Free Walking Tours: Tips on Tipping

February 15, 2014

free walking tour

Gone are the days when we had to pay to be led around a city on foot. Now we have free walking tours, which – generally speaking – are a lot better, as the guides depend on the resultant tips at the end of each tour for an income, meaning that they are more engaged with their work and constantly striving to improve.

I always tip on free walking tours; to not do so would – in my eyes – be extremely rude, even if the tour hadn’t been as awesome as you had anticipated. But I invariably dread the actual act of tipping. Only in our own countries are we ever, truly able to tip undoubtedly. Even if you’ve already nailed the local conversion rate, the issue of what is considered ‘tipping etiquette’ in whatever place you happen to be passing through and your probable lack of local knowledge remains. It is even considered rude to tip in some parts of the world, though I very much doubt such social doctrines apply to free walking tours. If you’re travelling on a healthy bank balance then perhaps you need not worry. Budget travellers, however, will want to get it right.

There are no fixed rates or percentages for tipping on free walking tours; you tip however much you think the guide deserves, which can easily lead to either accidental over-tipping and subsequent self-directed profanities, or accidental under-tipping and an afternoon spent feeling like a giant, tight-fisted, bum-squeaking skinflint. Here are five tips to help you avoid either of those situations:

1. Check the exchange rate and make a note of it.

The exchange rate ought to be the very first thing we make a note of when we get to a new country – obviously – yet I have often found that lots of people don’t actually do this, and consequently pay the price when it comes to high-pressure tipping situations. If you have a smartphone with internet, use it; don’t just round it up or down, or you’ll soon notice the difference!

2. Ask in hostel.

It’s always worth asking the receptionist or somebody who looks like they’ve already spent a few days in your hostel what the going tipping rate is. At least then you’ll know the bare minimum if you aren’t happy with your tour and what would be considered a generous tip if you are very happy with it. You might also want to pore over a good guidebook or local travel blog to give you a rough idea.

3. Don’t give change.

If you ordinarily deal with pounds, dollars or euros, giving change as a tip is probably quite normal for you. However, unless you’re in Scandinavia, tipping loose change is almost certainly going to leave your guide feeling quite insulted; coins are useful for a one-way bus journey, not putting food on the table.


4. Don’t treat it like Monopoly money.

It’s so easy to do, even if the currency is worth more than your own. Foreign money is very easy to fritter away, especially when tipping. Remember, you will not pass Go and you will not collect £200.

5. Have a variety of notes at the ready.

The worst case scenario would be having only a wad of the highest denominator in that particular currency; you’d have no choice but to over-tip, even if the tour was shit. If the tour was great and the guide deserves that much money, happy days! In any case, make sure you have a selection of values to choose from when it comes to tipping time. One thing I definitely wouldn’t recommend is tipping what everybody else is tipping; don’t be stingy, but ensure you stick to your own personal budget.

I have very rarely been disappointed by a free walking tour; guides usually go that extra mile to make it all the more memorable – the time I was given free, throat-stripping alcohol in Belgrade for example – though I have also had guides who were a little too talkative and over-exuberant at times, which can turn interesting tours into drawn-out, tedious affairs. When all is said and done, however, free tour guides rely on your tips for a living and are almost always thoroughly deserving of them. Always smart to go in prepared first though.

skedar street, kafana, serbia, belgrade free walking tour

Shots of Rakia on Belgrade’s Free Walking Tour

Have you ever been in this Free Walking Tour tipping dilemma? What about other instances of tipping abroad? What do you do to make sure you get it right?



  1. Comment by Sophie RR

    Sophie RR February 16, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Great tips here. Especially for someone like me, who so often gets it wrong and then spends the rest of the day shouting ‘arse’ at myself (in my head).
    Sophie RR recently posted…The GranadaSpain Tapas 10My Profile

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh February 19, 2014 at 4:54 pm

      Cheers Sophie! I think most of us are with you on that one…

  2. Comment by Monica

    Monica March 25, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Brilliant tips. I hate that awkward moment when you’re not sure how much to tip.
    I’m a big fan of the free walking tours and generally tip what I would be prepared to pay for the tour which is usually around €10.
    I could never tip in change!

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh March 26, 2014 at 10:22 am

      Oh hey! Thanks for dropping by! Yes, I also tip around €10 worth. There’s only ever been one occasion where I’ve felt unsatisfied, so tipped a bit less, but could never bring myself to nothing at all!

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  4. Comment by José Guerreiro

    José Guerreiro January 21, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    I guess this is the first post on internet where someone care’s about the value of this “Free Tours…

    Free walking tours as a great way to have an informal idea of the place but my favourite point is that most of the time is a local guided and tell you Lot’s of myths that are not official and only people living there can feel it, which is much more than just tell it…

    Always go on free tours but I discover that asking at the hotel or other locals can be very unfair, in Europe and many Asian countries don’t have a tipping tradition and the receptionist will tell you “if you give them 2-3$ they will be happy” I found that many time the receptionist don’t even know that this guided are not paid as the official guides and this can create many unfair situations, also know now that most of them have to give a percentage or pay per participant to the company, to use the companies back office work and all the logistics

    So before I do my home works usually search how much is a normal/regular/official tour and that value is my reference is only fair is this guides do a better job should be better paid – At the end I decide if I consider it was better I usually give more, if it was normal I tip the same and if it was worse a bit less, happen one time it was so bad that I left 30 minutes after.

    Sometimes the normal tours are way too expensive and If I can’t afford

    In this situation my criteria are restaurants as reference so I try to see how much it costs the average meal on that city (if it’s too cheap I consider my own city) and at the end of the tour if I think the tour was great a try offer a great meal to the guide, if it was normal I tip a normal meal and if it was below the average I tip a restaurant below the average, if it’s awful I leave the tour a few minutes after it starts is like on the restaurant if the food it too bad I don’t eat.

    A few times I used the value of the museums and also the value of the hotel room.

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh January 22, 2016 at 10:41 pm

      Hey Jose,

      Sounds like you have quite the formula there! Thanks for sharing it on here! And may all your future free tours be worthy of great meals 🙂

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