One of my biggest worries when going on any travel trip is not whether I’ll get the info and access I need (I usually do if I work hard enough at it), or whether something is going to go wrong (in foreign cultures, and on complicated journeys, it often does). It’s whether I am going to have enough money for tips.
Usually, when I’m arranging a travel trip, I will talk to the PR at the start about what is complimentary so I’m clear about the costs that I will incur while I’m away. Not only will I need to take the right currency with me (as I’ve discovered, to my cost, some countries don’t accept cards, and if they do, the cost of using them is exorbitant) but I need to know whether I’m going to make any money from the job. As a professional freelancer, I never accept a freebie; I work only if I have a pre-arranged commission and it’s going to pay.
While most PRs are upfront about the costs of the trip, what few mention is tips.
Just as it isn’t fair for writers to go on trips unless they’re being paid, it’s not fair for people working as guides, waiters, bellboys or concierges not to be tipped. Pocketing little bits of extra cash for great service is how many of them make their living.
While generally, handing over a tenner here or a fifty there won’t break the bank for a journalist – particularly if the rest of the trip is being comped – it can get pretty embarrassing when the camps/yachts/hotels expect their guests to tip a stipulated percentage for every night that they’ve stayed. Guests on superyachts, for example, will often leave hundreds, or thousands, of pounds for tips for the crew.
At safari camps, the best guides will sometimes be given an envelope with almost a month’s salary in it.
Which makes it all rather awkward when you are a journalist, earning a pittance, and without company expenses to fall back on. If you don’t give an enormous tip, you give the impression that the service hasn’t been up to scratch – when, in fact, it’s probably been brilliant because they have been trying extra hard to get a good review.
And if you do give them the money they expect, you aren’t going to make a penny from your own work.
If PR budgets covered all major tips on press trips – and told journalists in advance – it would lift that ghastly cloud that hovers over all of us at the end of a trip. Staff would feel rewarded for what they’ve done. And we wouldn’t feel like Mr Scrooge when waving them goodbye.