TSA Pre Program

Whether you’re a frequent flyer or not, traveling through  airport security screenings is a hassle.   But TSA (the Travel Security Administration) has released the TSA Pre program that  will allow individuals to voluntarily be pre-screened thus allowing them to  speed through the lines and get to their flights more quickly.

Eligible for this program are US Citizens who are frequent  travelers of certain, participating airlines or members of existing Customs and  Border Protection Trusted Traveler Programs.   As are passengers 12 and younger allowed through TSA Pre lanes when  traveling with an eligible passenger.

What this program means for those who are eligible for it is  that they’d no longer need to remove their shoes, 3-1-1 compliant bag from  carry-on, laptop from bag, light outerwear/jacket, or belt.

At present, the application process involves first  registering for a CBP Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) account.  Once registered, travelers can move forward  with the enrollment in one of the CBP eligible programs.  The GOES system provides a pass ID number  after the enrollment in a trusted traveler program.  After that it’s a matter of simply supplying  the pass ID number associated with their Trusted Traveler account in the Known  Traveler Number field when booking travel.

TSA has also announced plans to implement a TSA Pre fee  based application process that will allow US citizens the opportunity to  apply for expeddited screening without a passport.  After it’s available, it will require a two  step process of filling out an online application and verifying identity and  providing fingerprints at a TSA Pre enrollment center.  The $85 fee can be paid either online or at a  participating enrollment center.  This  process will come with a 5 year eligibility after which time participants will  need to reapply.

At present there are 40 airports across the country that are participating.

Cooking Schools

Cooking schools have become a  major trend in travel.  With everything  from tours, cruises, and in depth market excursions with chefs the opportunity  to learn about a destination through food has never been greater than now.  And with so many options to choose from it helps  to have an idea of what’s out there:

Ramekins, Sonoma

On our tour to San Francisco  & Wine Country, a visit to Ramekins cooking school for a four course meal cooked by the participants of our group under the direction of the  school’s resident chefs was included.  Together we  made phyllo tartlets with mushrooms and smoked mozzarella, shrimp cakes with salsa crude, crispy wonton cups with apple and brie for appetizers; corn, arugula, and tomato salad, butterflied brest chicken breast stuffed with olives, pecorino, and pine nuts, buttermilk garlic mashed potatoes,  and season vegetables for the entree; and a New York cheesecake with Cherry merlot sauce for dessert.  For those who are looking for a truly in  depth, wine country cooking vacation, Ramekins offers accommodations and  courses specifically designed to take advantage of the seasons.  And in true Northern   California fashion, everything was locally harvested and  fresh.

La Cuisine Paris

While there are probably dozens  of remarkable cooking schools in Paris La Cuisine Paris is probably one of the  most all encompassing, reasonably priced, and accessible of those  available.  With courses taught in English,  though they do have classes in French if you’re knowledgeable and adventurous,  their curriculum includes classes that were specifically created for travelers  that last a few hours and are conveniently located in central Paris not far from the Notre Dame. Some of their notable courses include how to make macarons, crepes, and croissants as well as trips into local Paris to nearby markets, historical French cooking equipment stores, restaurants, patisseries, etc.. If you’re looking for something a little more historical and off the beaten path, La Cuisine Paris also does trips to nearby Versailles to explain how the center of the French court affected French Cuisine, a trip to the local Market de Versailles, and a stop at their favorite local restaurant. Included in the cost is transportation to and from Versailles, a day admission ticket to the Palace, and the experience itself.

Other French Cooking Classes

Marc Héracle’s  Cooking School
Chef Marc Héracle’s  own Chateau d’Arnajon, located only a few miles outside of Aix-en-Provence is also the site of his own  cooking school. Classes have only 25 participants, are taught in English, and  come with a tour of his historic estate.   This more intimate cooking school provides visitors with a hands on look  at Provencal cuisine, a tour of his estate, and a meal in his gardens.  Though Chef Héracle  doesn’t have a website he can be contacted via email at marc.heracle@free.fr.

La Boqueria Market, Samu73/ Flickr

Other Cooking School  Opportunities:


Many new cruise ships have been  constructed with appropriate facilities to provide passengers with hands on  training by chefs.  A number of them are  offered free of charge, include a visit to nearby markets to collect  ingredients, and provide information on the regional cuisine.  Andrea Rotondo of Fodor’s has created an  informative list of what cruise ships offer in terms of cooking classes.


If you’re not interested in a  hardcore cooking experience, many modern tours come with an opportunity to  visit a cooking school.  Tour companies  such as Trafalgar Tours, Globus, and Abercrombie & Kent offer several  itineraries where it is either included of comes as an optional excursion.

Best Cooking Schools Around the  World

Italy’s Top Cooking Schools

Viator Cooking Classes

New York on a Budget Tip

New York City is infamous for the cost of living and visiting, so it helps to save when and where you can. On a recent trip to New York, I had the opportunity to learn, as I always do on my many trips to Manhattan, a new way to improve visits to the Big Apple.

Times Square, Tim Wilson/ Flickr

Recently, I escorted a tour group from Highland High School who wanted to stay at more economical lodgings. After I personally inspected a couple that I felt might work, we ended up staying at the West Side YMCA at 5 West 63rd Street. A YMCA is like staying in a European hostel, so we had to prepare the students and parents and chaperons as to what to expect. I personally took photos of the rooms, the communal restrooms (showers, sinks, toilets) so that everyone would know far ahead of time what the accommodations were like. I passed these photos around to everyone at our pre-tour meeting. By doing this no one was surprised when they checked into the YMCA. Actually we loved it.

The location was wonderful – a half block away from Lincoln Center and across the street from Central Park. With only 3 showers on each floor for girls and 3 for boys, we were concerned about having 117 guests all trying to get ready at the same time, but it all worked out (we were spread out on 4 floors – so that helped). We were in our rooms for so little time, spent our time doing tours, workshops, attending Broadway plays, performing in Central Park, etc. and the staff at this YMCA were so friendly and accommodating – it was a real pleasure being there and certainly the least expensive option we could have ever come up with.

Making Sure You’re Ready For Your Cruise

Let’s say you’ve booked your dream cruise vacation, you arrive at the pier, and when you check in you’re told you can’t get on the ship because of…. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that can derail what should otherwise be an easy check in process. And usually, these small things can be easily fixed if they’re caught in time. So here are our tips to make sure that you’re ready for your cruise vacation.

Photo by Port of San Diego/ Flickr

Before You Travel:
•Check your confirmation when you receive it. If there’s an error you can most likely take care of it. This is also a good time to check cancellation dates.
•Check your travel documents. Do you need a visa to travel to your destination? Is your passport valid? Some countries require that your passport be valid up to six months after your cruise’s completion date.
•When you receive your final documents check them to make sure everything is correct. Like your confirmation, most things can be easily fixed here.
•Shortly before departure, it’s a good idea to contact your credit card company to inform them that you’ll be traveling, where you’ll be going, and how long you’ll be gone. This will prevent your charges from being declined during your trip.
•Also contact your cell phone company to make sure that your calls are covered.

While You’re Traveling:
•Any medication that you may need make sure that you carry it with you.
•Keep your travel documents with you while you’re traveling. Do not put them in your luggage.
•Don’t take any valuables with you such as jewelry.
•If you’re a single parent traveling with your child, especially if you don’t share the same last name as your child, make sure that you have a signed notarized letter from the other parent giving their permission to take the child out of the country.

St. Petersburg Must See: Part 1

St. Petersburg  holds a special significance for Russian culture and history. As a destination, it offers many points of interest that include sprawling suburban palaces, massive museums, churches, and those sites that still being discovered by travelers to this great city. Here is the first part of our St. Petersburg Must Sees.

Peterhof/ Petrodvorets   Palace

Like so many of the grand palaces throughout Europe, the Peterhof Palace  was inspired by the Palace of Versailles in Paris.  Must visits in this suburban estate include:

Peterhof Palace
Lyn Gateley/ Flickr

The Grand Palace

Although        not particularly large in size, this building offers stunning facades and        impressive staterooms throughout.         It was constructed by Peter the Great and later expanded upon by        his daughter Elizabeth in various Baroque styles.

The Peterhof Park and Gardens

  • Expansive        and easily capable of filling an entire day’s worth of activities, the        grounds have been separated into two sections known as the Upper Garden        and he Lower         Garden.  Over the course of those who ruled        here, these grounds were expanded significantly and in several styles        popularized throughout Europe at the        time to include elements of English, French, and Italian garden design.
  • The        most notable feature of these gardens, however, is the Grand Cascade        running from the northern façade of the Grand        Palace to the Marine Canal        and is made up of 64 different fountains and more than 200 bronze        statues, bas-reliefs, and decorations.         At the center is a statue of Samson wrestling the jaws of a        lion.
  • Other        fountains include the Chess Cascade, the Pyramid Fountain, the Joke        Fountains, and the Oak Trick Fountain

Catherine Palace

The       original palace that occupied this area was rebuilt for Catherine I of Russia in what is referred to as Russian       Baroque by Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli who also contributed heavily to       the design of the Peterhof        Palace.  It can be viewed as a fine example of       the opulence of the Russian Tsars who, some suggest, outstripped even the       French for extravagance.

Alexander Palace
Jim G/ Flickr

The        Cameron Gallery Ensemble—Catherine’s equivalent of Marie Antoinette’s        little village at Versailles.  The Cameron Gallery Ensemble was a        structure built in the Greco-Roman style that was designed to mimic an        Ancient House.  Within it is a        series of rooms, baths, and hanging gardens.

The        grounds of the Catherine Gardens are made up of two parts: the Old or Dutch Gardens        and the English         Park.  The Old Gardens        are laid out on three terraces in the front of the Palace and include the        Mirror Ponds, the stream that feeds the Upper/Great Pond and Mill Pond,        and several others.  The English Park was built around the Great        Pond which was later expanded into a lake.  Throughout the park are grottos,        pavilions, and monuments to victories over the Turkish and the French.

State Hermitage   Museum

One of the most visited museums in  the world, the Hermitage contains a staggering 3 million items in its collections that  are housed in the official residence of the Romanov Tsars known as the Winter Palace.  Though you’ll probably want to plan your  visit, it would take an estimated 11 years to see the whole collection when  spending only one minute at each display, there are some things that you’ll  probably want to check out.

Hermitage Museum
Vasena Middelkoop/ Flickr
  • The first and most notable is the Winter Palace  itself.  The State Rooms will provide an  excellent overview to the historical significance of this palace as the  official residence of the Russian Tsars leading up to the 1917 revolution that  put an end to the Romanov Dynasty.
  • Western European Art spanning from the 13th-19th  Centuries containing works of art from all major art periods and  locations.
  • The Treasure Galleries which contain the  Hermitage’s most valuable collection of jewelry and gold.  The collection includes works dating from  ancient Scthian to those of St.    Petersburg’s Court Jewelers that include Carl  Faberge.
  • The Museum  of Porcelain contains works produced  by the Imperial Porcelain Factory now run by the State Hermitage   Museum.   The vast collection also includes many  contemporary pieces produced by various modern designers and artists.
  • The Winter Palace of Peter I was initially  thought to have been destroyed to make way for the Hermitage Theatre which was  built under Catherine the Great.   However, recent discovery indicates that the architect of the theatre,  Giacomo Quarenghi, maintained much of the original structure including several  complete rooms as well as a massive section of the old palace’s courtyard.
  • Of course, these represent only a fraction of  what’s presently available at the Hermitage   Museum.  To learn more, visit their website at www.hermitagemuseum.org.

For more information about what to see in St. Petersburg, check out the St. Petersburg Tourism site.

Loire Valley Must Sees

The Loire Valley is well known for its vineyards, quaint towns, and several chateaus that line the 280 kilometer expanse that comprises this area.  These are our selections for must sees for any traveler to the area.


Chateau       du Clos-Luce and Leonardo Da Vinci Park

Chateau du Clos-Luce
Chateau       du Clos-Luce/ Ell Brown Flickr

Where        Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years as a guest of the French        King.  The house has been        maintained as it was during da Vinci’s time with his sketches, models,        and life size recreations of his inventions on the grounds.  The cost of admission is around 12        Euros and is open from 9:00-7:00.

Chateau       d’Amboise       

This        historic royal residence of French kings was partially designed by        Leonard da Vinci.  Incidentally,        this is where he is supposedly buried in the small chapel—though no one        knows for certain.  The admission        fee is around 8.20 Euros and is open from 9:00-6:30.

Chateau       de Chenonceau

Chateau Chenonceau
Chateau de Chenonceau/ Ell Brown Flickr

The        third most visited chateau in France,        after only Versailles and Fontainebleau.  It is most notable for the extension        that stands over the river and the many women who contributed to the        design that include King Henry II’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and his        wife Catherine de Medici.  As it is        one of the most visited castles in France, it is best to arrive        by 9:00 am or after 5:00 pm.  The        cost of admission is approximately 9 Euros and 2 Euros for the audio        guide.  It’s open daily 9:00-7:00.

Chateau       de Chambord

Chateau Chambord
Chateau Chambord/ David Barrena Flickr

Is        one of the largest castles in Europe with 440 rooms and 365 fireplaces        and is approximately six times the size of many of the other chateaus in        the Loire Valley.  Because of its size, Chateau Chambord        has quite a bit to interest visitors including the king’s wing, the rooms        devoted to the Count of Chambord (the last owner of the chateau as well        as the last of the French Bourbons who was in line to inherit the throne        of France until it was determined they didn’t want one anymore), and        Spiral staircase.  It’s also        recommended that you climb to the rooftop to see the vast hunting        grounds.  The cost of admission is        approximately 8.50 Euros.  It’s        open from 9:00-6:15.


Considered to be the most lavishly furnished of all the  Loire Valley Chateau’s, Chateau Cheverny is unique in the valley’s historical  sites in that it was spared during the French Revolution and continues to be inhabited  by the Hurault family.  Surrounding the  chateau is a small village and café.  The  cost of admission is 6.60 Euros and is open from 9:15-6:15.

Cheateau de Chaumont-sur-Loire

A castle has stood on this site since at least the 11th  century.  You’ll recall above that the  King’s mistress Diane de Poitiers was expelled from Chenonceau by his widow  Catherine de Medici.  Well, this is where  Catherine forced her to take up quarters.   Still, the castle’s history is unique and interesting as both women’s  styles can be seen in the décor, and it was host to several important  historical figures such as Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Voltaire, and Benjamin  Franklin.  The grounds of the castle are  considered a tree garden.  Trees imported  from throughout the Mediterranean have been  planted throughout, and today the area serves as the location of the Festival  of Gardens.

Chateau d’Usse

Chateau d'Usse
Chateau d’Usse/ Ell Brown Flickr

This is considered to be the most fairytale-esque of the  chateaus in the valley.  It is what  inspired Charles Perrault’s, and subsequently Disney’s, Sleeping Beauty.  It is located at the edge of the Chinon Forest  overlooking the Indre   Valley.   Admission  is 14 Euros and is open from 10-7.

Lavardin, Loir-et-Cher

Located about an hour outside of Tours,  this small village has been classified as one of the most beautiful villages of  France  due in large part to the ruins of its medieval castle, the Chateau de Lavardin,  the Gothic church and frescoes, and its houses and ancient bridge.  The beauty of this village has been captured  by painters since around 1900 including Busson and Sauvage.  It’s small size and relative distance from  major population centers has allowed it to slip under the radar of most  tourists.

If you should be interested in  more information about  this incredible region in France,  we advocate that you visit the Loire Valley Tourism site, or check out  guide books by Rick Steves, Eyewitness Travel, or Fodors for a good, well-rounded look at the many sights available to visitors.

Preventing Travel Scams

Travel scams are, regrettably, a dime a dozen these  days.   Recently, we received a  letter promising us free money. There was only one catch: we had to pay the taxes on it.  The travel agents in us could easily smell a  scam.  These are our tips on how to avoid a travel scam:

  1. Always       check to see if there’s a logo.        Airlines have very specific branding  in place to       identify them to the public.  If       there isn’t a logo, or if there is but it looks unusual, chances are it’s       a scam.
  2. Always       look for return information.  A phone       number, an address, a website—anything that identifies some kind of contact information on the       envelope and the letter is a good indication of whether this is a scam or       not. If there isn’t any such information then it’s most likely a scam. If there is information there and you’re still suspicious, google it and compare it to the results.
  3. The       Signature.  Airlines are       multi-billion dollar conglomerates who serve millions of customers with hundreds       of thousands of employees.  They’ve       streamlined customer service to save time and money, resulting in signatures that are printed rather than written.  So, if       your letter has an actual signature (that is to say that it’s been signed       by a physical pen and not printed), ask yourself if it’s genuine.
  4. What’s       it about?  That old adage, “if it’s       too good to be true,  it probably is,” holds true for travel       scams.  Airlines are notorious for       their fees and the cost of tickets attributed to the rising costs of       operation.  At the end of the day,       they are rarely known for giving anything away for free—tickets or money.
  5. Asking       for money.  The purpose of any scam       is to con you out of something.        In many cases that takes the form of asking for money or personal       information. No airline will ever ask you for either through a       letter.

The first thing you need to keep in mind is that travel  scams are remarkably difficult to rectify in terms of financial  restitution.  Prevention is the best thing you can do  to protect yourself from being taken in the first place. Start by asking yourself if what  you’re seeing is a scam.  If it looks like it’s too good to be true or if you’re not certain,  give us a call and we can verify if it is or is not a scam.

For further reading, because letter scams aren’t the only  ones going around, check out these links we’ve compiled for scams that are  present both here and abroad:

http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-worst-travel-scams http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-08-2012/avoid-fake-plane-ticket-preventing-travel-scams.html http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-06-2012/travel-scams-to-watch-out-for.html

Taking Better Travel Photos

It’s unfortunate but it happens to the best of us.  We get home from two weeks of exploring ancient  ruins, stepping through exotic markets, and tasting decadent food and the few  hundred photos we took at all those excellent photo opportunities turned out  blurry, too bright, or suffering from bad lighting.  As travel agents, we’ve faced these problems  one too many times.  We’ve learned from our mistakes, and here’s our tips  for taking better digital photos:


Point-and-shoot vs.   SLR

A point and shoot camera is the easiest type of camera to  use.  Often times, they come equipped with auto features that  adjust to different light environments, focus, and even take into  account motion.  They’re also among the cheapest type of camera on the market and can be purchased quite reasonably from online retailers such as Amazon.com or Overstock.com.

An SLR camera, that is a Single Lens Reflex, uses a  camera or prism system where the lens that’s capturing the photo and the lens that the photographer is seeing through are one in the same. Because of this the photographer can see exactly how the photo  will turn out.  SLR cameras tend to be the choice of professional photographers because they can produce  better photos due to their ability to incorporate interchangeable parts and  manually adjust various features. Technology, however, has advanced  far enough so that digital point-and-shoot cameras can compensate for the shortcomings of previous models.  For the  everyday photographer on a vacation once in a while, a point-and-shoot is probably the way to go.  Certainly, not just because of the usability of point-and-shoot cameras but also because of the cost.  Whereas a point-and-shoot can be purchased for around $100 an SLR will probably cost around a couple of hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Pixel and Mega Pixel

A pixel is the smallest point of color that is used to  compose an image.  Most cameras state  that they create photos in megapixels.  A  megapixel is determined by multiplying the vertical number and the horizontal  number of pixels together to find the number of overall pixels that an  image is constructed from.  An image with  a higher pixel density will produce a sharper and clearer image at any  magnification.  It also means that each  individual photo will be larger in terms of size.  When purchasing a digital camera, it’s a good  idea to go for the higher mega-pixels as it is possible to change the overall size  of the photograph in the camera’s menu settings or to reduce it in a photo editing program.

Photography Tips:

2 Second Timer:

The 2 second timer allows you to snap the button and steady  the camera before the shutter captures the light and produces the photo.  This is an excellent alternative to using a  tripod which is impractical for travelers due to weight restrictions on luggage.

To Flash or Not to Flash:

The flash will often engage in low light environments when the camera is set on auto mode.  This isn’t always the best choice as the flash  will artificially change the light and produce an amateurish looking  photo.  Instead, think about using one of  the many modes available for low light.

Memory Cards:

The space on a memory card is measured in gigabytes.  Where as a megabyte is one million bytes a  gigabyte is one billion.  Even a small  card, such as 4 gb, can hold a couple hundred photos before running out of  space.  However, when purchasing off the  internet, it’s possible to buy a high size for  a small amount of money.  On a long vacation it’s probably a good idea to buy an extra  memory card.

If space on your computer is at a premium, you might want to consider storing your photos in a zipped file. Compressing them until they’re needed.  Not only does it reduce the overall size of the photos, but its possible for you to pull photos out of a zipped folder  without decompressing all of them simultaneously.

Composition and Color:

Composition is literally the arrangement of elements in a  space and applies to the overall aesthetics of an image in terms of how we see  it.  A good composition is created by evenly  spacing the elements, defining a center of focus, and leading the eye.

Umbria Galleria di Emanuel Vittorio Il Secondo
This photo has a poor composition: the bottom is too heavy with elements, the space on the top isn’t broken up by sufficient number of elements, and  the eye is left directionless. This image has good composition. The colors complement one another with yellows in the building and blues in the sky, the space is well broken up, and the eye is directed by the perspective of the image.

Color can be use just like composition to lead the eye. Specifically when creating a center of  focus.  Complementary colors are created  when two colors are added together to produce a neutral color such as white or  gray.  The most common complementary  colors are Blue & Orange, Yellow & Purple, Green & Red.  These colors work well with one another and  are visually appealing in terms of psychology.

Golden Gate Bridge
Take, for example, this photo of Golden Gate Bridge. The orange and blue of the bridge and the sky are natural complements of one another drawing your eye first to the bridge. The perspective of the bridge draws your eye.

What to Do When Your Flight’s Delayed

The latest travel upset caused by Hurricane Sandy reminds  all of us of the reality of plane cancellations and delays caused by inclement  weather.  With the holiday travel season approaching,  we at Thomas Travel wanted to provide our list of tips to better help you deal  with delays and cancellations before you arrive at the airport and after.

Photo by millicent_bystander/ Flickr
  • The       first thing to do is remain calm.
    • Take        into account the fact that there are at the very least a few dozen and at        most a few thousand other passengers that are facing the same situation        as you are with only a couple of airline representatives on hand at the        airport to manage the situation.
  • Call       your travel agent.
    • Shameless        self-promotion aside, having a travel agent for this particular problem        cannot be overstated.  Assuming        we’ve booked your travel arrangements for you, we can facilitate the        process of getting you rebooked on a different flight and deal with any        extra accommodations you should require if an extended stay at your        current, foreign destination is required.
  • Get       Travel Insurance.
    • The        cost of Travel Insurance varies in accordance to a number of factors, but        it often can be exceptionally cheaper than the cost of an entire        trip.  Travelex Insurance offers        several packages which can cover:
      • Luggage
      • Trip         Cancellation due to accidents, injuries, loss of employment, sickness,         or death of a loved one
      • Medical         emergencies abroad
      • Travel         and baggage delays
      • Weather
      • Pre-Existing         conditions

What to keep in mind about airlines:

The only time airlines basically allow people to change  tickets for free or get them refunded is when there is an emergency and flights  are grounded.  This is the ONLY time they  will allow this and it is usually just 1 change and it has specific rules that  go along with the changes.  Most airlines  will put up link on their website during the emergency which will list specific  information about changes and refunds.   This information will include the dates of travel affected and a list of  airports and cities along with all the requirements for making the changes.

Many airlines will allow you to make the changes on the  airline website, but one must be careful to follow the rules.  Some airlines will allow you to book any type  of coach-class fare for the change but other airlines may make you pay the  difference in fare.  Sometimes, the  airlines will also allow a refund if your travel dates are in the affected date  range and the affected airports.

We strongly recommend checking airline websites for the  flight details            before departing for the airport.  Once an travel emergency has occurred, the  airports will be overcrowded with people and very, very long lines. Your best  option is to use the airline website or call your travel agent if you booked  with a travel agent.  Calling the  airlines would be a secondary option as hold times can be very long.

If you are at the end of your trip and are delayed, take  advantage of the situation and enjoy the extra time in the city you are  in.  There is usually something else you  can see that you did not have enough time for.

Tipping Mysteries Unraveled

Mystified about when, how much or whom to trip when traveling? Tipping isn’t rocket science but can be quite confusing with different rules for different destinations.



Long ago, the cruise lines would leave an envelope in your room with guidelines of how much and whom to tip. Now, most cruise lines automatically add the gratuities to your shipboard account. Some cruise lines allow you to adjust the amount, others have made it a mandatory amount. Always check with the cruise line before you sail to see if the gratuities are included and whether or not they can be adjusted.


Here in the US it is customary to leave a 15-20 percent tip, but when you travel outside the country, it’s a whole different story. In many European countries the tips are already included in your bill, so always check your receipt carefully before leaving an extra tip. A general rule for restaurant tipping in Europe is to leave a couple of Euros by rounding up your bill if you are happy with the service you received. If you are not sure, ask the hotel staff about the local tipping customs.

Hotel bell man

When you arrive at a hotel, there are usually several people involved in getting your suitcases to your room. A good rule of thumb is to tip the person delivering the suitcase directly to your room.

Shuttle van drivers

It is customary to tip courtesy shuttle drivers $1 or $2 as you exit the shuttle.

Hotel housekeeping

Many people don’t tip the person who cleans the room, but should. A couple of dollars per day is acceptable and it’s best to leave the money under the pillow instead of on the dresser. It is also nice to hand it to them in person if you see them in the hallway. If you leave the money on the dresser, the maid may not know that this is a tip, but money you left behind. You can tip each day or at the end of your stay. If you are staying at a small B&B, you do not need to tip as this is usually the owners taking care of the cleaning.

Hotel Concierge

You don’t need to tip the hotel concierge for small things like a getting a map or asking for a restaurant recommendation. But if a real effort has been made for you like getting tickets to a sold out performance or hard to get reservations at a popular restaurant, you should leave a tip somewhere between $5 and $20. You can do this in person or have it delivered to them in a hotel envelope with a small note expressing your thanks.

Tour guides

Tips for tour guides are generally not included in your tour price and it is a worldwide standard to tip them at the end of the service. A tip of $2 -$3 per day (in local currency) is acceptable for shorter day tours and $6-$10 for full-day tour guides. It is customary to put the money in an envelope and seal it before giving it to the tour guide. You can always get free envelopes at the hotel front desk.

China and Japan

Tipping is actually considered rude in China and Japan and is just not done. This includes restaurants and hotel workers. The exception to this rule is a tour guide. The acceptable form of tipping is to put the tip in an envelope and give it to the tour guide at the end of your tour.

One last, really handy item for everyone with a smart phone is to download an app like GlobeTipping. Then you always have the information at your fingertips.