Recently, my husband picked up some extra work as a photo tour guide. It’s a fantastic idea, snapping away at Kauai’s picturesque scenery, and getting “money shots” to take home for visitors on Hawaii Vacations. He enjoys people, sharing cultural information, and helping people learn how to use their cameras—if they need it.

Justin guides folks on a kayak down the Wailua River to Secret Falls on Kauai.

He will guide people for five hours on hiking tours, taking them to seven little known waterfalls or hard to reach beaches. For those who prefer riding in the air conditioned van, the walking tours provide 12 scenic stops. Usually, he comes home full of energy and fun stories of memories he helped make. Sometimes, he recounts the sights; a large pod of dolphins in the bay, 30 turtles floating in the surf or a solitary monk seal sleeping in the sand.

It’s hard work coordinating the stops according to weather, light, time and costumer preference, while sharing information and making sure everyone has a good time. Most guides, including my husband, depend on tipping in Hawaii to earn a decent wage. The other day he came home feeling dejected because someone tipped him $2.00.

Captain Chris and his crew make sure everyone is safe and having fun on their Hawaii vacation.

I felt bad because I know how hard he works, but I reminded him that we have done this ourselves. It’s easy to do. You’re in Hawaii, it’s expensive here. You’ve spent a lot of money to get here, plus lodgings, a car rental, and food. You’ve spent hard earned money to go on a guided tour of the Na Pali coast, to zip-line over the rainforest canopy and maybe, some surf lessons. Sometimes, in the excitement of it all, you forget the extra cash for a tip, or maybe, you feel like you’ve already paid enough.

Tourism is Hawaii’s main economic industry. Tour companies, hotels, restaurants and adventure tours work hard to make sure each visit is filled with aloha. Companies who really care, monitor Trip Advisor daily to ensure they are providing exceptional customer service.

If you have enjoyed your stay, return the aloha. Write a nice comment and share your experience. Guides get a small amount of the overall price, if you appreciate their work, they will appreciate a tip. If something goes awry, let the business owner know. They are always happy to make things right, if not, there’s always Trip Advisor!

These tough ladies insure your zip-line tour of Kipu Ranch is fun and safe..


  1. Hi, coming from Oz, I'm not very knowledgable about tipping whilst in Hawaii.  I've read all relevant info all over the net, what to tip where, but your story here has raised another question for me.  I would never want to tip my tour guide and have them feel the way your husband has after the $2.00 tip, so what is standard tipping for a tour guide?  I would hate to hand some money over that I thought was appreciative for good service and not even know that person went away feeling like your husband did!

  2. I asked my husband. His tours are $120 per person, for the hiking or walking tour. He said he would like at least 10%, less than you would at a restaurant for a 1 hour meal, but would also appreciate $10. 20% would be wonderful. He does work hard to insure everyone enjoys their trip and sees a lot of Kauai's beautiful sights. Mahalo Nic for your thoughtful question!

  3. I never know what to tip in a lot of situations, if anything I over tip, but I think I would start at the $5.00 mark.  After all, I've seen luggage potters get $5.00 – $10.00 just for putting someones luggage together & on a trolly.  (5 min work).  The $2.00 tip must have felt a little insulting, I mean he's been out all day securing everyone's enjoyment.  Would prefer to give your husband a decent tip than a restaurant who adds around 15% service charge on your bill anyway and still expects a tip to be left for the waiting staff.
    I've bookmarked your site, for when I go to Hawaii in the future.

  4. Aloha Marta!

    My name is Kalani and I'm a Hawaii Travel and Activities specialist for Hawaii Aloha Travel. Before getting into travel and selling activities, I was a tour guide and drove for E NOA, Discover Hidden Hawaii Tours, Polynesian Adventure Tours, Oahu Ghost Tours, Dream Cruises, Tommy's Tours (HBay), and Dream Cruises. In my experience, tours were like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. You saw that one coming, huh?

    I've learned that people from certain countries don't tip because culturally, they don't. For example, the Japanese. Everything they pay for back home usually includes tip, taxes and other costs associated with products or services they purchase. Others, like Canadians and Australians, over tip because their currency is stronger than the US dollar (back when I was driving at least). And like you mentioned in your article, some people spent so much coming here that they don't have enough money to tip. In cases like that, I used to tell them that just them coming here allowed me a reason to come to work today. Sometimes we gotta give Aloha too! That's why they call us Hawaiians. Oh yeah! It helps to be Hawaiian too!

    The best tour guides I've known always give their 110% on every tour and didn't even worry about tip. If it comes, it comes. If it doesn't, somebody else going make up for it. The worst tour guides are those that can look at a manifest of names and predict who will  tip and who won't. They expect it and you can tell in their mannerisms, posted signs, and hints. That kine tour guide we no need. Makes the good ones look bad.

    But the question remains: How much does one tip? It depends. Most tour/shuttle companies nowadays will require groups to invest a $1 to $2 per bag handling fee when transporting luggage. So, for shuttle drivers that would be a good base to start from. Tour Guides provide a service so WHEN VISITORS ASK we recommend the standard service industry rate of 10-20% IF you feel the tour guide deserves it. The most I made from 1 person on a standard Tour #1 at Discover Hidden Hawaii Tours (Pearl Harbor and back) was a crisp $50 bill (tour cost was $19 at the time) while the worse, of course, was $0.
    Some advice, if your income heavily depends on tips and you love to be a tour guide, the best thing to do is to work toward a CDL B class with P endorsement and drive those 50 seat motor-coaches. They can make good tips. If you have a CDL C class with P, you can drive the 25 seat mini-coach and do pretty good. The circle island tours are the bank tours. Whatever CDL you may work to get or not, just remember…

    Tours are like a box of chocolates….

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