7 Tips on Tipping Guides
By Marcus Woolf, The Adventure Post
It usually happens at the end of your trip, when you’re worn out, dirty and riding in a van. That’s when you find yourself scrambling to figure out a tip for your guide. While many travelers are aware that tipping is an option, they don’t give it much thought until their trip is almost over and they’re about to part ways with the guides. But, you can eliminate the last-minute scramble if you do a little research before your trip to determine whether a tip is appropriate, who should be tipped and how much you should consider giving.
1. First, determine whether tipping is appropriate
Customs for tipping vary from country to country and from guide service to guide service. When we climbed in Switzerland, we were informed that Swiss guides typically don’t accept tips, while we’ve always tipped our guides in other countries, such as the United States and Mexico. So, before your trip, it’s a good idea to ask a guide or trip leader about the tipping policy.
Many tour operators will tell you about the policy as you book your trip. “It’s normal procedure to tell clients ahead of time,” says Hector Castillo, a guide with Adventure Life. “They’ll be advised about it when they first get the info on the tours.”
If you’re not traveling with a tour operator, and you’re working directly with the guide service, simply ask about it when you book your trip.
It’s also a good idea to search the Internet for advice on tipping in various countries. For example, here’s a handy story from Conde Nast Traveler.
2. Include tipping in your trip budget
Some travelers simply forget to figure tipping into their budget, says Brenton Reagan, marketing manager with Exum Mountain Guides in Wyoming. While many people are aware of the custom, it’s almost an afterthought. As a result, people go through their whole trip wondering how much they should tip, and whether they have enough money on them for an adequate tip. If you do a little research beforehand, you can avoid this hassle and worry.
There is no standard formula or percentage for tipping guides, but here are some guidelines offered by various guides we interviewed…
3. How to calculate your tip
Clients on international trips often tip between 5 percent and 10 percent of the total trip cost, says Kasey Austin of Austin Adventures. For example, if your trip for a family of four costs $12,000 for a week of travel, you’ll pay $1,200 in tips at 10 percent of the trip cost. Usually, you’ll give this sum to a tour leader or head guide, and that person will give a portion of it to the other guides and drivers.
For trips in the United States, tour operators often advise clients to tip $15 to $30 per day per guide. If you have multiple guides on a trip, this can be a better option, because the guides don’t have to share a single pool of money, and each guide might receive more.
Keep in mind that some tour operators ask that their guides be tipped equally, regardless of their seniority or experience level, while others prefer that senior guides receive more. You can ask about this when you first book your trip.
4. Tipping cooks, porters and other service providers
“On a trip created and run by a tour operator, tips for restaurants, porters, and subcontractors have already been calculated into the overall trip price so all you have to worry about is the guide tip at the end of the trip,” says Austin. However, if you’re traveling alone, you should consider tipping other service providers, she adds. Again, it’s a good idea to do an Internet search to find out customs for specific countries.
Typically, these other service providers receive lower tips than primary guides. When you calculate your tip, consider the difficulty of their job and the level of service they provide compared to your main guide. During treks in Peru, people sometimes tip cooks and other workers $3 to $5 a day, but this is not a set amount, says Castillo of Adventure Life. The website US Sherpa (http://www.ussherpa.com/essential-trekking–nepal-tips.html) advises that trekkers tip cooks $11 a day and porters $9 a day, while the head Sherpa should get $14 a day.
5. Get cash before you leave civilization
While some tour operators can accommodate tips via credit card, most guides prefer to receive cash. Keep in mind that your trip might conclude in a remote area where you won’t have access to a bank or ATM, so have cash on hand before you start your journey.
“They should exchange their cash in the hotels or banks with the help of the guides,” says Edwin Vasquez, a guide who leads trips in Peru for Adventure Life. “The exchange rate at the airport is usually very low.”
6. Advice if you’re traveling in a group
We’ve traveled in large groups where each person paid an equal share of the main guide tip. But, we’ve also been on trips where we decided that each member of the group would determine his or her own tip amount. Each way is fine in the eyes of tour operators and guides. Just be aware that your group will need to make this decision near the end of the trip.
7. Things to factor into a tip
There’s no set list of criteria guides must meet to receive a tip, and it really is up to your discretion to determine whether to tip and how much to give. But, if you’re looking for guidance on making that decision, Pavel Sancho, a guide for Adventure Life in Costa Rica, notes that friendliness is a chief concern. If a guide can’t relate to clients in a friendly manner, then they probably won’t get much of a tip. Guide Hector Castillo offered a good list of things to consider: quality of service, punctuality, information handling, how quickly the guides react to requests, and knowledge of the area. You could also consider whether a guide really went above and beyond the norm to make your trip more enjoyable or to keep you safe.
At the end of your trip, when you’re riding in that van or standing at the trailhead, keep in mind one more thing—most guides say that tips are important. As Brenton Reagan of Exum Mountain Guides points out, tips not only helps guides financially, but the extra gift really lifts their spirits and lets them know that their hard work is appreciated.
Veteran journalists Wendy Geister and Marcus Woolf launched The Adventure Post to share their passion for travel and outdoor adventure. They chronicle their journeys to inspire others to explore and provide insider tips that steer people toward richer travel experiences. The Adventure Post also includes contributions from other experienced travelers, as well as detailed gear reviews and reports on trends in outdoor recreation and adventure travel.