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The begpackers… I heard about those people before starting my long term trip, since the media brought this whole begpacking phenomenon to light in 2017. But honestly, I thought begpacking was a marginal trend, and I really didn’t think I would ever see begpackers when I started traveling. However… I spotted a few ones!!! In Pai, but also in Chiang Rai, Thailand! But also in Hoi An, Vietnam! Begpackers who irked me to the highest degree. Ooops, I almost forgot… What is a begpacker actually?
Definition of begpacker
The term begpacker is a contraction of two words : beg and backpacker. Sometimes it’s written beg packers, or beg-packers. Begpackers are those travelers, Westerners, who decide to go to countries where the cost of living is low (they’re often in Southeast Asia). And what do they do once they’re on the spot? They beg! They’re begging for money! They sit on the ground in the street, and ask the locals to give them money to fund their travels! Not to eat, not to have a roof over their heads, not to pay medicine… No no, to keep traveling!
Begpackers are numerous, and begging for money
As I said, I vaguely saw articles on the internet about begpackers, but I wasn’t expecting at all to actually see those guys in real life! What drove me crazy, is that begpackers are not in need at all! You can see them with a very nice camera, a macbook (I saw one in the bag of a begpacker), clothes in good condition, the last iPhone, beats by dre headphones… You get it, Westerners far from being poor…
The first time I spotted one, I was like “Seriously!?” He was telling people he needed money for his round the world trip… This dude comes from a rich country, he had enough money to go all the way to Southeast Asia, and I’m pretty sure he had friends and/or relatives who could help him if he really needed money. But he preferred to ask the locals -who are barely making enough money to earn a living- to give him money… to fund his travels! This is fucking crazy!!! You had enough money to go all the way there, living there costs almost nothing, and you ask the locals to give you spare change!? Come on!!!
Begpackers don’t deserve to get money from the locals
Yep, most of the time, begpackers just wanna get a tan on the beach in Southeast Asia. They intentionally arrive in those places with no money, and rely on the kindness and generosity of locals to get money, food… And enjoy their trip! Regarding the locals, they get up early to work, they don’t earn much money (compared to us Westerners), they often don’t have any days off to go on vacation… But still, they give, they’re open-handed! Because when they see a Westerner begging for money, they think “He must be in deep shit to condescend to beg for money here in our country, I’m gonna help him” Locals begging there are really in need, they’re not begging in order to do something seen as luxury.
In Southeast Asia, if you make them believe you’re in big trouble, the local community will do anything possible to help you out and share the few things they have. They think “Not only he has nothing, but he’s also so far away from his friends and relatives” So they’re gonna give those begpackers a hand. Basically begpackers wanna live at the locals’ expense. Locals who often don’t have the same opportunities, who -for the most part- never traveled and never left their home country…
When I was talking with the locals, I was a bit embarrassed to tell ’em that I was traveling for a long time. Because for most of them, this is something they will never do, even if they want to. They have other priorities, vital necessities : to eat, to have a place to sleep… Most of the time, I was just telling them “I’m on vacation for two weeks, I’m going back home in a few days” Same thing when they were asking me how much is a two-way ticket from Paris. I usually avoided responding the question and fudged the issue. I’m well aware that I’m lucky to travel the world. So… When I saw those begpackers asking the local community, even the disadvantaged, to fund their travels… It also exists in other forms, some begpackers are starting up GoFundMe and Kickstarter campaigns to fund their travels… Profiteers are everywhere!
In a nuthshell, I don’t like begpackers
Some of them are even worse, and take advantage of the kindness of people to pinch meals in homeless shelters… Those meals are meant for people who need and deserve them far more. From what I understand, a lot of begpackers boast about their achievements, spread the word to others, etc… I think that nobody from a Western country should be struggling to survive in the developing world, unless that person has a REAL problem. If you can afford the flight, you have enough money to pay accommodation and to eat on the spot, instead of relying on the kindness of locals. In Thailand, it’s very easy to have a good meal and pay 40 baht (one euro). In Kuta, Indonesia, you can find good hostels and pay 45000 rupees (2.75€) per night… breakfast included!
I was walking past begpackers in Langkawi, Malaysia, who said they lost their wallet and passport, they needed money to travel in Southeast Asia, etc… and a guy told me “Those kids deserve to be slapped in the face“ He’s not completely wrong. There’s also this girl who told me “There’s a difference between begging for money, and playing music/selling artworks/put on a show to get money. I’m not defending them, but that doesn’t bother me that much when they’re not just asking for money, without giving anything in return“
Yeah… But the locals begging for money have no choice, they beg to eat, to feed their families, to pay their children’s school fees, to pay medicine. And those who’ve been to Southeast Asia can tell, there are not that many beggars. Because over there, they’re all resourceful! The locals will always find a way to make money : selling apples, chopping wood, delivering merchandise… They’re ingenious, they’ll find a solution!
Locals are able now to spot begpackers
Things start to change a little bit. Over there, people start to talk about this begpacking phenomenon, and the locals are no suckers. Especially in Thailand. Right now, in some cases, when you arrive in Thailand, customs officers ask tourists a document proving they have enough money on their bank account before they enter the country. It didn’t happen to me but I arrived in Thailand overland from Hpa An, I didn’t arrive by plane at the Bangkok airport, like most people. The local community gives less than before to the begpackers, they start to understand, and they’re wary now.
I already knew this phenomenon but as I said, I didn’t expect to see begpackers with my own eyes. This explains why I decided to write about it. One day I saw a guy verbally assaulting begpackers, shouting at them, telling them they were spoiled kids. I don’t think that’s the solution. The best thing to do is to walk past them and ignore (even though it can be hard, especially the first time you spot one). I just have one thing to tell them “If you don’t have enough money to travel, then stay home“.
Have you ever seen begpackers? What did you think? Let me know!
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Exactly! If you can’t afford it, don’t do it! I’ve seen a few when I was in Seoul… it made me so angry!
That’s also what I heard! More and more begpackers in Seoul and Hong Kong! It really irks me!
Rodrigo Sabato says
Very good article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in the matter.
Freedom to give, freedom to take, freedom to travel. I don’t see why you and so many other people in 2018 have such a big problem, granting individual freedom without judgement.
It’s exactly these kind of travellers that explore and draw attention to rural areas so tourists like you can follow on their safe path they paid for. Also they inspire locals to do the sae and explore the wrld with no financial boundaries, bringing the world closer together and building connections that span continents without the need of institutions.
They are most likely not exploiting anybody so who are you to judge?
It’s their natural right to go whereever they want? You don’t know anything about them, so don’t be so fast with your judgement! Maybe they have some fancy electronics, but that doesn’t mean they don’t bring value into the economies they go to .
I encourage everybody to travel and if you can’t afford a plane ticket and a hotel, then hitchhike and go busking in the streets. It is your freedom to go and see the world, meet people, inspire them and get inspired. Regardless your socail backround or the money in your bank account.
Whatever you do please don’t stay home because some judgemental people tell you that you are doing it “wrong”.
“It’s exactly these kind of travellers that explore and draw attention to rural areas so tourists like you can follow on their safe path they paid for.” Oh wow! No no, I didn’t wait for them to go pave the way for me and other travelers. And they inspire locals to do the same!? Hell no! I talked to several locals there (young, old, rich, poor) and asked them how they felt about this whole begpacking thing. They hate the begpackers, they despise them, they don’t get why they come to their country and ask for money… to travel more! They are not exploiting anybody but it’s very inappropriate to do so in developing countries. Again, I asked the locals how they felt, and they thought the same thing. And don’t forget some of them just beg. They don’t sell anything, they don’t sing… Nothing. They just expect to get money… to travel!
Obviously, it’s your freedom to see the world your own way, to inspire people, etc… But please don’t beg for money in the street… to pay for the mojitos you’re gonna get the same evening (yep, I saw a girl pissed off because she didn’t get enough money from the locals to pay her drinks). Don’t tell me I’m stupid because I spend 30 baht to have dinner when I could just act like I’m “broke as fuck” to get something from the local community (yep, a guy told me that). Don’t tell a local to fuck off when he proposes bringing you free of charge to your embassy, since you wrote “Lost my passport, need money to get a new one”. All those guys were just begging. Not selling anything, not singing. Just begging for money.
I’m not being judgemental, those are just a few examples I saw with my own eyes. I don’t know anything about those guys but at least if they were respectful and not condescending to the locals and other travelers, my opinion would have been different. Seeing all the fancy devices they had, their attitude, and the way they interacted with the local community, I’m pretty sure begging for money wasn’t their only option.
Writing should be about keeping enough distance to provide perspective. You are constantly jumping from assumptions to conclusions. You judge without further knowledge and let anecdotal events determine your opinion on a non-homogenous group. This is just as dumb as saying: “All refugees are criminals” or “All asians are lactose intolerant”. You should’nt be writing unless you can get rid of all your “pretty sures” and insults and can provide a less biased view to your readers.
I indeed know plenty of these travellers since I’m running a travel community of relevant size. I don’t say there aren’t assholes that use begging and busking for the wrong reasons. But the truth is, that neither you nor me have any idea about the personal reasons and therefore we are not in a postiion to judge. Especially not as harsh and unrefelcted as you do.
You don’t even take into consideration what I wrote before, and you’re just repeating yourself… So I can repeat myself but the discussion on this subject is going around in circles; it’s a real dialogue of the deaf.
But I’m not “jumping from assumptions to conclusions”. Were you traveling with me to talk about a “non-homogenous group”? This is a reflection after dozens of begpackers I ran into in several countries and cities, local communities I talked to about this phenomenon, fellow travelers who told me things they saw… And who are you to tell me “You should’nt be writing unless you can get rid of all your “pretty sures” and insults” on my blog!? Harsh maybe, unreflected no.
I’ve stumbled across your post because after bumping into 2 ‘beg packers’ in KL I was curious to see others perspectives. I must say mine has swung considerably tonight and I find myself perched somewhere between yours and Alex’s.
After talking to two guys, one from Belarus and one from Ukraine, their reason for not being able to fund their own trip is understandable. It made the whole thing a lot easier to swallow knowing they weren’t from a very wealthy country – like myself as they pointed out. One guy explained that a well paid job in his home country paid around $200 a month – which is of course impossible to fund a trip. It seems so sad to say that because they are from a particular country they should be denied such a fantastic opportunity. What’s more, they are also denied the opportunity to work in a higher paying county.
I maintain that they could be doing something a little more inventive, promotional work, hostel or bar work….but their aim remains the same. They want to travel and if people want to donate to that cause then it is their choice. Just my current thoughts….
Hey! Yeah sure it’s different when begpackers don’t come from wealthy countries. Yes, they could do something else to fund their travels but making money to go on vacation is almost impossible where they come from. At least they fulfill their dream… It bothers me less when I can see they’re really in need, as long as they don’t take advantage of the locals’ kindness (many of them do).
Most of the begpackers I met were coming from rich countries (the UK, Australia, France, Germany…), and taking the locals for dummies. As I said in the article, some of them had the last macbook, the last iphone… I don’t think the two begpackers you met were those kind of guys.