Etiquette for Tipping Your Adventure Tour Guide
The question comes up very often as to whether or not to tip your adventure tour guide. While guides do work for tips (or a better term is gratuity at TIP means "to ensure prompt service"), a tip is meant to be a reward for an experience meeting your expectation or knocking your socks off. Tips are greatly appreciated and pretty much an industry standard so it doesn't hurt to include the tip in your travel budget plan.
It is standard practice to tip servers in restaurants in the United States - unless the service is poor. Most people budget the gratuity in when planning on where they will eat. Backpacking, hiking, kayaking, zip lining, skydiving, and all other guides in the adventure travel industry also work for tips. Guides are skilled professionals that do much more than just point you in the right direction. Guides have to keep certifications up to date, which require continuous training and education. In addition, most guides have college degrees, so they have a great deal of money and time invested in their careers and their futures. Guides are not guides because of the millions of dollars they make per year. They love what they do and they share this passion with anyone who wants to be a part of their life for a short period of time - whether a few hours or several days.
Depending on your type of trip, guides are in a multi-faceted roll. For example, a backpacking guide does more than just lead guests on a trail. They educate their guests about the area - flora, fauna, geology, history, hiking etiquette, etc. They also cook, drive, ensure guest safety, entertain, coach, manage emergency situations, think on the fly, encourage, administer first aid, cheer, befriend, talk, listen, manage time, council and sometimes even provide a shoulder to cry on. Whether on a Grand Canyon backpacking tour or a Yosemite hiking trip, you name it - guides have been through it and they know the areas they lead like no one else. Tipping them ensures good service not only for you, but also for all the guests that come after.
The average tip amount for an adventure travel guide is between 10% and 20% of the tour cost per person. For example, if your trip cost is $1,000 per person and there are 3 people in your group, the tip would range from $100 to $200 per person or a total of $300 to $600 depending on the level of service provided by your guide. This includes family members, so if you have dependents on the hike, the cost of their spot on the trip should also be figured in on the gratuity. You might end up on a tour with assistants, for example maybe you have a driver at the beginning and end of the trip (not always the same person). If that is the case, consider their tip as part of what you would give the guide. Take the above example of $300-$600 total tip for 3 people. If there is someone else doing the driving, not the guide, you can figure about 5-10% of the gratuity amount would go to the driver. So for a 10% tip of $300, $15-$30 would go to the driver(s) and $285 to $270 would now go to your guide.
However, not all guides are amazing and some people have a story or two about some surly character that almost got them killed - or at least it seemed that death was knocking. Gratuity should not be an expectation of a guide, so poor service should never be rewarded and a guide should NEVER ask a customer for a tip, demand a larger tip or anything coming close to a conversation of what tip they should be getting or did not receive. A tip is what it is - a showing of appreciation for a job well done, for going over and above or just being a cool dude or chic.