when to tip them; and what to do if you get it wrong…

Do your research

In some countries – like Japan – tipping is a positive faux pas. Japanese custom dictates that the public handing over of extra money is an insult; whereas in India (where tipping is the norm), the bellhops can’t live without tips but will deny they usually get them if you ask. Failure to research local tipping custom can mean more than a red face: you could actually be doing someone out of their livelihood.

Get some local advice

Who should you tip? How much? These questions can ruin a holiday, especially if you haven’t got much in the way of the local language. If you can find a trusted local to give you a rundown on tipping customs in the local area, listen. Hotel staff and bank staff in long-stay locations (where you use the same bank every week to cash travel cheques, for example) can be very useful here.

Understand who commonly gets tipped

In a country where tipping is done regularly, there will be some people who automatically qualify for your money – normally the providers of obvious services like waiting staff, taxi drivers and hotel cleaners. Know who is and who isn’t necessary to tip. The guy who sells you your train tickets in Sri Lanka, for example, is only giving you your money’s worth for a long train journey. A private taxi driver, on the other hand, gives you the benefit of local knowledge and door to door transport. You get the picture.


If you haven’t been able to fathom the intricacies of tipping in your destination country through research or asking around, the best thing you can do is keep your eyes open. If your fellow travelers are peeling extra notes every time you eat in a restaurant, or pressing money into the hotel staff’s hand, you probably should be too. There’s no harm in asking other wanderers, either: people staying in the same sorts of place as you are likely to provide good, relevant information.

Understand how much to tip

Some countries have a basic rule of thumb for a tip – like the USA, which usually expects visitors to tip between 15% and 20%. This applies in all sit down restaurants; taxicabs; and even bars, where you’re expected to tip with the price of every drink. Other countries, particularly eastern destinations, don’t have an obvious rule of thumb, which can mean you get a few funny looks when you over-tip and the odd hurt glare when you under-tip. A basic rule in these countries is to tip the amount you feel you can safely afford: the exchange rate in poor countries is such that what you can afford is probably more than the service provider is expecting.

And what if you get it wrong?

Learn to say “sorry” in the relevant language. A smile, a bowed head and clasped palms go a long way in most destinations too. Don’t get involved in a protracted scene, though. Plenty of Oriental countries have intricate rules about social situations, which could cause more embarrassment for both of you than just walking away. The important thing is to learn from your error and get it right next time.

When you book your cheap train tickets (by booking in advance with, you’re probably not thinking about whether and how much to tip when you get to where you’re going. Learn a few bits and pieces before you leave the country, though, and you can make that first taxi ride to your hotel with much more confidence!

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