Travel is one of the most exciting experiences and the best thing that one can consider engaging in. It broadens the mind, exposes one to various cultures and races and fosters empathy with the locals. Travel experiences also enable people to create memories that last a lifetime.
However, travel is just a luxury that not many people can afford and is majorly a luxury and privilege that only a fraction of the world’s population can afford.
So, when Westerners that have all the privileges opt to become begpackers on the streets of developing countries it suddenly leaves a soar taste on the mouths of the locals who desperately need that tourism income. Tourism is a major revenue earner for many developing countries and the influx of tourists should be of benefit to the locals and their businesses.
Begpackers habit of sponging off the kindness of strangers to further their selfish travel goals is just a new way of fleecing the locals for personal gain. If you don’t have sufficient money to travel then it would be ethical if you stayed home until you can earn enough money to enable you travel ethically.
Begpacking is a combination of two words, begging and backpacking. Begpackers are travelers, usually noticed, Westerners that travel to developing countries with the intention of begging, busking, selling of post cards, and hugs as a way of funding their travel expenses. This phenomenon has raised a lot of debate with many questioning its ethics.
Begpacking is a spectacle that has to a great extent gained notoriety and should not be in any way a good method of sustaining travels.
The habit of westerners travelling to Asian countries and asking locals for money in the realms of train stations, and busiest roads is seen as a way of fleecing the locals who are equally in so much need of that money. The images of begpackers sitting by the roadside on boxes and blankets with pitiful signs that implore for money has been all over the internet and social media.
However, a flash-forward to a week later and the same poor-for-a-day begpackers are seen having the time of their lives scuba diving in some of the world’s clearest oceans and having fun.
It’s not strange to notice the same begpackers who beseech the locals for money again surface on their social media accounts with their pictures of wild alcohol nights and onboard of serene business class flights as they head back home. What’s worrying is how they don’t in any way feel a sense of guilt for asking for money senselessly from people living in some of the most deprived areas. While genuine beggars ask for money to feed their families and make ends meet, these travelers solely use the money for leisurely purposes.
As much as it seems ethically wrong by all standards, these begpackers feel that their desired funding is also a profound justification to also being temporary street vendors. They don’t really care that their action impact on the profits that the locals should be receiving which to a great extent deepens their struggle considering that the struggle of the local street vendors face is not about making it to their next luxurious destination but such an authentic struggle of putting food on the table, paying school fees or paying off debts.
Travelling to Asia for months should never be the norm and the begpackers who intend to travel for months should be ready to take into consideration the cost of such travels.
Begpackers have a plethora of options that they can use to reduce the cost of their travel and that ranges from having accommodation in a $5 a night hostel to working in a hostel or waitressing. There is definitely no reason to justify the phenomenon of sitting by the roadside with some oversized pants as they desperately pose with a sign pleading for money.
Why Begpacking is considered to be Hypocrisy
Begpacking is in its finest form considered as hypocrisy as they tend to complain about their incapability of affording their travel expenses yet they have initial funds for their flight to the Asian countries which amounts to even over $500.
It’s sickening that these begpackers have the audacity to spend time in some of the worlds poverty stricken areas as they explore some of the realms of beeches and temples yet lack the moral conscience to realize the distinction between not being able to eat as is the case with the many locals to not being able to continue with their sight-seeing.
These travelers have the ability to pay for a day’s worth of food with a less than hour’s wage yet they go ahead and ask for money from people whose weekly wages can hardly afford a McDonald’s meal in the UK. In countries such as the UK, in the lead to Brexit election, majority of immigrants were branded as people who stole their jobs and took their benefits and that became a key reason for leaving the EU.
Many people are wondering how the millennial phenomenon of begpacking actually differ? By going to Asia and acting as street vendors and competing with the local vendors while also extorting money from those who need it most.
Despite the entitlement and privilege that these begpackers already experience, they still exploit this much further by asking for money from the very people they supposedly want help from.
In many images being seen on the internet – a working class neighborhood in China that has been hit hard by Typhoon, the begpacker still has the nerve to beg for money so as to fund his travels around Asia, a habit that baffles so many people.
For the vast majority of the world population, the cost of travel alongside other practicalities makes it to be such unattainable dream.
Right from visa regulations that are heavily stacked in favor of western passport holders and affordable flights, such are not easily accessed in many parts of the world which makes travel to be quite a huge form of luxury.
A European can easily visit a country in Asia visa free for several months whenever they feel like, however, it’s not the same with a person from a developing country who desires to visit Europe as harsh rules and restrictions are always applied to them.
Below is an image of another begpacker in Hong Kong asking locals to support her travel around the world.
As much as travelling on a shoe-string budget can be a source of pride for a number of people who enjoy the experience of survival in challenging places, travel shouldn’t be done with the sole intention of becoming a burden and having to rely on others who equally have very little to give and with overwhelming needs to meet.
If you opt to share your skill for some income or sell hand-made jewelry, it should really not be done at the expense of the locals who are also trying to earn some money by selling similar products.
A stolen wallet and misplaced passport are some of the excuses that some of these begpackers come up with when begging for money to finance their travel. Other begpackers in Seoul had the audacity to beg the locals for their ticket to Russia alongside elderly poor people who have great need to beg for the money.
How begpacking affects those who travel on a budget
The habit of foreign tourist turning to begging and busking through the streets of Asian countries can never be good news especially to those who genuinely travel on a budget.
Since majority of those who travel on a budget hardly have sufficient money for their travel expenses and opt to utilize low cost accommodation and other amenities during their travel period, the rise of begpackers is more likely to affect them negatively.
With some countries beginning to impose conditions for entry such as the minimum amount of money in travelers cheque or credit card that one should carry along when visiting alongside a healthy credit limit, such moves are likely to impact on low budget travelers.
Some countries even require proof of hotel reservations and return tickets before foreign travelers can be allowed into the country. Genuine travelers are more likely to be affected as a result of actions by begpackers.
Giving money to the begpackers to an extent also encourages backpackers who are on a shoe-string budget to also do the same. Some of these begpackers even pretend to be poor yet they have platinum cards lying somewhere in a pouch and even go ahead to boast on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts as they show off lavish lifestyles that’s funded by begging from the locals.
Travelling the world should be a choice and a luxurious one so when you choose to leave your comfort zone and explore the world, you are more likely to be considered as an adventurous and highly privileged person. It therefore beats logic when you pretend that you are poor and people should give you support so that you keep travelling.
Majority of these begpackers use their visa-free white privilege to take advantage of the locals and are not ashamed to beg alongside genuine old people who are in dire need of that support.
One thing about begpackers is the fact that they are not in need at all. Apart from the fact that they come from rich countries, they are also capable of raising the money for their travel tickets. It’s clear that they also have rich relatives and friends who can easily help if they need any help but they instead choose to beg money from locals who are barely making enough money to earn a living.
Why begpackers should not be given money by the locals
Here are some of the reasons why begpackers shouldn’t be given any money by the locals;
They take advantage of the kindness and generosity of the locals
When compared to the Westerners, the locals normally get early to work, and don’t earn much money from their work. They don’t have any vacation and hardly enjoy any days off. They are open-handed so when they see the whites begging for money, their empathy kicks in and a feeling that they must be in great trouble to do so.
They know that if you can make the locals to believe that you are in trouble then they will do anything possible to help you out and even share with you the little that they have. Basically, begpackers are people who intend to live at the expense of the locals.
Nobody from a developing country should struggle to live in the developing countries
In countries like Thailand, one can have a good meal at just 40 baht which is equivalent to one euro. In Indonesia, one can find a good accommodation at about 45,000 rupees which is equivalent to 2.75 Euros per night with breakfast included.
The amount that they spend to visit the specific travel destinations is far much higher compared to the amount of money they need for their expenses locally as most of the countries that they visit are low cost.
Bepackers come towards the extreme end of those who enjoy budget travelling as their main focus is how they can make it as cheap as possible as they ignore other considerations. The phenomenon has attracted angry responses online from majority of the locals that are beginning to identify intention of these free-loading travelers.
The fact that they can go to any extent to attract the attention of the locals is quite disheartening. In 2019, a Russian couple was arrested in Malaysia for swinging their baby around while engaging in bizarre musical performance in Kuala Lumpur at a popular tourist street. Some of the western begpackers have been accused of scamming the locals where one German begpacker with a swollen leg which is believed to have been affected by a very rare disorder was photographed across the streets sitting and begging. His regularly updated Facebook page however, revealed a different side of this man’s exploits.
The same man posted photos of himself boozing, eating lavishly and also posing in the clubs with local women. Many deemed him as a conman and he was subsequently reported to have been barred from visiting Singapore and was also blacklisted by Thai immigration.
Some countries such as Thailand, and Indonesia have stepped up their crackdown on foreigners that pretend to be poor begpackers with those found likely to be sent back to their embassies. For the begpackers, it doesn’t even seem to be enough that they come to most of the developing countries visa free, they still aim to save even more money by taking advantage of the locals.
Begpacking is a habit that’s quite offensive to the countries that these foreigners visit. For example, one of the operators of Bali-based Farmers Yard Hostel, which offers free stays to those who contribute something for the hostels upkeep claimed that heaps of begpackers just visit the hotel to borrow and take.
The influx of begpackers to the hotel has even compelled the hostel to introduce new rules against the habit of free-loading. The move tend to impact on genuine backpackers negatively as such are places that they can find accommodation at.
Is it White Privilege?
The fact that begpacking is taking place in some of the countries that have troubled history of colonialism, political struggle for independence and the racial power divide is one factor that brings the aspect of white privilege into perspective. Most of the criticism and conversation that takes place on the subject revolves around rich western tourists trying to scam locals who are genuinely struggling by begging to support their luxurious travel needs. The truth of the matter is that travelling as a tourist especially by westerners is a preserve for the rich.
As much as western countries also have their version of poverty, begpackers choose to travel and beg in some of the under developed countries with very low cost of living and that could be an indication of white privilege.
The fact that they choose to compete with the local vendors in selling hand-made jewelry alongside other products beats logic as the lives of these locals genuinely depends on making the sales. Lack of sales means no food for their families, medicine or other basic needs.
The fact that they expect the poor locals to fund their travel as they enjoy the luxury that such travel comes with is a clear expression of white privilege. The countries that these begpackers visit are some where the local population works so hard in order to survive. Locals also look up to western tourists as a way of making a living within the travel industry.
To expect such people to fund your next travel just because you have decided its fine to come to their country without sufficient funds is a clear demonstration of white privilege.
Is it Millennial Entitlement?
If there is a generation that have embraced travel unlike no other then it is the millennials. They have done it to a level of making engagement in travel as a basic necessity of life. It’s easy to recognize that majority of the begpackers are millennials as they engage in all manner of travel themes such as gap year travel, attaining spiritual tranquility, finding the real you, wanderlust, and social media influencer. All these best describes the hordes of begpackers that flood the streets of Asian cities.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with travel as long as one can afford it. There is also a difference between travelling on a shoe-string budget and begging your way to the next luxury travel experience. It’s just having that sense of expectation that the locals or strangers that you hardly know should fund your travel and that shows some element of millennial entitlement.
Another aspect of millennial entitlement comes out strongly when the begpacker can hardly differentiate what it is like begging for a meal to travel and begging to travel.
One thing that comes out clear is that these begpackers begin their journeys while having these utopian viewpoint of spreading love, meeting new people and learning from their culture while that changes and in the process include begging into their itinerary. This is a trend that if not clearly addressed and acted upon has the potential of hurting travel industry to a great extent.
The Ethics of Begpacking
Majority of the East Asian countries are developing or even underdeveloped with higher rates of poverty, social injustices, little infrastructure and poor literacy among other challenges. Such commonalities makes each of the countries to be vulnerable to the western middle-class begpackers as majority of them are from middle class westernized backgrounds where the standard of living is much higher and more developed.
Choosing to travel to the less developed countries that are pegged with real poverty issues alongside other challenges with the aim of begging from the locals to support your travel endeavors is both morally and ethically wrong.
Choosing to sell crafted items, jewelry and art alongside such locals ultimately takes the earning potential away from them. Tourists who have been given the privilege of visiting such a country visa free should not take the earning potential from the locals but should instead support local businesses by purchasing such crafted items from them as they are in actual poverty and depends on such sales to make a living.
A begpacker uses the little privilege that they have to leak money out of the local economy and fleece locals of their hard earned income. As much as some of the reasons that causes some to beg might not be overlooked as there are instances when foreign tourists gets mugged, such situations are quite rear.
Instead of choosing to travel to a country where the locals even struggle to put food on the table for their survival, and where the average income per household is incredibly lower than the potential income that the begpackers could be making if they were employed at the lowest rate in their countries, it’s such a clear demonstration of the unethical and immoral nature of begpacking.
Instead of travelling to a country where you’re likely to have no means of supporting yourself and instead straining the local economy, why not look out for volunteering opportunities that might provide you with the ability to travel as you also help the locals simultaneously.
Have you witnessed some begpackers in your travels as a digital nomad? We would love to hear of your experiences in the comments.
PS – All the images used above are from different sources and we don’t own the credits to any of the above used pictures.
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