Sunday, March 20, 2011

Giving is Good (but what are the rules?)

As I am about to embark on a trip where I am the banker, in charge of paying the bills and distributing the tips Kevin Salwen’s article in the New York Times “When to Get Your Wallet Out”  caught my attention.  

What to tip, when and how much is always a question as we travel whether its near home or across the world.  We can check out the “rules” by doing a quick Google search for Tipping rules.  Among the guides you’ll find a country by country list ranging from Croatia to Saudia Arabia at   Conde Nast Traveler Etiquette 101 Tipping Guide  A quick read will tell you that in Dubai as in Paris your restaurant bill will include a service charge but its considered polite to add a bit if you think your service was good.

But what these guides don’t tell us is think about the purpose, the intention of the money we give.  Are we just saying thank you for delivering fresh towels or are we aware that we’re providing part of the salary that will feed the family of the person who opened doors for us?  They don’t help us distinguish between being generous, appreciative of service provided and appearing to be a traveler showing off your wealth?   There aren’t any Etiquette 101 practices to address this part of the tipping equation.  As Mr. Salwen points out the decisions are personal based on our budgets often our feeling at any given moment.  Are we trying to invest in the local economy, help the street vendor build his business, establish a relationship that will lead to better service in the future? 

Tipping, giving money for something received isn’t confined to restaurants, cabs and hotels.  My favorite way to support the local economy is to give a “donation” to people playing music in the subway, on a street corner.  They brighten my day (a great service) and I appreciate the effort it takes to perform in public. Plus I believe that the world needs music.  My few coins may help keep it available for other travelers.

Before you board the plane or boat, get in the car, or hop on your bike for the next trip, check out your own philosophy about tipping as well as the standard practices at your destination.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Where is Baggage Claim?

Although Las Vegas now has serious competition from resorts in Singapore, (see the rececent Economist article and other parts of the world it still attracts almost 40 million visitors each year with approximately 5,000,000 coming from places outside the US. 

Looking around at the crowds walking the strip or people in the casinos sitting in front of the tables and slot machines its not easy to identify which countries are represented.  The uniform for everyone seems to be jeans with a top – shirt, sweater, or jacket.  But as you walk around the sounds of the conversations reveal that visitors likely have traveled a distance to enjoy the shows, restaurants, shops and gambling opportunities.  Within hours of arrival the sounds of Spanish, French, and Italian mingled with the bells of the slot machines.  We overheard parts of conversations in Chinese, German, and heavily accented English.   Visitors came from Sweden and Israel and beyond attending conferences, on vacation or following the NASCAR races.

And yet, with all the international traffic the airport (McCarran International which offers lots of slot machines didn’t appear to have a single sign that In any language but English.  Not even as Memphis airport ( did, a sign marking the exit in multiple languages.  While it is reasonable to assume that most travelers know a few words of English, how much more welcome they might feel if signs at the airport welcomed them, or made the search for food, baggage or restrooms a little easier by offering a choice of languages.