The subject of international tipping etiquette is a minefield. Trying to figure out who to tip is never straightforward, and neither is trying to figure out the exact amount as it varies dramatically from country to country. Take Australia as an example, unlike the USA where you are required to tip around 15-20%, if you choose to tip here you are only expected to go up to 10% and usually only if you think the service warrants it. Suddenly that low-cost sit down meal in Washington doesn’t seem so cheap now, does it? As a budget traveller eating out can really eat into your funds, not to mention other services such as taxis, hairdressers, hotel staff and tour guides. It really pays for a budget-minded traveller to carefully research this issue before arriving at a destination….or maybe before choosing a destination!
One of the main things to do is make sure you carry around enough local currency in small denominations so that you can tip fairly, but not risk overdoing it because all you had on you was $10 bill when $3 would suffice. Taxi drivers often do expect tips but rather than being a precise amount, people round up the fare or tell the driver to keep the change. Hotels can work out significantly more expensive than pensions and hostels when you consider you need to tip porters and cleaning staff, usually €3-5 is appropriate in Europe. Really, your best bet is to use a country specific tipping guide and then do more in depth research about your destination. We wasted a lot of money when travelling initially by playing it safe and tipping everywhere, but sometimes the countries where tipping isn’t expected are where the staff need it most (usually developing countries) so we don’t necessarily regret it. However, be careful because in some countries, such as Japan, tipping can be considered an insulting gesture, and in New Zealand it isn’t so much insulting as it is weird! Whereas in the USA it is definitely offensive to not tip. If in doubt observe what the locals do or ask them what is acceptable.