Having to decide whether—and how much—to slip someone a couple of extra bills for a job well done is always uncomfortable because there’s no set standard or guide. And it’s especially awkward when you’re on an adventure in some far-flung place, as you’ve got guides, porters, and others to consider. But you might be surprised to know that Americans tip insanely high amounts by most overseas standards, and excessive generosity can sometimes be considered impolite.
The first rule of travel is that you should learn the basic customs of your destination country before you get there—including how much to tip. It’s a simple matter of respect. You’ll find a wealth of resources on the Web or through travel guidebooks like Lonely Planet.
In the case of Nepal, tipping isn’t expected by service workers, so keep the amount low (around five to 10 percent, at best) unless someone has done something extraordinarily well. For porters and guides on a trekking expedition, I’d say about $15 a day for each and maybe $7 a day for cooks.
For my general advice on tipping during foreign travels, follow these basic rules:
WATCH WHAT LOCALS DO
Customs often vary from region to region in a country—especially when you’re traveling from cities into rural areas. Watch the locals. Are they leaving extra cash on the table at a tea house? Are they dropping a few coins for the bartender at the bar?
ASK AT THE HOTEL OR HOSTEL
The people who work at the front desk of your hostel or hotel are amazing—and often under-utilized—sources of information on local customs, culture, food, and sights. They should be happy to provide advice on when and how much to tip.
CHECK THE BILL
In many instances, a service charge is added to restaurant checks overseas. The same goes for spa treatments. In other situations, you’ll find a “suggested tip” provided to you by a business owner—which makes life easier for everyone.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS, APPLY THE $1 RULE
Again, you really should know the customs of a place before you go there, but if you’re in a bind, apply the $1 rule. That’s $1 for a bellhop per bag (if you’re traveling in style), $1 a day for hotel cleaning staff, $1 for a local taxi ride, $1 for every $10 on your restaurant bill, and about $1 per hour for a group tour guide for a day (though more if the guide is a private one, taking you on an active adventure like fishing, skiing, hiking, or a safari).