Most common travelers’ tipping mistakes

54 min.

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A few coins can cause a lot of drama.

College professor Gene McManus was having a quick dinner in Sydney and had just gotten back his change from a sarcastic waiter. “I thought, I’ll show you, I’ll leave a 2-cent tip,” says the Canadian, “so I left these two small, ugly coins that looked like Life Savers.” The next day he returned to the restaurant and was greeted enthusiastically and shown to the best table. “Turns out that ugly coin was a $2 coin,” says McManus. “I’d tipped $4 on a $12 bill.”

The most ironic part of the story? McManus’ waiter likely wasn’t even expecting 2 cents—because in Australia, restaurant patrons rarely tip at all.

Since travel offers us countless opportunities to thank those who ease the way for us (valets, drivers, bartenders), it also offers myriad chances for making tipping mistakes. And though most of us have made the occasional gaffe—unintentionally stiffing a deserving hotel housekeeper, for instance, or expecting a tipee to make change—learning from these can ensure a more rewarding travel experience for everyone involved.

“Tipping is part of your vacation, and it’s also part of doing business when you travel—and you need to budget for it,” says Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and the owner of the Protocol School of Texas. “You’re tipping for the moment, and for future service—so that they will remember you the next time.”

Her rule of thumb for traveling overseas? When in doubt, ask a concierge or guide for local tipping protocol. In the U.S., she advises, “If they touch it, you tip them.“

If it’s any comfort to tip-happy Americans, people from other countries are often just as clueless about tipping when they come to our shores.

One Australian travel insurance agency has even decided that their clients need educating: “Since Australians don’t tip at home, there is great angst about it, and they have come to blows over it,” says Phil Sylvester of the Sydney-based World Nomads Group. “We finally decided it was a safety issue that needed addressing—as in, ‘Don’t get into a fight, learn to tip.’”

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