Travel Etiquette

While we’re all fairly good about extending etiquette to those who have a direct and continued impact on our lives, we sometimes fall short when it comes to travel etiquette. Maybe that’s because many of the courtesies that are extended while traveling by air, car, or ship are typically observed as ritualistic in nature.

Still, our goal should always be to maintain a polished image. This article presents some timely travel tips to help establish you as a seasoned and savvy traveler.

Flight manners
Because of the lightening-fast pace of our personal and professional lives these days, air travel has become commonplace. Unfortunately, we can’t always say that about the good manners of those who jet from one destination to another.

Following are some suggestions for making your next air trip both comfortable and in keeping with a professional image.

Excuse me. I need to get out
Once you’re seated, leaving your seat should be the exception rather than the rule. If you find that getting up and moving around is typically part of your travel ritual, then plan ahead and request an aisle seat.

Meetings in the air
If you’re traveling with an associate, supervisor, or customer and plan to discuss business on the plane, arrange for your seats to be next to, rather than across the aisle from one another. Not only will other airline passengers appreciate not having to overhear your meeting, you will be more apt to maintain the confidentiality of your company business. You should be very careful what you speak of during a public business meeting. Your competition may be sitting directly behind you, eavesdropping on your every word.

Respecting your fellow passenger
During flights, some people like to strike up a conversation with the person next to them; others do not. “En route” etiquette dictates that before trying to strike up a conversation, you tune into your fellow passenger’s body language, to look for nonverbal clues as to whether the person seated next to you is interested in chatting. Needless to say, it’s of utmost importance that you respect your fellow-passenger’s wishes. Assuming you haven’t observed any body language to indicate that your fellow passenger is opposed to conversing, it’s appropriate to initiate a conversation either after your beverage has arrived or when the meal is first served. If your fellow passenger’s response is brief and not followed by a question or commentary, take the hint.

Respecting flight attendants
It goes without saying that flight attendants should be treated with respect. If you have a question, for example, pose it when you are being served. Never ring the call bell for an attendant unless it’s an emergency. In other words, extend the same courtesy to these professionals that you would to restaurant servers. If you’d like something, ask with a polite, “When you have a minute, may I have . . .” You can be assured they’ll appreciate your respect for their time.

Flight farewells
Although a smile and a good-bye are commonplace as you are exiting a plane, few passengers (or flight-crew members, for that matter) incorporate a thank-you in their farewells. If you’ve never said “thank you” as you deboarded a plane, try it next time. You’ll probably catch the crew off guard and even receive a comment of gratitude in return. No matter what distance you’ve traveled on a flight, a smile and a thank-you go a long way.

Air travel attire
If you’re traveling during the work day, wear business attire. If you’re traveling after 6 p.m., “business casual” is acceptable (a blazer and skirt for women; sport coat and trousers for men). Many business people find that on weekends the travel dress code can be even more casual (skirt or slack and matching tops for women; polo shirt and slacks for men). No matter when you travel and what you choose to wear, however, be assured that the way you’re dressed affects the way you’re treated. Wearing the sombrero that you purchased at the market on board the plane will never get you the respect that you really want.

Like it or not, tipping everyone from the housekeeper to the concierge is a highly suggested travel practice in North America and other select destinations worldwide. Although tipping is not required, and should be based on excellence, it’s generally uncouth if you don’t. In fact, it has become such a significant part of traveling, it’s worth adding a line-item in your travel budget so you don’t wonder where all your money went at the end of your trip!

Not including restaurant or cab tipping, one could easily spend 250 pesos ($20 USD) plus per day tipping at their hotel alone. With this in mind, it’s important that you load up on small bills pre-trip, or exchange money during your trip, so you have appropriate amounts to give those who help you on-demand.

Whether traveling for business or pleasure, here are some estimates of whom you should tip and by how much. The below amounts are based on 4- to 5-star travel experiences.

Tipping guidelines for Mexico are nearly the same as  tipping guidelines used in the United States or Canada, with some exceptions. Most service employees earn very little or no base salary and the tips they earn comprise the vast majority of their overall income.

If arriving in Mexico without Mexican currency, pesos can easily be obtained at automatic teller machines or casas de cambio which are plentiful. If arriving in Mexico with a small amount of local currency, most international airports from which travelers depart have currency exchanges available for that purpose.

Following are tipping guidelines, beginning with the jobs where tipping differs from the United States and Canada. Where values are shown in U.S. Dollars (USD) remember the equivalent in Mexican pesos is preferred. That way the receiver does not have to go to a bank or cambio on leisure time. If they do, they will receive the “buy” rate which is always discounted.

Leaving a tip is important, AND a smile and a “gracias” directly to the person is an important way showing your appreciation to someone who has provided you with a service. It is important to place the money in their hand in most cases, as leaving the money on the table is considered a faux pas, much the same as putting scraps out to the dog without petting him. An exception is a busy restaurant where the tip is left on the change tray.

Please do not add the tip to your credit card charge, as in most cases the tip is kept by the owner of the establishment and the tips will never be shared.


The bagging clerks (very often children) earn no wage at all. Most people will leave them at least 1 to 5 pesos, more if they take your cart out to your car for you and help you load your groceries. Remember that foreign coins have no value in Mexico. Not even the banks accept them.


People do not normally tip taxi drivers. However, if a taxi driver provides extra service, e.g., loading/unloading your bags or groceries, waiting for you while you shop, etc., then a tip is warranted for the extra effort.


Pemex stations in Mexico are full service. Gas station attendants are not usually tipped unless they provide some extra service such as cleaning your windshield, in which case 5 to 10 pesos is sufficient. If they also check the air in your tires or check the oil, you should tip more.


In restaurants and bars in Mexico you must ask for the bill (“la cuenta”) or make a hand signal like you’re writing in the air. It is considered very rude in Mexico for a waiter to bring the bill before it was requested by the customer. If you’re in a hurry, you may want to ask for the bill before you’re finished your meal so that you won’t have to wait around for it afterward.

If you receive good service from your waiter or waitress, it is customary to leave a tip of 10 to 20% of the cost of the food/beverages before the value added tax (listed as ‘IVA’ or Impuesto al Valor Agregado on your bill) is added. IVA is 16% of the cost (11% in border states), so if you want to leave a 16% tip, simply use the amount of IVA to leave as your tip. You may choose to leave more for exceptional service, and less for poor service.

In some restaurants service is included, particularly if you’re part of a large group, but this is not usually the case. Always check the bill to see if service is included (labeled as “propina” or “servicio”) or if there are errors in the calculation. If a service charge is included, you may choose to tip extra for superior service. In food stalls and low-cost eateries (fondas and cocinas economicas) it is not customary to leave a tip, but if you do leave one it is usually appreciated.In bars and at all-inclusive resorts it is appropriate to tip the equivalent of one dollar per drink, or 10 to 15% of the total.


A minimum of $1-2 US per round of drinks is customary, or if you’re running a tab, leave 15-20% of the total as a tip.  Remember, if you are receiving Happy Hour half-price, tip on the regular pricing amount.


Remember to leave a tip in the musician/band’s tip jar.  For an evening of entertainment, $5 US is suggested as a minimum.  Do not leave foreign coins.


A tip of $1-2 US  per bag is customary, more if you have a lot of luggage or very heavy or otherwise difficult bags to deal with, or if they must take your bags up a flight of stairs to your room.


Spa service providers (massage therapists, manicurists, hair stylists) are usually tipped 15-20% of the cost of the spa treatment. The exception to the rule: no tip is necessary if the service is provided by the owner of the establishment, or by a medical professional, such as a nurse or doctor.


Daily maid service is usually included in the cost of accommodations. Maids should be tipped based on the occupancy of your room; $1-5 US  or 10 – 60 pesos per person staying in your room, per housekeeping visit. If a family of four stay for seven days, the expected tip for a the maid would be $28 – $140 US or 280 – 1,680 pesos. Please tip more if your hotel or resort room is very messy (e.g., lots of dirty dishes, clothes strewn everywhere, a tile floor that is dirty with mud that has been tracked in, etc.)

Because different maids may clean your room different days, or your check out might be on a Sunday (your regular maid’s only day off), tipping daily is a nice idea.  Tips in pesos are appreciated, to save them a trip to the bank.  Leave your tip on the unmade bed to signify it is money meant for your maid.


If you’re on a tour with a lot of people (20-100 people), each person should leave a tip of at least $5 US or 50-60 pesos. If you’re on a tour with very few people (e.g., four people in your family), the group should leave a tip that is equivalent to 10-20% of the cost of the tour. For multi-day group tours, tip the tour leader a minimum of $2-3 US or 20-30 pesos per day, and drivers $1 US or 10 pesos per day.


Special Note: It is customary in Mexico to hand the tip directly to the captain rather than a crew member.

Tipping guidelines for a fishing charter are often debated because of the high cost of fishing (usually $500 US or more for a charter). Avid fisherman believe that you should tip the captain/crew a minimum of 15-20% of the charter, regardless of the size of the charter or number of crew on the boat. For example, if you chartered a boat that cost $500 US,  then the anglers on board would tip a combined total of $100 US.

Others believe that the boat captain should earn $50 US, and the crew $25 US each. For a charter boat with one captain and two crew, that means that the anglers on board should tip a combined total of $100 US.

Both methods result in a similar tip for smaller charters. However, the difference comes in when you charter a larger boat. If, for instance, you charter a larger boat for $1,100 US with one captain and two crew members, and you tip 20% of the cost of the charter, the tip would be $220 US. However, if you use the second method, the tip would only be $100 US. The theory is that the captain and two-member crew work no harder on a larger boat than they do on a smaller boat, so the tip shouldn’t be tied to the cost of the charter but rather to the service provided.