Tipping Tips for Travelers

Tipping Tips for Travelers
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Tipping Tips for Travelers

When Lance Huntley, an actor and director from San Francisco, visited Istanbul last year, he made sure to diligently follow tipping guidelines.

Good thing he did his homework. At one restaurant, the check included a 15 percent gratuity, and Huntley paid the bill and thanked the waiter. On the way to the door, the waiter stopped him. "You didn't like my service?" he asked. When Huntley expressed surprise, the waiter said that the included gratuity on the check was, "For the moon... the view... the basket of bread. Not for me." Because he had done his research, Huntley knew the waiter was simply trying to get more money from him, so he politely excused himself.

Those who don't read the bill carefully might be at risk of either offending their hosts or emptying their wallet.

Renee H. Kimball, the owner of Tranquilo Bay in Panama, adds a small gratuity to guests' bills, and discusses it with them beforehand. Far from being a hidden resort charge, Kimball says it benefits both the guests and her staff. "We don't want people to feel like they have to pull their wallet out and tip people as they move their bags around," she says.

In Panama, where the standard tip is 10 percent, the added gratuity equals less than 5 percent. Guests frequently add on to the standard gratuity, but in case of cheapskate guests, the staff still receives a small amount. For guests who ask, Kimball also discusses tipping etiquette, but doesn't bring it up unless approached.

It's not just what country you're in that determines whether or not a gratuity is included in the bill. In some places, like all-inclusive resorts, or when larger groups engage in an activity, a surcharge is automatically added. So be sure to check.

Travel expert Casey Wohl, known as The Getaway Girl, says that certain tips are standard in the U.S. "For taxi or limo drivers, a $2 to $3 tip is usually satisfactory, but more is recommended if the driver helps you with bags or provides special service." And let's say you fall down a mountain while traveling and the driver waits with a wheelchair at the airport. That extra bit of service deserves a little something more. Porters, bellmen, parking attendants, and cloakroom attendants should be tipped $1 to $2 each, unless there's a charge for the service.

Hire someone for a helicopter tour of a glacier or for protection in the wilderness? When booking such a tour, ask if the rates include tips, advises Kimball. Tip a couple of dollars per person, per day, if gratuity isn't already included.
The exception? Federal employees like National Park Rangers or National Forest Rangers aren't allowed to accept cash gratuities, even for exceptional service. Gratitude, granola bars, and a drink at the local pub, however, are often most welcome.

Tipping abroad can be vastly different from tipping in the States. In some cultures, it's considered arrogant for Americans to leave money on the table after a meal; in others, it's rude not to. And while it might not be the smartest move to ask a taxi driver from the airport to the hotel how much to give, checking for advice at the local visitors' center can help avoid creating an international incident.

For a guide to overseas tipping, check out Mint.com's Tipping Etiquette Around the World.

Travelers can recognize and appreciate exceptional service in a variety of ways -- from complimenting a particularly gracious employee to his or her manager to bringing back a trinket from the day's explorations.

Neven Gibbs says that one of the best tips he ever received while working in Las Vegas as a tour bus driver was for helping an elderly man with a broken cane into his hotel. The man gave Gibbs 50 cents. "He said to go buy a good 'seegar' with it," Gibbs recalls. "Sometimes it is the 'thank you' that is worth so much more than the money. Consider who it comes from, and why they gave it."