So you’ve packed your bags, downloaded or printed your boarding pass, and you’re ready to go for your next trip. But wait! Before you jet off, don’t forget to research the tipping etiquette for your destination. Not all countries tip, and for the ones that do, the rates can vary. You don’t want to get caught in an awkward situation at the first restaurant you visit, starting your vacation off on the wrong foot. With these tips for tipping and the use of a tip calculator, you can be an informed, respectful traveler who knows exactly what to do when the bill comes around.
1) Research Tipping Rules in the Country You’re Traveling to
The rules for tipping in, for example, the U.S., don’t translate to destinations around the world. Instead of trying to quickly look up a country’s tipping rules on your phone when you may or may not have WiFi, or anxiously looking around to see what everyone else in the restaurant is doing, be prepared and see how tipping works in that specific country before you get there.
A quick internet search will give you the scoop on how much to tip in a country, as well as how that might vary depending on the circumstances. For instance, in a restaurant vs. at a hotel vs. in a cab. Additionally, some countries, such as Sweden and Costa Rica, often already include gratuity and service charges in their bill. In other places, like Rome, this can be labeled as a “sit-down” charge.
Commit these rules to memory, or make yourself a note on your phone or on a piece of paper to put in your wallet so you’ll always have it handy. If you bought a guide book for your trip, there should also be a section in there regarding tipping that you can easily refer to.
2) Understand the Culture Behind Tipping
As with any other interaction in a foreign country, from how to greet someone to how much personal space to give during a conversation, tipping is colored by that place’s culture. What you tip and how you tip somewhere can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the cultural lens it’s being seen through. When you understand a country’s culture behind tipping, it’s easier to remember how to tip there.
If you’re from the U.S., you may associate leaving a tip with gratitude, but different cultural norms and ideals could mean that’s not how it’s being perceived elsewhere. In fact, in some countries, tipping isn’t just unexpected—it might actually be rude. For example, in Japan, delivering good service is the expectation and offering a tip could end up belittling the person serving you. You don’t want to try and thank someone and then end up offending them instead!
3) Use a Tip Calculator
Once you have a country’s tipping rules and percentages in mind, you can plug them into a tip calculator to quickly figure out how much money to leave in a given situation. You’ve saved yourself from a potentially awkward encounter by knowing whether you need to tip at all, and now you can save yourself from a potentially uncomfortable pause where you’re trying to quickly do some mental math by instead using a quick tip calculator.
4) Bring Cash for Tips
Once you know how much you should be tipping in a certain place, you should also make sure to have enough cash on hand to dole out such tips, as tipping on a card is usually not ideal. Don’t forget to add tip money to your travel budget so you don’t run low on funds while you’re at your destination!
It’s a good idea to have some small bills on hand at the ready for tipping, but don’t load your wallet up with too much extra cash as you may become a target for pickpockets.
Additionally, while some countries accept or even prefer the U.S. dollar (such as the Bahamas and Belize), it’s always a safe bet to tip in the local currency. You can exchange money at the airport, or withdraw money at a local ATM once you’ve reached your destination.
5) How to Tip for Bad Service
In the U.S., tipping is customary even if the service was bad due to the fact that a majority of a server’s income comes from tips. This may or may not be the case when you’re tipping while traveling. For instance, in some places throughout Europe where tipping isn’t expected in the first place, it could be perfectly fine to forego a tip if you weren’t happy with your service.
When researching a country’s tipping etiquette, make sure to note whether you still need to leave a tip or not for bad service. Hopefully, you only have good experiences, but it never hurts to be prepared.
6) What to Do if Tipping Does Not Exist
If you come from a country where tipping is the standard no matter what, it can feel particularly uncomfortable to not leave a tip since it’s such an ingrained practice back home. However weird it may feel, it’s better to respect the country you’re in rather than to do something that just makes you feel better. If you tip somewhere where it’s not a common practice, be prepared to have your tip refused and rather than being offended, accept this in turn. Instead of tipping, you can simply express your thanks in words.
Tipping practices vary widely all across the world, and to be a respectful traveler, you should get to know the etiquette for your destination ahead of time. Once you’ve understood a country’s culture and practices regarding tipping, you can use a tip calculator to easily figure out the tip whenever the situation arises.
Cindy is a freelance writer and editor with previous experience in marketing as well as book publishing. Along with her content writing for a diverse portfolio of clients, Cindy’s work has been featured in Time Out, CultureMap, Livability, and more.