Should I Tip?

Hello, my name is Josie. I am Australian and I do not tip.

Yes, I’m going there. I am going to write about this almost always-controversial aspect of travel – tipping.

Nearly every time I see it brought up in discussions online, the conversation becomes heated. It goes from “you must tip because people rely on these tips to live” to “never tip if that’s not the culture”.

So let’s break this down a little

A person looking through Australian bank notes. Only the hands and notes are visible

Tipping in Australia

Here in Australia, tipping is something you do only if you receive exceptional service.

It is totally normal to just pay the dollar value on the bottom of the bill in a restaurant, or the amount on the meter in a taxi.

But you can also add a little extra if the person has done something that warrants a reward or recognition.

You see, here, everyone is paid a living wage. At the time of writing (Feb 2024) the minimum adult full-time wage in Australia is $23.23AUD/hour.

Of course, there are exceptions, with junior wages, casual work and contractors, but generally, people can survive off even the minimum wage.

In practice, when paying in a restaurant or a taxi, many people will round up the bill to offer a tip. There is no set percentage though.

Last weekend, for example, myself, my husband and another couple went out for dinner. It was a great restaurant, the meal was fantastic and the staff were attentive and personable.

Our total bill came to $207. Each couple chose to pay $110, meaning a small tip of around $13 between us.

In a taxi, if there is a conversation if I want it and they take the most appropriate route, I will often round up to the nearest $5, and in an Uber, add a $3 tip.

Other than that, I rarely tip. I don’t tip my hairdresser or the housekeepers at a hotel. I don’t tip in a bar or in a coffee shop. I don’t tip tour guides or valet parking.

I’m not particularly stingy (okay, sometimes I can be), this is pretty much the norm for everyone here in Australia.

Three US $1 notes and some coins on a tray

Tipping in North America

Let me start this by saying I really don’t know a whole lot about tipping in North America. The system is complicated and confusing, and fraught with danger for the unsuspecting foreigner.

The fear of tipping is certainly a consideration when it comes to travelling in the US or Canada. In fact, it really puts me off.

I’ve heard so many stories about retaliation when a tip is not paid, the shaming that happens from others if you don’t tip enough, or the guilt of knowing the recipient relies on those tips to live.

So I have only spent a month in North America, in Vancouver, Alaska and Seattle.

Even then I was with my daughter, who was living in Vancouver at the time, and my husband who mostly pays, so they took care of the tips.

I wish that the “compulsory” 20% was just included in the prices since it has to be paid everywhere anyway. Just say that the drink at the bar is $12 instead of $10.

It’s really hard to make choices when you go to pay and discover there’s taxes added and then a tip.

Just include it in your thinking up front, you may say, and yes, you’re right, I should do that.

But when you have taken the price on a menu or a price tag for granted your whole life, it’s hard to shift that mindset to be able to quickly calculate the actual price.

I mean, just take a look at how difficult it is for people from the US to get their heads around not tipping when they travel!

A receipt and some coins on a small white plate next to some white tea cups

Tipping When Travelling

I’ve already said tipping scares me when going to USA or Canada, but what about elsewhere in the world?

Mostly, I do as I do in Australia, I don’t tip unless I get great service.

Sadly, as tourists, we are often on the end of requests for tips – I often wonder if I am mistaken for being American because I am also told that Australians are known to not be tippers.

I believe anyone with an American/Canadian accent is immediately targetted for tips.

I remember a particular story from an American girl in one of the FB travel groups I’m in saying she couldn’t understand why people were saying not to tip in Australia because everywhere she went she was asked to tip.

All I can think of is that people heard her American accent, and the mere suggestion of a tip felt like a demand and played on the guilt she was used to feeling when not tipping.

We’ve all heard the reasons for not tipping in a place where tips are not part of the local culture. It’s all about respecting the local practices.

Introducing tipping to a place where it’s not customary can set a new expectation. This might lead to a shift in how locals and future visitors are treated.

By tipping, you might be accidentally undermining the local efforts to create fair wage systems. It can sometimes create inequalities among service workers, especially in places where not all roles are visible or tip-eligible.

By refraining from tipping, you’re supporting a more equitable distribution of income among all staff.

If tipping isn’t part of the local customs, your gesture could also leave the receiver feeling awkward, confused, or even offended.

So if tipping is normal to you, think carefully when you travel to places that don’t tip. It’s better to not tip as a default, and add a few dollars for especially good service.

If, like me, you’re from a non-tipping country and go to the US (for example), then do as the locals do and tip everyone 20%. Add it to your budget before you go so you are not shocked when you come home.

A US $10 note being handed from one person to another. Only the hands and note are visible.

But What about Less-Developed Countries?

To start with, I didn’t know what to call this section. Perhaps “countries where our dollar goes further?” Or “Third-world countries?”

Either way, I am referring to those countries where we know that an extra dollar or two will make a huge difference to the recipient, but the giver will barely notice it gone.

My stance here is still the same. Don’t routinely tip, but do tip if you’ve had good service. Again I recommend just rounding up to the nearest note if you are paying cash or to a sensible round number if using a credit card.

It is true that a small tip (to us) can go a long way.

We were in Bali a few years ago and I hired a private driver for the day. It was going to cost us 600,000 IDR, or about $60AUD. He spent the whole day driving us around, even once the sun had gone down because we wanted to see sunset.

We then learned it was his wedding anniversary. I added 100,000 extra when I paid him and told him to buy his wife something nice since we had kept him longer than expected on his anniversary.

This cost me $10, but the extra would have gone a long way when the average Bali wage was only $3M/month.

You do need to be careful that your tip is not going to be seen as offensive. Japan comes to mind as a place where tipping even a little is not just uncommon, and will usually not be accepted.

It is also not a good idea for the tip to come across as “charity”. There needs to be a reason for it.

Perhaps your server helped you to understand the menu in a different language or your tour guide went above and beyond with extra suggestions for your trip – I like to state these reasons as I hand over the cash.

“There’s a little extra there to thank you for all the awesome information you have given me for my trip”.

This encourages good service in the future and makes the tip feel “earned” rather than “given”.

Some Euro notes and coins on a white saucer sitting on top of a receipt

To Tip or Not to Tip?

So should I tip? There you have it, my thoughts on tipping.

Not everyone is going to agree with me, but all in all, I say go with the local customs and tip for good service rather than because you think you should.

And watch out for people trying to get you to tip simply because of your country of origin or the colour of your skin.

For more travel tips, read these next
How to get Foreign Currency for your Travels
6 Ways to Save Money on Travel
What to Do When Your Flight Gets Cancelled

TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS

Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs

Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.

Hire a rental carRentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.

Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.

Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.

Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.

Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.

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