My first EF tour, in March 1994, was a 10-day tour to England called “King Arthur’s Britain.” Even with a group size of 29, I was able to get a private bus for that tour and direct flights to London. I must have been living right back in those days to get that kind of sweetheart travel deal. When the bus deposited my group at our final hotel in London the day before our return home, I followed the guidelines provided by EF and gave the bus driver a thank-you card and his tips.
What I did not know was that my students passed around a baseball cap before we reached London and filled it with their loose “pounds sterling” before we arrived at the hotel. One of the students then presented the bus driver with the cache of coins. The baseball cap was practically filled to the brim. Our bus driver was moved to tears and so was I. I decided to forget some of the shenanigans that took place on tour (“What happened in England stayed in England.”) due to my students’ spontaneous act of generosity. That’s the power of tipping and when you travel, tipping is just part of the landscape.
EF provides lots of “Tips on Tipping” in its Preparing for Departure: Information for your departure meeting guide and other materials they provide to group leaders. You certainly can’t say you didn’t know about the EF Tours tipping guidelines. I would not leave a discussion of tipping with your group until you get to your departure meeting. That’s too late for me. I provide information about the tipping in the first pre-departure letters I mail to my group. I mention the tipping frequently and some of my fundraisers help my students to earn the money that will go for tips to the tour director, the bus driver, and the local guides. Here are EF’s tips on tipping and my own as well:
• Explain to your students why tipping is an important part of travel (and life). Some students might not realize how much people in the service industry depend on tips. It’s also the best way to express your appreciation to the tour director, bus drivers, and local guides.
• Inform your group about the tipping as early as possible and remind them about the tips frequently. No one can claim ignorance then about the tips.
• Spell it out about who will get tips and how much. The current EF Tours tipping guidelines are 4 Euros/$6 per person per tour day for the tour director, 1 Euro/$3 per person per day for the bus driver, and $1 to $2 per person for the local guides. For tours that include a cruise, allow for 7 Euros/$10 per person per day for the staff.
• Count Day 1 when you calculate how much each person will need to pay in tips.
• If you have more than one bus driver, be prepared to divide the tips. Plan to tip the bus driver that picks up your group at the airport. He works hard to get you through the busy city traffic and he’s the one who loads your luggage in the hold of the bus. Also tip the bus driver you have when you are on a city tour. You may also have a bus driver who will stay with your group for the duration of your tour.
• Organize some fundraisers to help your students earn their tip money. I have monthly bake sales that allow my students to earn both their tips but also a bit of spending money as well.
• At your final pre-departure meeting, collect all of your tip money. Don’t wait until you get to the airport to do this.
• EF recommends that the tip money can be deposited into your checking account so that you can withdraw local currency at the end of your tour. I have always given my tips to the tour director and the main bus driver in American currency I carry in my passport/money belt that I wear underneath my clothing at all times. For the other bus drivers and local guides, I tip them in the local currency.
• Bring thank-you cards from home and let your students sign the card before the end of the tour.
• Present the tips at the end of your tour during your final dinner. Let one of your students make the presentation along with a few remarks. Students need experience in public speaking.
A colorful information sheet called “Tips on tipping for your EF tour!” states: “Tipping your tour director and bus driver is like tipping your waiter—it is customary in the service industry to tip those who have taken care of you and have given you great service.” What if your service was not so great on a tour? That’s a difficult situation to be in and I have only been there just once on a tour. I will still provide tips at the suggested levels, but I will not exceed that amount and I will register my complaints in the end-of-tour evaluations and even in a formal letter. There may have been reasons beyond the control of the tour director and bus drivers as to why your service was not good on a tour. For excellent service, I will often take the time to write a letter to EF praising the individual.
If you’re nice and helpful to me when I travel, chances are I will leave you a nice tip and if you don’t accept tips, then I will thank you profusely and I may send your manager or supervisor a complimentary e-mail or letter about you. I don’t worry about over-tipping because I would much rather pay more than enough in tips instead of not enough.
When I was on a Fulbright tour of India in 2006, I ran across an elderly woman in a beautiful sari who worked in one of the airport bathrooms. My heart just breaks for these women who have no choice but to work until the end of their days. She was quite helpful, handing me a clean towel and giving me some lotion after I washed my hands. It was at the end of my time in India so I just gave her some of my remaining rupees. I must have over-tipped because her face just lit up. I can’t recall exactly how much I gave her, but it was well worth it. That’s the power of tipping.
Readers, what are your thoughts and tips on tipping?