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.
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?