western begpacker on the street

BegPackers And The Lure Of Funded Travel

The definition of begpacker (beg-packer) is someone who attempts to save money by asking locals and other foreigners to fund their travels.

Actually, that’s my definition. The dictionary hasn’t arrived yet. But it will. Begpacking is trending. And that’s a sad fact of modern travel. I don’t remember hearing about these people begging on the streets of third world countries before. I’m talking about the phenomenon of Westerners begging to avoid working a job in their own country.

If you’re starving and homeless, asking strangers for help might be your only recourse, regardless of where you’re from and what your circumstances. But if you come from a western country with social welfare, you have an iPhone, and you can afford a flight home, you should not be holding up cardboard signs and asking for food or money.

Some will disagree with my judging of privileged Western begpackers. Some people will always be contrarians.

Cheap Flights & Travel Hacking

Did the travel hacking and cheap flight movement create a sub-genre of dirt cheap travellers? Are we seeing the emergence of the minimum viable traveller (check out Minimum Viable Product if this makes no sense)? What about the Lean Startup Traveller? You know the ones. No idea what they’re doing, no plan, and definitely no cash to hand.

I enjoy travel hacking. I love getting stuff for free. But that doesn’t mean everything should be for free. If you can afford to buy a flight (often the equivalent of several months wages in many developing countries) then you don’t need to beg for food. I wonder if the travel hacking industry has played into the cult of begpacking.

One guy achieved internet notoriety (or at least Reddit fame) by travelling across the USA eating only out of dumpsters. Fair enough. It’s an interesting social experiment, and he wasn’t taking food out of the mouths of people that actually needed it.

Note: There’s even a beg packer SubReddit called /r/travelinghoboshaming/. Love the name. There’s no shortage of ranters on this topic but you have to search a few different subreddits to find everything people have to say about this travel movement. All of the comments paint the Western hobo lifestyle as despicable.

But begpacking in Asia (they all seem to be in South East Asia) is potentially redirecting funds from the local economy into the hands of those that need new iPhone batteries.

The Begpacker Legacy

What’s going to happen when enough of begpackers pollute the streets of Bangkok and the local authorities start banning scruffy young travellers?

Too late, they’ve already started!

I used to be a young scruffy traveller. I wouldn’t have made it past customs. And that would be somewhat unfair as I wasn’t begging my way around the world. I paid my way. And I’m not taking a moral high ground. If daddy pays for your backpacking trip, then I’m happy for you.

If you’re rich and you want to travel, more power to you. But if your travel the world plans are funded by donations from passers-by on the streets of some poor country, know that you’re ruining it for everyone.

Trending

Images of backpackers sitting on street corners with signs in Thai and English frequently appear on social media channels. Is it a trend? Do lazy individuals see that it’s working and jump on this trend? Maybe these guys are true influencers. 🤦‍♂️

Beg packing is trending and there’s always a temptation to jump on a trend for self-promotion.

The internet, and in particular, apps like Instagram and Snapchat encourage self-promotion like no other media in history. There’s a belief that those that shun having Facebook and Instagram accounts are hiding something. So much so, that if you don’t have a Facebook or Linkedin Profile these days, companies looking to hire get suspicious.

Illegal Street Activity

The Thai government always stipulated that travellers have a certain amount of money to support their travels. The result is that travellers who look like they can’t support themselves will be discriminated against. Backpackers will find it harder to enter the kingdom without a stash of cash on hand to show immigration officials. The figure is 20,000 Baht, which works out at around $600 USD. Not a huge amount, but not the kind of money you want to lose.

I don’t know who the guy below is. Maybe he’s a nice guy. But does he not know that begin not the streets of Bangkok is illegal and diverts resources away from local people, who probably need it more than he does?

Okay, I get it. He lost his money. But when you’re desperate for funds, the last thing you should be doing is planning exciting travels. Despite having no fynds, this Western begpacker wants to continue travelling. And we’re left to fund his trip. Even worse, he’ll accept money from Thai locals.

He should go home and suck it up. We’re sorry your trip was cut short but start a GoFundme project or something like that. Maybe sell those sunglasses or your watch.

Big Leg – The Most Hated Westerner in Asia

In 2016 and 2017 the streets of Bangkok, Hong Kong, and a few other Asian cities witnessed a beg packer with a unique angle. Benjamin Holst has a medical condition that gives him an oversized leg, hence the nickname.
Internet famous, thanks to his women-chasing and partying exploits using donations from strangers, Holst was dubbed “The most hated German in Thailand” by Coconuts, the Asian news site.

After getting thrown out of (and banned by) several Asian countries including Hong Kong, Thailand, and Indonesia, the boozing, womanising beggar took himself to Amsterdam for some upscale begging, before travelling to Africa, where found a wife. And lived happily ever after, I presume.

Saving Money

I don’t mind saving money on transport or accommodation so that I can have more experiences, or eat better food. But what I am against is people choosing to not save money, not earn money, not to accept their responsibilities, and apply psychological tactics to sucker money out of people that might not be able to afford it.

Begpackers make life difficult for budget travellers and poor people in the countries they “work”. This is not what travel is all about. Travel is about experiencing the world, embracing cultures, learning. It’s not about freeloading, preying not the good nature of other people, and ruining the travel dreams of genuine young backpackers with just enough money to fund their travels.

3 thoughts on “BegPackers And The Lure Of Funded Travel”

  1. Avatar

    I totally agree. Travelling to poorer countries than your own to take advantage of the cheaper prices is one thing. Travelling there and asking the locals for money to help you keep doing it is wrong on so many levels. I am in my 60’s now, but in my younger days I backpacked through most of Europe and I paid my way everywhere. We travelled on the cheap and stayed in inexpensive digs, but it never occurred to us to ask someone else to pay for it.
    Travel is supposed to broaden the mind, seeing other cultures and learning about other people.
    Expecting the locals who are very poorly paid to cover your food and accommodation is the height of western condescension.
    Good blog, keep it up.

  2. Avatar

    I simply have no words for this. What stretch mentality these begpackers have. If you can’t afford to travel then don’t do it. Get a job, save money and then fun your travels yourself, but how can you go to poorer countries to beg for money for traveling.

  3. Avatar

    THANK YOU for writing about this and bringing begpacking to light. Being from a developing country and having spent some time living and working in South East Asia myself, I have seen this first hand. There will always be that fraction of society that will make things worse for others in their place. Sad!

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