tipping abroad - Travel Etiquette: Tipping, Budgeting & Understanding Foreign Currency

Travel Etiquette: Tipping, Budgeting & Understanding Foreign Currency

The following is a guest post by Kacey from The Drifter Collective!

You’re going on vacation, which means you’re going somewhere that’s not home. And, while you’re very familiar with the customs of your home country, you might not be as sure of what’s considered polite in the city or cities you’ll visit.

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At no time is this more apparent than when it’s time to tip. In the U.S., you should put down 15 to 20 percent in most cases, though certain experiences or services incur a different percentage. However, not every country runs like America; therefore, you should brush up on your tipping and currency knowledge before you hit the road.

To help you get started, here are some of the most useful tips when it comes to tipping and using foreign currency while traveling.

1. Not Everyone Expects a Tip

In some places, including Australia, waiters receive a livable wage, which means they don’t necessarily need or expect a tip. In many countries across Europe, too, those in the service industry are paid hourly at a rate much higher than servers in the U.S. Therefore, they don’t expect you to pay a tip.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t or can’t leave a tip, though servers mostly expect a little something extra when they provide service that’s above and beyond. It’s up to you to decide what qualifies as extraordinary waiting services, but when you experience it, be sure to reward it with a tip.

2. Check For a Service Fee

If you’ve forgotten to look up the tipping customs in the country where you’ve traveled, be sure to scan your receipt for clues as to whether or not you need to leave a tip. In many countries, the receipt from your meal will include a service charge of at least 10 percent. This figure goes toward a tip for everyone in the restaurant whose service improved your experience.

In most cases, this fee covers your end of the deal: you don’t have to leave an additional tip if you don’t want to. However, if you feel as though you’ve received exceptional service, leave your server a little something extra. To that end, if you don’t find a service fee, be sure to tip on top of the bill’s total, as no kickback to the staff is included in the price.

3. Cards Not Always Accepted

When it’s time to pay your bill, your instinct will probably be to hand over a credit or debit card — you’re American, after all. However, not every country has as much freedom to swipe as we do, so do some prep before you travel so that you can pay like a local.

In most cases, it’s safest to have cash on hand. Places across Europe will accept cards for a minimum charge of, say, 10 euros, for example — this figure varies, though most credit card charges will come with a minimum value. More widely used is the debit card, so that businesses can protect against fraudulent charges: if a cardholder knows a PIN, it’s more than likely his or her actual account.

Of course, you will find lots of places have just as up-to-date tech as the U.S. and that you can use your card. However, it’s smart to carry cash at all times and to ask before you order if you can use plastic to pay, just to double check.

4. Don’t Forget to Tip Cruise Staff

Another incredibly popular way to travel is by cruise ship. Many of these vessels entice travelers with promises of all-inclusive service, but this can be confusing when it comes to tipping your favorite, most hard-working servers.

In most cases, your final tab for your cruise will include a daily service fee, which goes toward tipping the staffers who tended to you. Of course, you can have cash on-hand to pay those who worked extra hard to make your stay memorable.

On that note, make a point to learn about tipping customs where you’ll port, too. A service fee may be included for the on-board staff, but those who help you on land might be doing so with the expectation of a well-deserved tip.

5. Expect Your Money to Go Further (or Shorter, Depending Where You Go)

A trip to the grocery store in England will be surprising for any American who’s used to shopping for produce in America. Even with the pound conversion, the low cost of fruits and vegetables can have you feeling reverse sticker shock — and that’ll be a pleasant surprise on your vacation.

However, most monetary surprises have negative consequences, which come in the form of unexpected fees, exchange rates or otherwise expensive goods that aren’t normally pricy at home. Do your research before leaving to learn the country or countries’ conversion rates so you know how much cash to withdraw to remain within your budget.

When you hit the local shops, you’ll probably be surprised by how much (or how little) the for-sale goods cost. By learning about how supplier deals work, for example, you might understand that local farms in Spain work directly with stores to supply their produce, thus eliminating the middleman and extra fees from the food you buy. Local shops’ products and national brands will probably cost less, too.

6. Be Ready to Barter

There are some countries in the world where the price tag is only a suggestion. You can ask the shop owners in places like Morocco and Turkey if they’re willing to budge on price. If they say “no,” put the item down and start to walk out of the shop just to see if they’ll engage in the bartering process with you. Chances are, they will, and you can get a good deal on your new purchase without paying full price.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Try Tipping

With so much attention on service staff, it’s easy to forget that others depend on tips for their living wage, too. Your baristas, taxi drivers, concierges, bell boys, tour guides, scuba instructors… everyone who’s working for you while you’re on vacation could be someone worthy of a tip.

If you’re ever in a situation where you’re unsure about tipping custom but want to give someone a tip, don’t be afraid to hand over a few extra dollars, pounds, euros or pesos. In the worst-case scenario, the staffer will politely decline the money, if that’s his or her custom.

However, in most cases, workers will be happy to accept a tip. You’ll both be better for it, and your vacation will continue without any sort of confusion or regret for not handing over a token of your gratitude. Instead, you’ll brighten someone’s day and continue making memories of your own on your vacation, which is why you’re there, after all.  


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Kacey is a lifestyle blogger for The Drifter Collective, an eclectic lifestyle blog that expresses various forms of style through the influence of culture and the world around us. Kacey graduated with a degree in Communications while working for a lifestyle magazine. She has been able to fully embrace herself with the knowledge of nature, the power of exploring other locations and cultures, all while portraying her love for the world around her through her visually pleasing, culturally embracing and inspiring posts.

Follow Kacey on Twitter and subscribe to her blog to keep up with her travels and inspiring posts!


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  1. Hubby & I travel frequently and we still tip in certain places even though it’s not required. I think because we are so accustomed to our culture here that we do it automatically without thinking.

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