On Beg-packers: Do They Really Deserve All That Hate?

On Beg-packers: Do They Really Deserve All That Hate?

A slew of criticisms has poured down on tourists who beg for money to fund their travels. Shameless. Entitled. Insensitive. But are they, really?

In recent years, there’s been a spike of in the number of ‘beg-packers’ around Asia. What’s a beg-packer you ask? Well, to put it simply, a beg-packer is a tourist who begs for money from the local population to fund their travels.

This trend has been most predominant in developing Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. And more often than not, these beg-packers are often white. That last detail is very important considering what I’m about to say on this issue.

What has already been said?

Image credit: @ImSoloTraveller

I met a beg-packer for the very first time a year ago in Hong Kong. I remember that night well. I had just finished watching a concert at the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre and was on my way home. As I neared the MTR station around midnight, I spotted a young Caucasian woman sitting on the ground with a cardboard saying: “Need Money For Travel”

At that time, I merely chuckled and went on my way. But Google the word ‘beg-packers’, and you’ll be presented with an onslaught of seemingly endless scathing opinion articles condemning these people.

“Shameless Rise of the Beg-Packers”, reads one of the online tabloid headlines; “Why Travel’s Generation of Entitlement is a Disgrace”, reads another. Safe to say, beg-packing is viewed in a generally negative light. Authorities in Thailand have even gone as far as to impose checks on visitors entering the country on a tourist visa and ensuring that they possess at least £460 (20,000 baht) on them when they arrive.

Image credit: @91Jasonng

Of course, the main problem with beg-packing is that these travellers are not only asking the local community to fund their travels (which many consider an unaffordable luxury in itself), they are potentially taking spare change away from the truly poor and needy – the actual beggars, if you will.  

The internet community, as per usual, has been one of the platforms for people to express their opinions in a constructive and contributive manner (and to vent their anger). But to sum up, the key conclusion/message to these beg-packers seems to be this:

“If you don’t have the money, then don’t travel. “

Ouch! That’s a tad bit harsh, isn’t it? Now, let me make this clear:

I DO NOT endorse beg-packing. I DO NOT condone asking people for money to go travelling. I DO NOT think that it is right to…you know what, ya’ll are gonna flay me for what I’m about to say next anyway, so whatever.

Switching things up

Hands up if you’ve heard of Petrina Thong and her story. Well if you haven’t, Petrina is a 29-year-old Malaysian woman who flew to Sweden in June 2015 with only USD200 on her and decided to hitchhike her way all the way back to Malaysia after she had finished her budget.

The journey home took her across 22 countries over 13 months. Throughout the time while she was penniless, she would rely on the kindness of the local community to move between places. For food, Petrina recounts how she would scour them from trashcans and hang around eateries to munch on people’s leftovers.

If she wasn’t fortunate enough to be offered housing, she would sleep in a small tent she brought along in public spaces. When her story broke, it was “amazing”, “an inspirational story of travel”, “#travelgoals”.

You see what I’m getting at? Both Petrina and the witch-hunted beg-packers travelled with the same intent: to use as little to no money as possible.

But wait, you may say that it’s a different situation because Petrina never asked for money! Well, to that, might I remind you that money exists in many forms. Maybe Petrina never straight up asked for cash, but the principle remains that she was reliant on the hospitality and charity of the locals to support her travels.

And it can be argued also that by scavenging for food out of trashcans and leftovers, she was also taking much-needed resources from the poor and marginalised communities in the countries she was visiting.

Like most beg-packers, I reckon that she too had luxuries like travel equipment to trade in for cash if she really needed it. She merely chose to travel in a certain manner as an experience. So, why is it when an Asian girl travels from the West back home with no money, she is lauded as a hero, but when the reverse occurs, we’re out with our pitchforks and torches?

So let’s be brutally honest

The actual key reason beg-packers get a bad rep is because they are mostly white and most of us in Asia have this skewed perception that all peoples in the West are from well-to-do families and thus, by choosing to travel in the way Petrina travelled, they are just exploiting us ‘poorer’ Asian people.

Like I said, personally, I don’t exactly condone this behaviour, but at the same time, I refuse to condemn these people with blind fury simply because they are trying to travel in their own way.

I mean, let’s ask ourselves: what REALLY is the problem here? Apart from beg-packers being an eyesore? Don’t like how they are asking you for your hard-earned money just so they can afford to go travelling while you can’t? Then don’t give them money.

Think they’re making it harder for the actual poor who need the money to survive more than they do? Then give your spare change to the poor. Let’s not try and say that the poor are continuing to have a hard life because a small group of tourists are asking you for money.

Think that these white beg-packers are just practising an attitude of entitlement? Then don’t feed their attitude by putting them in the spotlight.

And let’s not forget the actual instances where tourists actually DO need money. Either because they were robbed or they had fallen prey to an intricate scam or if they had an emergency. There are many circumstances, though few and far between, that blurs the lines.

It is much easier to point a finger at a group and label them as in the wrong but perhaps it’s time to make certain allowances and to try and understand and engage instead of tweeting 140 characters of rage and asking rhetorical questions.

Now I’m sure many of you who’ve read this article to the end have tons of comments, so leave them in the comment box. Or, if you would prefer to silently rage and tell your friends and family what an idiot I am, just know that this sassy wolf below is judging you silently. Cheers!

Note: This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the writer’s own.

About Author

Darren Yeoh
Darren Yeoh

Darren enjoys the finer things in life and loves exploring unfamiliar places on foot, guided with nothing but instinct and a good-old fashioned map. He enjoys cultural experiences and exciting adventures and is not a stranger to travelling alone. When he's not putting his travel experiences into words, he's probably sitting behind his laptop, planning his upcoming adventure.


Related Posts