What Are Beg-Packers & Are They Really That Bad?

Beg-packers - backpacks

Beg-packers are everywhere in the media at the moment. They’ve been around for a while, but a rise in numbers (and a rise in blatant insensitivity) are getting people really mad. So, what are beg-packers, why are they asking for money and are they wrong to do so?

Here are a few answers to those questions and my own personal opinion, which argues that beg-packing is pretty ridiculous, but it isn’t all bad (read first before you get angry at me too).

What are beg-packers?

Beg-packers - begging
By @Joop_nl via Twitter

Beg-packers are Western (majority white) tourists who are asking others to fund their travelling. Beg-packers are raising this money through crowdfunding websites such as fundmytravel.com, hawking postcards or busking on the street, and in some cases, just begging for money.

Why are beg-packers asking others for money?

Beg-packers - selling
By @GratitudeDNA via Twitter

Well, this is the golden question. The beg-packers asking for money are asking for financial support that they (allegedly) don’t have or can’t get themselves, in order to see the world. First of all, it’s important to remember that beg-packers don’t see anything wrong with what they are doing.

In the mind of beg-packers, they are asking people to give charitably, freely and without cause; they’re asking people to be kind and ‘pay it forward’. Plus, they’re trying to see more of the world, to better understand it and to grow as people through that knowledge. That’s admirable, right?

In the mind of beg-packers, they are asking the world to be a better place. Call it idealism or being a hippy, the fact is that they have the best of intentions. It’s just that they’re going about it all the wrong way…

Why are people getting so mad about beg-packers?

Beg-packing - busking travellers
By @GratitudeDNA via Twitter

Well, the main reason is: ‘Why aren’t these beg-packers funding their travels themselves?’ And, as someone who has lived abroad, saved to travel and travelled on a shoestring budget, this is the question that perplexes me the most.

There’s a huge selfishness in begging when you are obviously not homeless, poor or needy, especially in places where those issues are prevalent. As for crowdfunding and asking strangers for money so that you can go on holiday? That’s just downright outrageous.

There’s also a carelessness in it. Did these people not save enough money before they left home? Did they always expect others to fund their travels or did they just run out of cash? Are they so lazy that they don’t want to work to earn they money they need?

And then there’s the issue of white privilege to contend with…

What has being white got to do with it?

Beg-packing - GoFundMe
Screenshot from www.fundmytravel.com

Being white and being Western has a lot to do with why this practice is getting peoples’ backs up. Many of these beg-packers come from and have immense privilege, whether that’s white privilege or the luck of residency by birth in a first-world country with everything they could ever want.

Then, the places they are choosing to travel to (and to beg in!) are often (though not always) poorer, less developed countries. Southeast Asia is a particular favourite for beg-packers, which is wildly insensitive considering colonialism and its effects, poverty and many other issues.

There’s some great quotes in this news article about beg-packers by Louisa, a Malaysian woman who studied political economics and gender studies. Beyond the beg-packing phenomenon, there are bigger questions at play about the way Western tourists view Asia as a place of exotic, spiritual discovery or, as Louisa puts it, ‘a playground for white people’.

Anyway, that’s probably another discussion best saved for another day…

Have you ever been a beg-packer?

Beg-packers - Buddhist monks

Definitely not and I never intend to be one. As you may have already read in this blog, I have travelled around a lot of Southeast Asia. All of the countries I have had the opportunity to visit have been beautiful in unique ways and the people have always been friendly and welcoming.

On the flip side, I have also seen poverty like I’ve never seen anywhere else. Therefore, I’m pretty outraged by the behaviour of some of these beg-packers. How can they not see the irony and downright insensitivity of begging for money when they see poverty in the countries they visit?

When they see others begging on the streets, what do they think? When they witness the giving of alms by Buddhist monks, how can they feel comfortable holding a sign asking for money? Do they think about who is giving them money and where it comes from?

Is this another example of Millennial entitlement?

Beg-packers - entitlement

This is a popular opinion at the moment and people love to blame Millennials and their bloody ‘entitlement’. But, as a hard-working Millennial who is doing her best to travel and work three jobs, I’m going to roll my eyes and just answer this questions with a simple: No, people are just stupid.

So, are all beg-packers scum?

Beg-packers - money ball

As stated above, I definitely agree that those beg-packers who are begging on the streets are disrespectful, insensitive and really just plain selfish. Many of those who are using crowdfunding websites to ask strangers to pay for their holidays are just being lazy assholes.

However, call me controversial, but I’m going to say that beg-packers are not all bad. Idealistic and naive? Yes.Terrible people? No. The ideas of encouraging people to be kind, paying it forward and to want to see the world are admirable. It’s the execution that’s the problem.

What is more, I think there’s a bit of a grey area when it comes to beg-packing and other forms of raising money for travel…

Are we being too quick to judge?

Beg-packers - busker

I believe we are. Not all beg-packers are cut from the same cloth. Some of those using crowdfunding websites to fund travel expeditions are doing so for more noble reasons than just to get a free holiday.

Some are students or graduates accepted onto volunteer programmes or research internships abroad. Yes, they’re raising money to travel, but it’s so that they can do charity work, research wildlife, or something else that contributes to the place that they’re travelling to.

I would also argue that those selling goods on the street and busking are no different to those who do so in Western countries. I see buskers on the streets of Birmingham every day and enjoy the music they play. If I part with some coin for the pleasure, do I ask where they spend the money?

Beg-packers - camping

And for that matter, what about Honeymoon funds? Isn’t that a sort of crowdfunding for travel in itself? Does that make newlyweds beg-packers? Or is it OK because they’re getting married and the people donating are friends and family? Should unmarried couples crowdfund for a holiday?

I have never asked anyone for money to pay for my travels, but I think it’s too easy to point the finger at all beg-packers and say that they are all bad.

What are the alternatives?

Beg-packers - hitchhiking

The obvious answers are ‘raise the money yourself’ or just a brutally honest ‘get a fucking job like everyone else and save up’. But, I can appreciate that, despite privilege, there are financial difficulties that Western Millennials face in saving money (hello, I live with my parents at the moment).

Some people work hard, but simply don’t have the money to travel or they really struggle to save. Yes, Western economies are strong, but living costs are expensive and the job market can be difficult too.

However, there are ways that you can travel on a tight budget or earn money while travelling, without resorting to joining the beg-packers. Here are just a few ideas:

Beg-packers - backpacks

1. Work abroad: I lived in Hong Kong for for five years and Italy for one. I’ve taught English, worked in social media, worked as a journalist and worked in marketing. You can see the world and earn money at the same time.

2. Work for free abroad: Websites such as Workaway and WWOOF offer free accommodation (and usually meals) in return for work.

3. Stay with people for free: Couchsurfing is a community of people who host people for free. I’ve used it before and it was great; not only do you get to stay somewhere for free (although don’t expect luxury), but you get the adding benefit of staying with someone full of local knowledge.

Beg-packers - travel

4. Hitchhike: People are nice. Obviously, this is better and safer if you are in a group, but it’s worked for many friends of mine, many of whom have also ended up becoming good friends with the people who picked them up.

5. Become a ‘digital nomad’: This is particularly in vogue at the moment. If you work at a computer all day (who doesn’t?) or you’re a freelancer who works online, there’s no reason why you can’t work from anywhere in the world.

6. Become a travel blogger: Jokes! There’s no money in it, trust me. However, if you find a niche, you’re talented, you’re tech-savvy and you have a whole lot of grit (and a decent following), then you may be able to wangle a little income or some free trips.

So, what do we think of beg-packers?

Beg-packers - backpackers

My personal opinion is that beg-packers have the best of intentions, but they are also a) being a bit ignorant, insensitive and naive, b) not going about things the right way. There are so many better alternatives that should be considered beg-packing.

What do you think of beg-packers? Let me know in the comments…

46 thoughts on “What Are Beg-Packers & Are They Really That Bad?

  1. I really liked this post and share a lot if your thinking. If you want to see the world then you should find it yourself be its through working while away or saving and being mindful on what you spend. I can’t believe how much some people have raised in this beg-packing.

    1. Hi Mel, thanks for reading. I know, right? I totally agree – if you want to travel then you have to take responsibility for the money and to act responsibly too. It’s so crazy!

  2. This is a really interesting article. I actually didn’t know this was a thing! I agree with pretty much everything you said, though. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hey, Danielle. Sadly, it is a thing and seems to be becoming more and more of a thing! Thank you for reading!

  3. Interesting. I’ve seen a few people do this before, but didn’t think much of it. You raise some great points and yes, it really is bad for them to be begging for money in countries that are incredibly poor. They’re taking away from money that could have helped the locals, but instead are continuing their vacation when they could be working for their own cash.

    1. Exactly! Many Southeast Asian countries need tourism to bring in money, so to ask for money in those countries is so counter-productive as well. Thanks for reading!

  4. I’m torn. I would personally rather give money to a traveler out of money than a guy who just wants alcohol. Things have changed a bit since I was backpacking I guess, I never experienced this. I did work exchanges mostly through helpx.net. Do they really beg in SE Asia? I just can’t imagine that. It just seems so lazy, at least make a friend? One other thing I saw a lot in my travels was travelers playing music, fire dancing, what happened to that?

    1. Hey Jessica, thanks for reading. Yeah, I think it’s different if someone genuinely runs out or money or something happens and they lose their cash or cards and need some help. But, the beg-packing phenomenon is more people who rely on other people’s money to fund or extend their trip, when they’re not really in need. Again, there’s a grey area between random acts of kindness in helping people out with a bit of cash when they’re stuck and taking advantage of that kindness for you own ends. Giving backpackers a bad reputation!

  5. I saw this in Singapore, a guy tried busking with his peers. He and his peers were swiftly dealt with by the police as banned there. Dunno what made them even think they could get away with it, because if they had understood more about the country they were traveling to they wouldn’t have done it! You want to travel to these places GO and work there like myself and so many others do have done! Then you really get to know the people and their cultures. EARN your money don’t beg for it!!! These countries don’t need the tourists begging!!!

    1. I know right! Especially in Singapore where it’s against the law and looked down on by society. That’s yet another level of disrespect! I totally agree with you – living abroad and working is a much better alternative

  6. Wow! I have never heard of beg-packers before. How interesting that people are actually asking others to fund their travel experiences vs work for their money. I wonder if it’s a function f upbringing. I’ve always been taught to work for what I want in life. So the thought of begging/asking others to fund my travel is foreign to me and something I could never do. Especially in areas hit hard by poverty. I truly can’t believe this is something that really goes on. Thanks for sharing this! Learn something new everyday!

    1. Hey Rose, yeah totally the same for me too. I was always taught to work hard and earn my money. I guess not everyone thinks like that. But, do they understand that the money people are giving was earned through hard work too? Someone else had to work in order for them to reap the rewards? It’s pretty insane. Thanks for reading!

  7. I think there’s a very big fundamental difference between buskers and beggars. Busking is for those with artistic skills that get money from strangers as payment for their entertainment services.

    Beggars are those who are unable to find jobs and/or have fallen into a bad time and need money to feed themselves. Buskers live off people’s donations while beggars live off people’s charity.

    If you’re from a developed country traveling in a developing country and find yourself busking then good for you since you’re bringing a different form of entertainment to the locals and are providing an interesting cultural exchange.

    BUT if you’re actually begging without giving anything in return to society (made worse if you have a DRSL camera, a smart phone and other material goods you can sell for money) then yeah, that’s definitely morally wrong.

    1. Hey Raphael, I totally agree with you. The ‘buskers’ and ‘beggars’ shouldn’t both be under the ‘beg-packer’ title, but there’s definitely a fine line with some of the behaviour seen on the Southeast Asian travel circuit at the moment.

      The ‘beggars’ in these instances aren’t unable to find jobs and they haven’t fallen on bad times; they’re travellers who are trying to fund their trip. Travel is a luxury and it’s not fair to ask others to give charitably for that. It’s not the same as asking to give charitably to someone genuinely in need.

      Thanks for reading!

  8. It’s not just backpackers who seem to be doing the begging…My partner and I were in Todos Santos in Mexico a couple of months ago and went to an “art show” at a local expat owned coffee shop. Unfortunately all the art seemed to consist of western expats or surf-bums selling handmade necklaces and other jewelry made out of hemp, seashells, and beach glass to each other. The only locals to be seen were the actual workers at the coffee shop. Apparently most of the expats doing this were either retirees, or people whose partners had a real job and they were trying to stay busy.

    1. Oh man, that’s bizarre. I’ve definitely been there though – art shows/markets/exhibitions where the artists were all rich white expats. It made me a little uncomfortable, like there was an elephant in the room.

    1. Hey Agness, I totally agree! There are so many different ways to travel and it’s unfair to say there’s a ‘wrong’ way – but sometimes it’s just wrong!

  9. I have to agree with this! I think those that are using Gofundme for reasons other than traveling to do charitable should not be using that platform. I think they should be using options like the ones you listed if they really just want to see the world and work for it.

    1. Thanks Esperanza! Yeah, I also feel like the alternatives are more fun, right? I’d much rather live with a local and get to know a place through Couchsurfing than crowdfund for the money etc.

  10. I have never heard of this – how interesting! I can’t decide how I feel about it, but I agree that maybe some circumstances aren’t okay. However personally I’d love to travel for free. lol

    1. Oh man, well now you’ll see it everywhere, unfortunately! And yup travelling for free is the dream! Haha!

  11. Ugh, this topic makes me boil. You definitely wrote a thoughtful article on this topic and clarifying the information to other readers.

    I agree somewhat with the comment above about the beggars versus buskers, but there is a fine line between that. I mean most of the people that are “beg-packers” are begging to fund their travels and I think that is the conflict here. It is different if a busker is out there to fund their family, home life, etc. The thing is the people who are beg-packers are begging in countries that are much poorer than most of the countries these people come from. Their entitlement is becoming an issue. Not only are these people begging in countries that are 3rd world countries, they are also taking away the income from the people that are living there that actually need the money.

    Thank you so much for this post! There are special circumstances for each situation which I think we can all agree on, but funding travels can be seen as a privilege not a necessity.

    1. Hey, NieNie, me too! That’s why I had to write it – I’d seen so much complaining and then so much in defence as well that I decided to weigh in. Yeah, I definitely agree that the busking is a grey area – it’s hard to say. I’m more for busking that for those selling postcards or henna tattoos etc (saw this the other day in Portugal), but it’s still a blurred line.

  12. I’ve never heard about beg-packers until now. Never even seen them either. Not sure how I feel as I do agree that there are those who are much less fortunate and could really use the money. Can’t believe they even have a website for it!! However i could see this happening if perhaps someone lost their wallet or something and needed emergency cash?

    1. Hey Jas, I totally agree. In an emergency, then that’s a different situation. However, I do worry, as I commented above, that it will turn into a ‘the boy who cried wolf’ scenario and those who are in need will be tarred with the begpacking brush.

  13. What strikes me the most about this is how easy it is to virtually travel for free these days (not always very securely but you can if you have to) and yet people are doing this. I agree that there are grey areas, but to me someone raising money for a trip where they’ll be volunteering or contributing something useful to the world is very, very different to raising money to go off on your jollies. Also busking has been a viable source of income for travelling for years, even decades. You’re being paid for entertainment, not just to sit there and whine that you can’t afford a $5 hostel in Asia (not sure if that’s actually what they’re doing but it’s the impression I get when I read about begpackers haha).

    I dunno, I just find it insulting when there are so many worthy causes to donate to, and so many people with lives far, far, FAR worse off than them.

    1. That’s the thing! The world has never been smaller in that respect. Travel is so much easier and much more affordable than it was a few decades ago. And yet, some people want something for free. I agree about busking – it’s different. I’m still on the fence about those selling crafts etc. Not sure it’s the time and the place, and takes away from local custom. Yeah, like you say – there’s a lot of grey area.

  14. To a degree, if people want to ask strangers to fund their travels then it’s up to the people donating. It’s not like anyone is forced to contribute. On the other hand, especially when they are begging in the foreign country, the money being donated to these travellers could have been donated to a worthy local cause for people who have far less than we do.

    Yes, of course I understand the desire to travel. However, nobody has the RIGHT to travel – it’s not an entitlement. It’s something you work hard and save up for. I didn’t start travelling to the other side of the world until I was well into my 30s – I had to study, get a job and build up my salary before I could afford it.

    So – great article, and I especially love that you suggest alternative ways for people to fund their travels. Now we just need people to follow your advice!

    1. Hey Jill, I see your point. I mean, who on earth is donating, other than friends or family members if it’s an online ‘crowdfunding’ type thing? I agree it would be completely different if the money is going to a good cause, like those who volunteer abroad and help local communities. Hopefully, after a lot of media coverage about this sort of thing there will be a lot less of it in future – maybe it’s just a fad? Fingers crossed!

  15. I also didn’t realize that this was a thing but I do feel like people from first world countries who have the money and the ability to travel to less developed places should not be exploiting the local people so that they can save money and travel longer. It’s an issue of respect, and a conscientious traveler would understand that they are not in a position to be begging at the same time they are trying to travel the world. It’s paradoxical.

    1. Hey Carly, yeah unfortunately it is. However, there’s been so much media hype about this recently that I hope travellers are now on their best behaviour! Definitely – respect is a huge part of traveller and being a visitor in another country. No one should exploit that. Thanks for reading!

  16. I have to agree wholeheartedly with you! You hit the nail on the head for me, really. To add, there may have been other reasons that begging “needed to happen”. Perhaps they were robbed or had a medical emergency that wiped out their hard-earned savings. Those aren’t too far fetched but saving to travel is the way to go. Or, like you mentioned, working abroad.

    1. Hey Maegan, oh absolutely! If I was in dire straits and I had no other choice then it would be the only thing left to do. But, sadly, it often isn’t. And then think of the one person something like that happens to – it’s like the boy who cried wolf, you know? I can definitely advocate for living and working abroad – a much better option!

  17. Controversial topic! I’m sure some do think beg packing is a way of paying it forward, but I’m also sure some don’t – they just want a funded trip around the world. I just can’t imagine doing it in SE Asia or India – the poverty there is so extreme, and I have a hard time understanding how anyone could be so insensitive.

    1. Hey! Yep, a little controversial, but it had to be said! I was seeing so many articles either bashing all beg-packing, even busking and selling postcards, or saying it was fine I felt like someone needed to draw the line! And I totally agree. It’s most prevalent in SE Asia I believe. I’ve seen it there myself, but haven’t explored enough of the rest of the world to see if it’s a global thing. Hopefully not!

  18. Beautifully written. Even I feel that there is always another side of the story and we can’t blame those people without walking in their shoes.

    1. Thanks Priyadarshini. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree there! I’d never reprimand someone for begging who was in a desperate situation, but I can’t condone those who do it just so they get to travel more.

  19. Totally agree with the points in the article – they are not doing it with bad intentions, but they’re also being a little naive and selfish. As a millennial with a decent job, I worked so hard throughout my life to achieve what I have and to afford the holidays I go, so I don’t understand why everybody else can’t? I totally support students who may do this, but if I ever see a 30-years old man in the streets begging for money to travel the world – sorry man, I can’t accept that.

    1. Hey Lusine. I totally agree with you! And I actually think it gives the ‘millennial’ generation a bad name. Many millennials choose to travel, but most work hard in order to be able to do so.

  20. AhA… why didn’t I know about this? hehehe wow…. seriously? I am in favor for busking, but begging for travel? hmmm…. not sure about that. Thanks for sharing:)

    1. This is so sad! Those poor kids! I didn’t include it in this article, but in Hong Kong there was a Western man and his kids who begged on the street. He’s known in Asia in general. I just feel so sorry for the children that have to grow up this way.

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