Tours of a Lifetime
National Geographic 2010, 2012
Top 3, Best Values in the World
Travel & Leisure, March 2012

Tips on Tipping

The first time I saw the words in the title was on whitewater rafting company bus probably in 1970. They were on a big sign above the windshield where all the passengers could not help but see it.

At the time, I thought it was funny. Forty-four years later I can see that the sign probably did not contribute to our rafters enjoyment of the trip. Whitewater rafting was perceived as a lot more dangerous in those days then it is now. Did blatantly asking for tips assure our nervous charges that at least we expected them to survive? Perhaps they thought we were asking to be tipped before the trip just in case they did not make it---or as an incentive to rescue them instead of their companions after the big flip.

In any case, while white-water are a lot less nervous these days, tipping, who, when, and how much to tip may well cause more anxiety than any other aspect of travel---except perhaps flying. Now I’m anxious wondering why it is customary in many places to tip earthbound waiters and waitresses but not flying ones.

At least with waiters and waitresses there usually a customary practice. Find out the custom where you are and you avoid the embarrassment of getting it wrong. But what if the custom for tipping guides and drivers is that half the people do and half don’t?

As a trusted expert it behooves me to give you the best possible advice on tipping. And here it is: “Do what you feel comfortable with and don’t stress out.” Whether or not and how much you tip is personal. It’s up to you.

Personally, I love to tip (or not tip), depending on service. When I worked as a guide I loved to receive tips. I’ve tipped toll takers for giving me particularly careful, detailed directions. I’ve also left a penny in a full water glass after suffering through particularly surly service at a restaurant. I think of a tip as a statement.

But that’s just my view---and views on tipping are like views on religion and politics. All well-intentioned views are equally valid. Perhaps the one thing we can agree on is that it would be better if tipping did not cause so much stress. Validating a wide range of views might be a means to that end.

The late Pradjeep Sankhala, who pioneered wild-life tourism in India used to argue quite convincingly (and passionately) that all tipping was a bad idea because it was inherently unfair, rewarding the personal who provided service directly to guests while ignoring the unsung heroes behind the scenes whose contribution might be just as important. “Why should guides and even porters get the tips and not the gardeners and the maintenance people?” he asked me over dinner one freezing night in Chicago where we were both attending a travel show. I did not have an answer, but when we got back to our hotel in the wee hours of the morning I tipped the man who was polishing the floor in the lobby.

If you’ve read this far you deserve some guidelines on how much to do tip in Costa Rica. Here’s the best I can do. Let me know if you have any suggestions for making this more useful.

The word for tip in Spanish is "propina" and is defined as a synonym of "reward". It comes from the Latin word "propinare" which means to give something.