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Tipping On Vacation: Sometimes It's Obvious; Sometimes It's Rude

Peter Dejong
A maid opens a curtain as she cleans the windows in a hotel room in Amsterdam, in 2012.

Travel involves tipping, from the airport shuttle to the hotel to the restaurants, and sometimes even the bathroom. KPLU travel expert talks about some of the places you might be expected to leave a gratuity.


In some places, you’ll find a bathroom attendant to offer you soap or a towel. Other public restrooms require a fee for entry, or a small fee to get toilet paper on your way in (we’re looking at you, Cuba). It’s a mostly thankless job, and your tip is always appreciated.


Had a good meal? “You can ask to meet the chef,” Brumley says. He often tips when he does. “That really surprises them, and I think they find it touching that someone found the meal so good that they would personally seek them out.”

Hotel Housekeeping

This one isn’t a shocker. Between $3 and $5 a night is a good amount, Brumley says. Note that you might not get the same maid for the duration of your stay. It’s good to tip every day if you can, so the tip goes to the person who actually cleans your room, rather than the person who gets a windfall from you during their first shift at the end of your four-night stay.

Also, leave a simple note that says “Thanks!” or “For housekeeping,” so the staff knows they’re allowed to take the money.

Uber Drivers

Brumley says he tips these ride-sharing drivers, even though the app won’t let him – and in fact, says not to.

“They’re often times surprised but also very thankful,” he said. “People are just trying to make a living, and often it’s a very basic living. Any little bit helps.”

How Rude

In some countries or cultures, a tip can be awkward or even rude. In Japan, for example, you might be chased down the street by a waiter who’s positive you forgot that money you left on the table. Guide books will usually give you destination-specific advice.

And there are some cultures where it’s customary to refuse a gift a few times before gladly accepting.

And in some cultures, it’s just not done. If you feel like you’ve crossed a boundary, apologize and thank them for their service. Don’t sweat the awkwardness.

“Most people have an understanding that we just have good intentions, and that it wasn’t anything intended to be rude,” Brumley said. “I don’t think you have to worry too much about insulting someone once you’ve apologized and moved on.”


"Going Places" is KPLU's weekly exploration of travel. Matthew Brumley is the co-founder of Earthbound Expeditions, which provides small-group travel to clients including KPLU. 

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.