Tipping Etiquette

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!

Tipping etiquette varies from country to country

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.

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Packing light

Over the years we’ve really come to learn that packing light is not only better for your budget but also better for your mental health! How can packing light help your budget? Well, it means you can take all your baggage in the cabin, which saves budget airline fees, but it also means you can take local transport like motorbikes, tuktuks and minibuses or even walk to your accommodation without shelling out for private transfers or taxis. Plus do you really want to be lugging around a huge suitacase/backpack in sweltering tropical heat or wading through snow in arctic temperatures? Believe us, we know from experience, having made some ridiculous mistakes ourselves early on…Sarah was particularly guilty of this, in the early days it took a good few trips for the message to sink in that you really don’t need a hair straightener and five pairs of shoes!

Packing light is important for budget travel

So if haircare and footwear is off packing list, what should be on it? It really depends on where you’re travelling to and what kind of trip you’re packing for (business, weekend, round the world, trekking, etc), and it will take a little more planning if going to both hot and cold places in a single trip. There are lots of sites to help you with packing advice so do a Google search for your specific type of trip to start with and heed the advice of travel experts. Certain things always hold true: pack the minimum when it comes to toiletries, the world’s a small place and you can probably buy whatever you need at your destination, roll clothes instead of folding, it saves on space and you’ll get less creases, fill whatever space is available so stuff socks and other items into those hiking boots,and invest in airless bags to save space. Happy packing!

Eating cheaply on the road

One of the great joys of travel is sampling the local cuisine, and luckily for you it’s possible to do without breaking the bank. I’m assuming that if you are a true blue budget traveller, you’ll be camping or staying in hostels – in which case make sure your accommodation has a kitchen or cooking facilities. Then head to the local supermarket, checking out the local shops and markets can be fun and interesting when you first arrive at a destination, so stock up and you could save yourself big bucks in the long-run. However, after the initial culinary discoveries (European cheese!) self-catering can get old fast, I mean did you really travel half way around the world to spend it in a hostel kitchen? Exactly, and that’s when it’s time to hit the streets. Invariably every place in the world has some kind of local street food, whether it’s currywurst in Berlin or pad thai in Bangkok, follow the locals and chow down on some filling and good value grub.

Currywurst is a Berlin favourite for locals and budget travellers

Another money-saving tip is to make sure you take advantage of perks where you can. So there’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world, but there are inclusive breakfasts at hostels and hotels. Fill up and you may not need lunch. While exploring your new locale make sure to head where the locals go and avoid eateries in tourist areas, main squares and classy-looking streets, instead head off the beaten track and discover some local gems. Also be forewarned that if a popular cafe has been in Lonely Planet it’s likely to become complacent and overpriced. One final bit of advice: buy some snacks before you go to the airport, most of them are ridiculously expensive and you never know if your flight is going to be delayed.

Booking flights

Booking your flight abroad is the one of the most important things you can do to set the tone for the rest of your trip, however long it may be. Firstly, you should try to get an overview of the flights available to your destination by looking at websites like Skyscanner, which compares the flight prices and times of different airlines allowing you to find the best deal that suits you. There are lots of similar sites like Travelocity, Kayak and Opodo but we prefer Skyscanner as we find it the most comprehensive flight search engine, often undercutting competitors. However, beware of budget airlines, they may give the cheapest prices but often they have a ton of expensive add-ons like baggage and check-in fees. Be sure to read the small print/conditions! Also, booking flights at the last minute is a VERY risky business, even with budget airlines.

Use a search engine such as Skyscanner to find cheap flights

These days the big name national carriers often have their own promotional discounts for off-peak times like winter and weekdays. It’s worth checking the airlines website directly or getting on their mailing list for future offers. We have been on some really cheap return trips while based in European cities, in fact, it works out way cheaper than budget airlines when you consider the flights generally provide drinks and meals and operate at much more conveniently located airports. In Europe, airport transfers can be more expensive than flights, so research this aspect before you book that budget flight into the sticks! There is also a science to finding the best price, it seems that booking 54 days before results in the cheapest domestic flights.