At what point does the travel tip jar become intrusive?
Listen. I tip, and I tip well. Like you, I tip valet, bellmen, housekeeping, waiters, bartenders, masseuses, my hairdresser, the pet groomer, room service, tour guides, taxi drivers, butlers, casino dealers, drag queens, delivery boys…. the list goes on—but I’ve noticed that list keeps getting longer in America. I’ll go into a fast-casual restaurant where the employee believes he gets a tip for literally ringing up my order. I walk down the street in a new city where a street performer will chase me down if I took a picture. You can now tip Uber drivers, dog walkers, tarot card readers. Tablets have that tip line when you go to, like, a burrito place or a pet store (and, while not a tip, you can leave a donation at drug stores when you’re checking out, which has similar vibes).
Everyone seems to be asking for money these days, and some times that tip situation can be uncomfortable. We’ve all been there. We don’t want to seem cheap and ungrateful if we don’t leave a tip but, if we don’t leave a tip, we seem cheap and ungrateful. On a vacation, you can end up spending up to $100 a day in tips alone (provided you dine out, Uber, have a cocktail, get room service, have a massage, etc). Some times it can be overwhelming, but it’s inevitable. In fact, tipping has been around since the 1700s, first documented in the UK (“TIP" is an acronym, meaning "To Insure Promptitude," where servicemen would hope for a bonus for services rendered.).
But while tipping has been popping up in nontraditional, unassuming places, it has always been part of the service industry, and the service industry is the backbone of travel. It’s part of the package.
I never questioned this until my friend and I were discussing it last night, where it was pointed out tipping is “optional” yet feels mandatory when you travel. And while tipping has traditionally been linked with service, it’s now expected with actual performance. You can’t walk down a street in New Orleans without someone banging on drums, writing poetry from a typewriter, doing a juggling act or painting themselves in gold, expecting a tip if you engage with them. It’s not just here, but anywhere there’s a dense concentration of tourists in any part of the world. Travelers often feel that tip pressure without any interaction but, no matter what the service or performance is, it’s still linked with travel and tourism to a degree. No one should make you feel pressured to tip and certainly not guilty if you don't, but tipping is part of the travel DNA. While "optional," it is an expectation and assumed. That's just how it's been for centuries.
While I can't tell you to tip the deli guy for ringing you up, I can tell you that tipping a valet or housekeeper is part of their salary. It's easy to identify the people you tip in travel because it almost includes everyone who offers a service or performance. So, budget in tips when you plan a vacation. Not only does this make you feel better (and not guilty when faced with the situation), it only helps the travel industry continue to thrive.