Cheaper Vacations

Tips and gifts for a trip down South

September 1, 2015
Travel Tips

As all travelers know it, the maid is the stranger who enters your privacy the most. You usually appreciate the services she provides. Not only does she make your bed, clean your bathroom, mop the floor, make sure you have enough towels, but she also decorates the bed with flowers and origami towels. In the evening, she prepares your room for bedtime and sometimes perfumes it with relaxing scents for better sleep.

Before you leave your home, think about all the services your maid will be providing. How much will she contribute to the success of your vacation? You would like to offer her something, but what?

What or how much? That is the question! My answer: it depends where you go on vacation. I've prepared a memory aid according to the destinations to help you see more clearly. Something simple and easy to remember.

I suggest you give money if you are a traveler who likes to travel light. How much money? The equivalent of $US 2.00 to $US 5.00 per day, depending on the services you require from your maid. You can leave your tip daily on the pillow or put it in an envelope at the end of your stay, in which case, you should hand deliver it to her.

Leave the equivalent of $US 2.00 per day if you don’t make any personal requests. But if, like me, you have a lot of requests ranging from the amount of towels and sizes you want, ask for an extra bottle of water and your favorite soft drinks in the mini bar, request for laundry services... (Did you know that in some hotels, the maids bring your clothes home to wash and iron them when you ask for laundry service?) Travelers like me who ask a lot should give $US 5.00 per laundry day and $US 3.00 on days when you have less requests.

Tipping rules are not the same everywhere. In North America, it is standard practice to leave 15% before taxes to the restaurant waiter, and the same is true for bartenders. In Europe, tip is included in your bill, so you don’t have to add anything else. In sun destinations, the rules are not quite the same and the rates are very different. For example, one day, we ate a big lobster dish in a Trinidadian restaurant. Four of us ordered starters, main courses and drinks. The waiter presented us with the bill: 45 CUC in total or the equivalent of $US 45.00 tip included for four people. We added 5 CUC to the total as we were in Cuba. The service was extraordinary and the meal was huge.

When taking a taxi, agree on the fare before boarding. If the price is reasonable, you may or may not add a few dollars if you received excellent service or if the ride took less time than you expected.

Tipping is not giving money to charity. You basically pay extra for a service you particularly appreciated. Some bartenders told me they enjoy the Canadian clientele as they are normally considered to be generous.

You may give a tip to whoever you want down South. Depending on the destination, the staff has its preferences and here they are:

Tipping in cash is given and appreciated in Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, although the maids are also very fond of useful objects for cooking, body products as well as school supplies for their children. Money is preferred in all luxury destinations such as the Bahamas, St. Martin, Aruba and others.

Poverty is widespread when you travel to the Dominican Republic and shortages of basic products affect Cubans in their daily lives. Here is a short list of the most popular products thanks  to unscientific surveys that I have myself conducted among staff working in various all-inclusive resorts in Cuba.

Body products, in order of preference :

        - Shaving cream

        - Disposable razors

        - Toothpaste (Cuban toothpaste is awful)

        - Toothbrushes

        - Eau de toilette, cologne, body spray

        - Shampoo and conditioner

        - Shower gel

        - Scented body lotion

        - Make-up, lipstick

        - Nail polish

        - Nail files

        - Hair styling products

        - Soap bars

        - Deodorants

        - Facial creams and moisturizers

Commonly used objects :

        - Dishcloths and kitchen towels 

        - Plastic serving utensils

        - Cutting boards

        - Small peeling knives

        - Hair clips, hair ties and headbands

        - Reading glasses and sunglasses

        - Used clothing, t-shirts, shirts, jeans, even used jeans.

        - Used shoes, but still in good condition

        - Caps to offer especially to gardeners

        - Pens, felt-tip sharpies

        - School supplies

        - Colored pencils

        - Coloring books

        - Notebooks

        - Fishing tackle

        - Small power tools


        - Candy

        - Maple syrup

        - Sauces in a bag (especially if you want to experience a poutine)

        - Spices, salt, pepper

This list is not exhaustive, it can be increased at will. Write me the items you offer that are not on my list, I will add them.

Someone once told me not to bring soap bars to Cuba because tourists brought so much of it that all Cuban houses had soap bars for years to come. I checked this information with a Cuban destination representative. He said, "You know, Patricia, we have families, parents, brothers, sisters and friends, not all Cubans work in hotels. We tend to share with them when we have extras." I then realized that even if I give eight soap bars to my maid, she'll share it with the other maids or with her family and friends or trade it for things her family needs. It doesn't matter if I give identical items, it is sure to make someone happy.

Note that Cubans earn an average of 25 CUC per month or the equivalent of about $US 25.00.  A 250 ml bottle of shampoo costs 8 CUC, a soap bar costs 3 CUC and clothes are of such poor quality that they only last a few months before they become cleaning rags.

Of course your gifts can be given to all the staff members who provide you with good services. The gardeners who show you their best fishing spots appreciate jeans and baseball caps.Tip: your jeans have become too pale for your liking, put them aside and on your next trip bring them with you. You will most certainly make a gardener happy. Cubans love Canadian clothes because they last. How many years have you been wearing this t-shirt? The lady who cleans the toilets and floors in the lobby rarely gets a gift. Her work is essential to your comfort, give her a gift, soap, shampoo… She will truly be pleased. The same goes for the bellboy, he will take your heavy suitcases up to the third floor without an elevator even if it is extremely hot. Offer him a tip of 2 CUC plus 1 CUC per additional suitcase. The concierges, the destination representatives, the guides,... Everyone deserves a small token of appreciation. Offer perfume, aftershave, razors... For your information, aftershave is not available in Cuba. The country does not manufacture this product or import it. .

Don't forget that all these people do everything possible to make your holiday an unforgettable experience.

Where to find all these items at the best price?

You can buy your supplies at the dollar stores, department stores and drug stores. Watch for sales! Toothpaste and toothbrushes are often $1.00 each. It is better to buy these products as you go along throughout the year than to pay for them all at once. You'll be ready and won't have to run to the stores to fill your suitcase if you decide to leave at the last minute. 

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and find it useful for your next escape in the sun!

Have a good trip and be careful to avoid paying overweight luggage fee.


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