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Travel Etiquette: How to Behave at a Hotel

May 8, 2014

Our new etiquette series tackles those nagging questions that have always plagued you while traveling. This week, we take on manners at hotels. Expert Erik Torkells—author of the Smart Traveler’s Passport, former editor in chief of Budget Travel, and all-around travel guru—is back. here to tell us right from wrong. 

If you missed Erik’s etiquette advice on airline travel last week, check it out here

Have your own etiquette dilemna? Tweet us at @yahootravel using the hashtag #Etiquette.

Many resorts throw the couple a wedding in exchange for the bookings from the wedding guests. (Photo: Krista Guenin)

My cousin invited me to a destination wedding at a resort I can’t afford. Can I stay somewhere cheaper nearby instead?

Erik: In theory, you’re free to stay wherever you like, right? Wrong. Many destination weddings are paid for by the guests. The resort throws the happy couple a wedding—and sometimes gives them a honeymoon, too—in exchange for persuading a certain number of guests to stay at the resort. So if you were to stay elsewhere, you’re not holding up your end of the bargain. Moreover, many resorts charge non-guests a day-use fee just to set foot on the property. 

I’m afraid this is one of those situations where you have to suck it up and go or manufacture a good reason why you can’t. Not being able to afford it may not be a “good” reason—that entirely depends on the betrothed couple’s perspective—and a white lie, like an unavoidable work conflict, might be kinder than the truth. If the wedding is a while off, write down any details related to your lie, in case you have to remember them later. (Trust me on this.) And if you want my two cents, anyone attending a destination wedding should feel zero obligation to give the couple more than a token wedding gift: your presence is present enough.

Staying at the resort is an etiquette must and part of the deal of attending a destination wedding. (Photo: Krista Guenin)

People “save” lounge chairs at resorts by getting up early and leaving their property on them. Wrong or right?

Erik: Wrong—and we all know it. But it’s not going to stop anytime soon (and bravo to the resorts who post signs saying property will be removed if left unattended for a certain amount of time). We must simply hope that karma bites the selfish in the rear, and take comfort in our own more evolved standards.

Saving a lounge chair for later? A resort no-no. (Photo: Thinkstock) 

My wife and I were just at an all-inclusive resort where some people tipped and some didn’t. What’s the rule?

Erik: Funny you should ask. I recently returned from an all-inclusive resort, where I faced this question. If a resort is truly all-inclusive, should it not include everything? Isn’t the very point that you don’t have to carry cash around with you, worrying that you have enough small bills? And yet, I found myself tipping here and there. Perhaps the specific instances will lead to a general rule. I tipped when we had waiter service at restaurants. I tipped the massage therapist, because that’s a job I can’t even imagine having (and I’m grateful when they don’t cause me harm or laugh at my backfat). I tipped the shuttle bus driver to and from the airport. I tipped the porter, mostly in an effort to get him out of the room as quickly as possible. And I tipped the housekeepers, because they created towel art for us. Who doesn’t love towel art? 

I didn’t tip the servers at the buffet restaurants—that may seem unfair, but I don’t believe that the mere act of bringing over a beverage warrants it. I didn’t tip the waiters who serve the beach chairs, and I felt badly about that, but I didn’t bring cash in my swimsuit pocket. And I didn’t tip bartenders because the drinks were watered down and/or poor quality. 

All I can conclude, however, is that I probably overtipped. The thing is, I never, ever regret tipping, and yet there have been many occasions when I regretted not doing it. What’s a few bucks here and there for people who treat you well? (It should go without saying that anyone who does not treat you well gets zilch.) Another option, if you can fake an accent, is to pretend you’re European and tip no one at all.

In general, tipping at all-inclusives seems to be a case-by-case decision. (Photo: Thinkstock)

You wander into the conference area of your hotel by accident, and there’s a table with hundreds of bottles of water on it. It’s only Aquafina. No one will see you. You’re kind of thirsty. The bottle in your minibar is $7 … do you take one?

Erik: Do you take extra shampoo from the housekeeper’s cart? Extra booze from the flight attendant’s trolley? The fact that you’re concerned someone might see you pretty much tells you everything you need to know. And yet I might indeed take a bottle—and only one—knowing that I’m on ethically dubious ground. I would tell myself that it serves the hotel right for nickel-and-diming me, that the attendees of the meeting no doubt paid a cheaper rate than I did, that I’ll tip the housekeeper extra. In other words, I’d tell myself anything I can to feel less like a cheap-wad thief. If there’s a water fountain nearby, of course, stealing a bottle is not even remotely justifiable. 

If you are worried about someone seeing you take something, than you probably shouldn’t. (Photo: Thinkstock)