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 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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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:
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.
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.
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?
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…