Who should you tip when traveling? Travel etiquette, according to the Emily Post Institute

Tipping these days can feel more like a burden than a blessing, especially with so many businesses prompting customers to tip with ubiquitous touchscreens. But that's not the way it's supposed to be.

"When it's functioning well, tipping should make everyone feel good – both the person receiving the tip and the person giving it," said Daniel Post Senning, spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute, author of several books, including Emily Post's Etiquette, The Centennial Edition, and the great-great-grandson of etiquette icon Emily Post.

Giving gratefully isn't always easy, but knowing whom to tip, how much to tip and when to tip can help, especially while traveling.

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A tip jar sits on a counter at Zak the Baker in Miami on June 20, 2018.
A tip jar sits on a counter at Zak the Baker in Miami on June 20, 2018.

What does gratuity mean?

By definition, a gratuity is a voluntary payment for services rendered, above the actual cost.

"The root of the word gratuity is the same root as the word gratitude," Senning noted. "I think the more we can keep the spirit of gratitude a part of the way we approach gratuity or tipping, the better it's going to work and the better it's going to feel for everyone involved."

To get in the spirit, he advised, "Think about the person that you're interacting with, the service that they provided for you. It's a great way to humanize it."

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Is it really necessary to tip?

Generally, no.

"That's kind of one of the things about etiquette. Oftentimes it's not a 'have to.' It's an opportunity. It's a 'want to,' " Sennig said. "One of the defining aspects of it is that it's optional. ... And when it is something that you choose to do because you're feeling good about the service and you want to show appreciation, you want to add that little something extra, it can feel really good. I also think it gets easier to do when you're not feeling beset or obligated, but when you're feeling appreciative and inspired."

There is one major exception. While still not officially required, Sennig says tips should be considered obligatory at table-service restaurants in the U.S., where servers are paid lower wages with the understanding that tips make up the lion's share of their taxable earnings.

"It's part of the social contract," he said. "It's a whole separate category, and until the underlying way that we pay those servers changes, that expectation that you tip 15 to 20% should be part of your budgeting, part of your thinking before you go in."

He suggests planning for tips as part of the budget for any trip.

A street vendor sells food in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Dec. 28, 2022.
A street vendor sells food in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Dec. 28, 2022.

Do people tip overseas?

It depends.

"In many, many places, it's still much appreciated," Senning said. "I think most often, the advice when traveling abroad is that it's not going to be as much as 15 or 20%, but far be it for me to put limits on anyone's generosity."

A small tip may be plenty in many European restaurants, where servers are paid living wages, or service charges are already get tacked onto bills. In Japan, conversely, tipping is generally not practiced at all.

Senning advises against tipping where it would be considered rude or careless tipping. "You also don't want to be that person who's just throwing money around, who thinks the money can stand in for genuine appreciation – looking someone in the eye saying 'thank you' in a language that they understand – trying to substitute money for human connection when you're talking about recognizing and respecting someone who's providing service."

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Is it rude to tip in another currency?

Some destinations, like Turks & Caicos and Costa Rica, readily accept U.S. dollars. However, generally, when traveling abroad, Senning said, "Local currency is always a great idea."

Do you tip at the airport? How much do you tip for baggage?

Senning recommends $1 or $2 per bag for curbside baggage handlers and offsite airport shuttle drivers who help load and unload luggage.

"If you happen to have a five (dollar bill) and you had seven bags, I don't think anybody would look askance at a $5 tip after seven-bag carry," he laughed. "But it is a good jumping-off point and a good way to give yourself a starting place."

He recommends travelers carry small denominations of cash on hand for tipping as occasions arise.

Travelers line up for curbside baggage check-in at Denver International Airport on Nov. 23, 2021.
Travelers line up for curbside baggage check-in at Denver International Airport on Nov. 23, 2021.

How much do you tip at a hotel?

Senning recommends tipping bellhops $1 to $2 per bag, like baggage handlers. He suggests similar amounts for staff who deliver items upon request, like extra towels.

For housekeepers, he suggests leaving $1 to $2 per guest, per day that housekeeping is provided, which may not be daily.

"It's recommended to leave it each night that the service is done, not at the end of the day where maybe one person who hasn't done the service over the course of that week gets the full tip," he said. "You can leave a little bit each day or each day that you're expecting housekeeping to be there."

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How much tip should you give a driver?

"Traveling domestically, you want to think about tipping somewhere between 10 and 20% for a for-hire ride," Senning said of services like taxi cabs, Uber and Lyft.

"Sometimes that screen in the back of the cab is suggesting 25, 35, 45% even, and just like the turnaround iPad on countertops (at businesses), you don't have to go with their suggested amounts," he added. "It's really up to you. And if you're planning for, budgeting for something that's in a lower range, it is completely OK to click 'other amount' and to do that amount."

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Is it mandatory to tip on a cruise?

Tips are generally expected on cruises, which bill passengers daily gratuities starting at around $15 per person, per day. That's usually an automatic charge, but passengers can request adjusted amounts on board.

The money gets divided among room stewards, food and beverage staff and other service workers on the ship, but not everyone. "It's good to know that as you're planning, budgeting, just so you don't miss it, you don't think all the gratuities are covered but actually no, the person that just gave you that awesome massage is not (included), and you would really want to give them a little something," Senning said.

Even with daily gratuities, guests are welcome to tip individual crew members for exceptional service throughout the course of sailings.

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A housekeeping crew member looks out from the MSC Magnifica while docked at the Fremantle Passenger Terminal in Australia on March 24, 2020.
A housekeeping crew member looks out from the MSC Magnifica while docked at the Fremantle Passenger Terminal in Australia on March 24, 2020.

Do you tip at an all-inclusive?

"Sometimes a gratuity is added to all-inclusive packages, other times not," Senning said. "Sometimes it is expected but is left in your hands, and that is another thing that you would want to know."

If it's not clear, he recommends asking what is expected.

"The long advice is to be a detective," he said. "Think about tipping for travel as part of the budget and be curious. Ask friends who have experience. Look at discussion groups. Read about the industry."

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What is the rule of thumb for tipping?

Because customs vary widely by situation and destination, Senning said, "It's always advisable to do a little bit of research to find out ahead of time what the standards and expectations are anywhere that you're landing."

"Far from sort of revealing how little you know, it shows care and shows respect for the establishment and the people that work there to ask," he added. "Most people are of goodwill and good intent, and if you ask them  how it's usually done, they'll let you know, and then you can decide how you want to participate."

Eve Chen is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Georgia. You can reach her at echen@usatoday.com

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: A traveler's rules for tipping according to the Emily Post Institute