(Last updated on: 19/10/2020)
‘Begpacking’ seems to be one of the latest terms doing the circuits in the travel and tourism literature. What exactly is ‘begpacking’ and what does it mean? In this post I will explain what the term ‘begpacking’ means and explain how this phenomenon has become popular among travellers. I will also highlight its negative impacts on local economies around the world.
‘Begpacking’: A definition
The word ‘begpacking’ is a combination of both begging and backpacking. Its term in the travel and tourism literature is a relatively new phenomenon and is predominantly defined as a type of traveller who travels to a less developed country with no means of financially supporting themselves and begging locals and other travellers to fund their travelling.
In 2017, the Urban Dictionary introduced the term ‘begpacking’, defining the form of travel as ‘backpackers busking or begging to fund their travel’.
Whilst ‘begpacking’ remains to be a relatively unexplored concept in the tourism literature, it does fall within the broad umbrella term of responsible or sustainable tourism. For further reading in this area I recommend Goodwin’s Responsible Tourism: Using Tourism for Sustainable Development and Swarbrooke’s Sustainable Tourism Management.
‘Begpacking’: A brief history
Although the term ‘begpacking’ is a relatively new term, the idea of western backpackers begging for travel funding is not. The type of travel trend has made its way to countries long before its scrutiny on the internet.
Travelling Claus, describes ‘begpacking’ as a type of travel that has ‘been around for decades’. Reflecting on old travel trends were tourists would hitch hike frequently in Greece because it was free and easy. As well as discussing the frequency in tourists begging locals for money and support when they ran out of money.
In modern society, backpackers demonstrate the reality of being able to travel the world with as little money as possible. The thought of being able to travel the world without spending masses amounts of money is becoming more and more desirable among individuals, particularly in millennials and centennials.
But have they gone too far?
At what point can you rely on the kindness of others to give up what little they have and support you and your ‘life-long dream’ to travel the world?
You might also be interested in my post ‘Different levels of tourism policy and planning‘
‘Begpacking’ in discussion went viral when social-media mobilised campaigns begun to scrutinise the act of the middle-class westerners.
‘Begpacking’ in South East Asia
In the past, ‘begpackers’ were a rare site, but in modern society the type of travel has become a common occurrence, particularly in South East Asia. The rise in contemporary discussion circulates stories largely aimed towards ‘begpackers’ in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Just recently, two western travellers instigated fury after begging locals to help continue funding their travel. As the Daily Mail reports, the travellers sat alongside their handwritten sign that read “My name is Alex. I’m travelling in Asia for 15 months. Sadly, I’m out of my savings, but I stay positive.”
So why is South East Asia such a popular choice of travel for ‘begpackers?’. ‘Begpacking’ is a term developed from backpackers and backpacking in South East Asia is at its most popular, with international visitor numbers reaching 120.4 million in 2017. South East Asia is a popular travel choice among young travellers as the entire cost of living and travelling across South East Asia is lower. If we compare the cost of living in Bangkok (Thailand) to the cost of living in the United Kingdom, food is 40% cheaper in Bangkok, housing is 66% cheaper and transportation is 72% cheaper.
How to ‘Begpack’
Begging. Typically, a ‘begpacker’ will beg locals to fund their travel by sitting in front of a handwritten sign that explains their desire to travel and the help needed for funding.
Busking. It is common to see travellers busk in the streets. If you are travelling with an instrument or you can get hold of an instrument, you can busk in local streets were busking is legal.
Selling.There are alternative ways to ‘begpack’, either by selling handmade art, jewellery, or other crafted items.
And of course, beg, busk or sell in densely-populated areas to ensure there are a large amount of people passing by to notice you.
Caution should be taken in certain countries were begging is not legal. For example, Vietnam has implemented a national ban on street begging. And in most South East Asian countries you are not supposed to earn money on a tourist visa and therefore begging is illegal. Where ‘begpacking’ remains a common occurrence, stricter measures have been applied to avoid cases of ‘begpacking’. For example, Thailand have enforced visitors to prove they have at least $525 (in cash) before allowing entry into the country (although how strictly this is enforced is another debate).
You might also be interested in my post ‘What is the relationship between transport and tourism?‘
The ethics of ‘begpacking’
Most South East Asian countries are collectively undeveloped or developing, with commonalities in their high state of poverty, little infrastructure, social injustices and poor illiteracy and much more. These commonalities make each country vulnerable to the middle-class and western imprint of millennials.
‘Begpackers’ are predominantly from middle class westernised backgrounds where their standard of living is more developed. To then decide to travel to a less developed or undeveloped country, surrounded by ‘real’ poverty issues and ask locals for money to support travelling the world is, in my opinion and many others, morally and ethically wrong.
Selling art, jewellery and other crafted items ultimately takes potential earnings away from the locals. Locals and other travellers could purchase locally crafted items and support local businesses and those in actual poverty, but instead as a ‘begpacker’ you are taking away the little privilege they have and increasing economic leakages (when money ‘leaks’ out of the local economy, usually into Western economies).
However, the reasons why someone may beg locals for money cannot be overlooked. Whilst this is certainly not the majority, there may be instances when tourists are key targets of pick pocketing and mugging, which may result in them needing to beg locals and other travellers for money.
In conclusion: Why ‘begpacking’ is bad
In hindsight, there are two main reasons for ‘begpacking’. There are those who are placed in unfortunate circumstances who must result in begging for money, due to the unforeseen circumstances of pick pocketing or mugging, which puts them into the category of ‘begpackers’. And then there are those who purposely travel to their desired travel destination with the ambition to ‘begpack’, purely because they want to travel the world, assembling a worldview of ‘privileged westerns who feel entitled’.
For ‘begpackers’, travel is a luxury, not a necessity. Choosing to travel to a country where locals struggle to survive to put food to mouth and where the average income per household is incredibly lower than the potential income ‘begpackers’ could be earning if they were employed at the lowest rate back in their home country, demonstrates on its own the unethical and immorality of ‘begpacking’.
Instead of irresponsibly travelling to a country with no means of financially supporting yourself and straining the local economy, why not look into volunteering opportunities that will provide you with the ability to travel and help locals simultaneously?
Have you witnessed ‘begpacking’ on your travels? If so, I’d love to hear your experiences- drop your comments below!