Archive for the ‘Perspective’ Category

(Photo by BurningKarma)


I recently received an email from a reader about travel tipping etiquette. It’s an interesting topic, and one that I think is a subject of confusion and frustration for many travelers. Her letter reads:


Dear Erin,

We just got back from a three day trip to Niagara Falls, after not having been on a vacation for YEARS. I was wondering, when did tipping get so out of control? I could not believe how many different people we were supposed to tip and I never had any idea how much was appropriate.

People we tipped at the hotel included the valet parking attendants (valet parking was required and cost $20 daily, plus tip), the server at the daily breakfast buffet (she brought drinks), the bartender at the daily “manager’s reception” (where we each received a free drink daily), the maid, the bellman , the front desk staff (they actually had fishbowl tip “jars” set out so they could be tipped for checking you in and out) and the staff at the tour desk. We had no idea how much to tip for most of these, so we made wild guesses. Do you have any advice for future trips?

Thanks, Brittney


First of all, I would like to note that I do not think a tip jar on the hotel’s front desk is appropriate and any hotel that allows this should be embarrassed. The front desk employees are paid a salary and do not survive on tips, like waiters and valet attendants. This goes for the concierge and tour desk employees, as well. You never need to tip desk attendants. If someone goes above and beyond for you, particularly in the case of a concierge, then a gratuity handed directly to that individual is nice, but not strictly required. The problem with a tip jar is that you never know who is going to get that money and how it will be divided. Skip the jar and hand out tips only to the person assisting you.

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Smithsonian Magazine recently printed a wonderful article about the history and mystique of Big Sur, that famous stretch of Northern California coastline which has been luring travelers for a century or more. It brought back some great memories for me.


I drove Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur a couple of years ago with my husband and a friend. It was not my first visit to the area. I’d been there as a child with my parents, but have no vivid memories of that trip. This is not the case for my mother, whose one keen recollection is that my younger brother screamed nonstop along the coast road, that stretch of narrow highway clinging precariously to a cliff above the sea, offering no places to pull off the road and soothe a crying baby for miles and miles. I’m happy to report that my return trip involved no temper tantrums and frayed nerves. Starting in Carmel-by-the-Sea, we drove south mostly in silence, too involved in the gorgeous scenery to make conversation. We got out of the car where the road allowed, stopping to take photos of the sheer drop to the Pacific, of Bixby Bridge spanning a chasm, of the fog rolling into Redwood forests. Truly, this is one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful places in our world.


If you’re considering a trip to Big Sur this summer, here are some links that may interest you:

Big Sur Chamber of Commerce website
WikiTravel’s Big Sur Guide
GoCalifornia’s Big Sur Guide
A feature from Examiner.com on road tripping Big Sur, Part One and Part Two
Stay in a Yurt! Treebones Resort is a totally different, eco-friendly option in Big Sur.
A Los Angeles Times article on the historic and luxurious Post Ranch Inn.


Some of my photos from Big Sur are below:


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On a recent Southwest Airlines flight I was reacquainted with the phenomenon of the singing flight attendant.  Have you encountered this?  Since it happened on both my outbound and return flights, I’m assuming this is some sort of standard procedure on Southwest and many other travelers must also have been subjected to it.


Picture this: We’re descending into LAX, I’m putting away my headphones and securing my tray table for landing when the speaker crackles to life.  Connecting gate information?  A reminder to stay seated?   Not exactly.  Instead, a flight attendant begins warbling to the tune of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”  “Crazy,” she sings, “Crazy for flying other airlines!”  The song continues, loud and off-key, through several refrains.  Of course, we’ve been told to turn off our electronic devices, so I don’t even have the option of cranking up the volume on something more appealing.  I hear some chuckling around me.  Are other passengers actually finding this amusing?   I’m finding it even less entertaining than all the pre-flight intercom banter, which included the flight attendant and pilot making animal noises and laughing riotously over the speaker.  I was deeply concerned that perhaps they’d spent too long in the Southwest lounge prior to reporting to work.


Look, I have a sense of humor.  And I certainly appreciate a flight crew that enjoys their job and wants to make the experience as pleasant as possible for the passengers.  Lord knows those are both rare enough items in this day and age.  The singing has got to stop, though.   The animal impressions, too.  If I wanted to hear people sing badly I’d stop fast-forwarding through American Idol.  So please, Southwest Airlines, keep those prices low and flight attendants cheerful, but put the kibosh on the mile-high karaoke.

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