Over the past couple of weeks, there have been several pictures shared on social media, various articles circulated online and a lot of chat on travel forums and in Facebook Groups.
Begging backpackers. Backpackers who are begging. Beg-packers and/or illegal buskers (and another portmanteau).
‘Beg-packing’ refers to western travellers visiting less-developed countries and busking, selling goods on the street or in some cases, asking for money outright so they can continue travelling.
Are people visiting another country as a tourist, then ending up begging for money on the street? Or are tourists visiting another country with the intention of begging for money?
If it’s the latter – it’s very rare that I would use this word, but this stinks of privilege.
What goes through a person’s mind to think that it’s OK to do this? Why would someone think that this is acceptable behaviour?
Begging itself is not the problem – but when people from Western Europe or America visit a country like Thailand, they’re surely aware that a daily wage at home is a lot higher than a daily wage for a Thai person.
It’s disrespectful and completely insensitive.
If someone is really that desperate to continue their travels, it would be more worthwhile for them to fly home to work and live frugally for a few months. It would be less humiliating too.
More beg-packers in Bangkok.
— Matt (@Vanalli) April 15, 2017
People who have the ability and means to travel are very lucky. Many people are not able to travel within their own country, let alone travel overseas.
For those lucky people to land in another country to flout the laws (begging and busking are illegal in many countries) and they have the sheer audacity to ask locals or other tourists to part with their money – that is where the privilege and entitlement comes in.
Why are people beg-packing?
There must be reasons why people are beg-packing; let’s consider some of the possibilities:
- They’re idiots who have spent all their money #YOLO? Outright #Fail more like
- They think of themselves as ‘new-age travelling nomads’…
- They’re scared of having to go home and/or do any “real” work
However – not making any assumptions here, let’s consider some genuine reasons why a traveller in a foreign country may need financial help or have a genuine difficulty in returning home:
- They’ve been a victim of crime whilst in the foreign country
- They’re accused of a crime whilst a foreign country (whether they were guilty or not)
- They’ve become injured/physically or mentally ill during their trip
- They’re not able to return home due to a personal situation
- They’re running away from something/someone
For some of these situations – the answer is to have proper travel insurance and have backup money available in a bank account or credit card which you can access in an emergency.
You could also work in hostels or join a scheme where you work in exchange for accommodation if you’re not willing to end your travels.
There are many, many ways to earn money legitimately whilst continuing to travel at the same time. A quick Google search for “How to earn money and travel” is a good starting point. (Spoiler: beg-packing isn’t the answer!)
For other situations, the answer is not so simple. As a traveller, you should always be prepared and responsible whilst staying respectful and sensitive towards other people.
That means not participating in beg-packing or illegal busking.
Begging on the street is extremely dangerous anyway, and is unlikely to earn anyone enough serious cash to continue travelling.
The bottom line is: it’s a ridiculous idea.
— Solo Traveller ✈ (@ImSoloTraveller) January 17, 2016
Busking and selling goods
When it comes to busking and/or selling goods in public spaces, there are other things to consider:
In most cities around the world you’ll often find street performers, entertainers and vendors selling jewellery, trinkets and other souvenirs in busy public spaces. The last time I was in London, there were dozens of them and they weren’t all British.
It is not uncommon to see a global array of entertainment in large, diverse, tourist-friendly cities. There are loads of buskers and performers in Cardiff, where I currently live.
If those western buskers who were performing in South East Asia have a permit, visa and license to perform in public, then that’s not really a big problem. You could argue that it adds to cultural richness of public spaces when there are performers from around the world there to share their act with anyone walking past.
The ethical dilemma still remains, the disparity in wages and opportunity still remains and the judgement from others will always remain.
— Abiyomi Kofi (@TheAngryindian) April 14, 2017
The effect of social media
It’s very easy to judge a situation based on a single picture and a few reactive words on Twitter. It’s impossible to tell from a photo how or why someone may be asking for money, whether they’re holding up a sign or not. Just because someone is white – it does not mean they are wealthy or privileged.
It goes without saying that not every young traveller would behave this way. In cases like this it’s usually a small minority of bad eggs. They leave behind a bad reputation for the genuine tourists and travellers who are there to spend money, not take it.