The begpacking issue

The serious accusation to travel bloggers contributing to begpacking plus my insights about the issue

Cover photo credit: PBS

In the past few months, I’ve been asked about my opinion with the rise of the so-called ‘begpackers’ – a term coined for backpackers who are allegedly begging to fund their world travels. I never really had energy for it because I think it is very subjective and personal – I refuse to judge these people because I have a full understanding of people leading different lives: to each their own.

The begpacking issue

A comment in one of my recent posts on Instagram | @psimonmyway

The inspiration to write this article was from getting an accusation from John Doe that I am contributing to the begpacking mania. This blog always aimed to tell stories (that are mine) and offer nothing but the truth (my truth) so today, I don’t want to sit down and keep quiet about it.

Bear in mind that you will get my version if you choose to continue reading.

The serious accusation to travel bloggers contributing to begpacking

My Facebook community for readers is one of the reasons why I got to know a lot of people who are reading my blog personally. Whenever the schedule permits, I try my best to check out on everyone because their travel experiences and the groundbreaking move they executed to live a life of travel interests me. We are all travelers but never navigated things the same way so it’s very refreshing to see how others are making it out there. Some stories of my inspiring readers (who I now consider my friends):

Ryan quit his job to travel the world. He is currently sustaining himself on the road through translating files to different languages.

Ferna took a travel coaching session with me. She is now leading tours and doing dive trips wherever she is in Asia. She’s constantly traveling.

Kate went to Asia to go backpacking and eventually found an English teaching job in South Korea.

Those are just some stories shared to me the readers of this blog and they all look like success stories to me. When I receive these kinds of messages, I don’t offer any kind of advice but I share my personal experiences about it. Most of them would follow my lead; a few would do it their way. As I said (and truly respect), different people, different dynamics. We are all entitled to choose our travel styles because we should always go for the one that will work for us. Nobody leads the exact same life as you.

From where I stand, Ryan, Ferna and Kate are all inspiring people to do the same in their own ways but are sending the message in different manners and in very distinct mediums. I am not saying their success came from reading this blog – they propbably read thousands of blogs in order to execute their long-term travel efficiently.

Which leads me to the next point: travel bloggers are real people who only give inspiration through sharing their stories. They are never the reason for someone else’s travel success/fail nor the rise of begpackers shouldn’t be blamed on them. It’s always easy for us to pass the burden to other people when in reality, we are the ones who made decisions for ourselves.

I think if (we) travel bloggers should be blamed for anything, it’s about the lack of transparency about the perils of the ‘quit your job to travel’ propaganda. Most of us have not really delivered the message right. We are showing photos with rainbows and unicorns because this is what sells. But then again, if you are a person who decides for yourself, you will also know that different people have different dynamics. You will also have your own thought about nothing ever comes easy even if it looks like a walk in the park.

Let’s say you are the consumer and travel bloggers are the sellers – it’s up to you if you’re going to buy the product. Even though customers are always right, you can never blame the seller for buying trinkets. It’s your decision. You can never challenge travel blogger’s experiences because this is their own truth. It’s subjective. It’s personal.

Although travel bloggers have the right to publish their own content (it is their space after all), we should also be responsible in what we publish. To be honest, most of us do it full-time (we earn money from it) so Google ranking is more on top of the priority but we, as today’s ‘role models’ on the Internet should always be transparent. We owe honesty to our readers because our blogs are bookmarked on their mobile phones. Whenever they are in trouble, they run to us. It is a privilege for us to be looked up to so we should use it right.

Bottom line, I don’t agree that travel bloggers should be blamed for this. Let’s not burden other people with the decisions we make. I’d like to believe I am speaking for all the other inspiring travel bloggers out there. They don’t deserve this treatment because seriously, big following or not, everyone is good at what they do.

The begpacking issue is cultural

I noticed the issue is a big deal only in Asia. Hailing from the Philippines, one of the most visited Southeast Asian countries, I haven’t seen begpackers in the flesh but I can relate to the sentiments of my fellow Asians. Busking, for example, is labeled as a way of begpacking in Asia but in Europe and South America, it is a form of expressing one’s art. When I first went to Italy to study, I honestly didn’t understand why people would choose this over a conventional career choice. Where I am from, we will not be encouraged to do this because it’s a shameful act. In my mind, Europe is a first-world country and that there is always a job opportunity for everyone.

When I came to think of it, employment wise, most of the world I’ve seen is exactly the same where I am from. There are not enough jobs for everyone (especially for Millennials) and the boom of travel is the result of the world’s recession and the never-ending urge of many young people to taste freedom. We live in the world where choices are not limited and that we can do whatever we want as long as we are happy. Unlike the generation before us, happiness is on high priority rather than money.

The United States of America is considered a first-world country but most people who graduated college are unemployed and are drowning with over $100,000 debts from University loans. Most of the people I met while traveling have high-end degrees but opted to travel the world because there are no decent paying jobs for them back home.

The recession is not Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore’s fault but they are complaining about this so-called begpackers when all the while, they funded their tourism slogans abroad with millions of dollars. How do you expect them to respond? English people can’t just watch the buses in London filled with tourism slogans from Asia. Of course, they have to do something about it, hence, they are in the land of tropics. Though it got out of control, the advertising worked.

It happens everywhere. Do we mean to say that busking is only valid in Europe and not in Asia? Why is Asia making a big deal out of this? Because we still believe we are the minorities. The victim story that whites are the privileged ones and we are not should end. I know many people of colour who are very successful in what they do. Not all white people are ‘privileged’. We all think they can call home, mommy will click “transfer,” and they will live happily ever after but just like you, these people whom you call ” first world” are also trying to make ends meet.

I am really not comfortable with saying the W word because it encourages labels but I don’t have any other way to put it. We are humans. Period. We shouldn’t be divided by race, colour, ethnicity, etc because all of us can make it out there no matter where are are from.

On another note, one cultural aspect that backpackers should respect is if selling goods on the sidewalk is legal. For example, Singapore is considered a first-world country and has many strict rules about street vendors. As a foreigner, you should take this into consideration. You just can’t sit by the train station, lay a blanket with your products and start selling. This, along with many other rules and regulations we don’t know of is against their laws. Be informed. Begpacker, tourist, long-term traveler, whatever we call ourselves: none of us are entitled to trash one’s culture just because we feel like it. If I am a Singaporean and you did this in my country, I won’t be mad but I will be furious. Respect begets respect.

“Begging” is a strong word

When I first heard about this issue, I was bothered by the fact that it was called ‘begging’ when in reality, backpackers are selling their work. Whether be it a postcard, their music, handmade crafts, etc. They are not opening their palms, kneeling on the sidewalk and mumbling, “alms, alms, alms, spare me your mercy.” Again, I have to clarify I haven’t been in Asia for a while (a long time, really!) so please, if you think this picture in my head is wrong, feel free to inform me.

The idea of traveling without money is another issue we have to tackle. Let’s admit it, through the years, it really sounded so cool that most of us forget the real meaning of travel – it’s a privilige. It’s not for everyone. You shouldn’t travel without money is the new trend now. Our actions in life are dictated by what’s in our not.Our parents are not the ones raising us anymore. The Internet already took that responsibility.

‘Begging’ is not the only word involved in this issue. Some say these begpackers are also “stealing” jobs from locals and I strongly disagree on that. Although I am really a fan of local art, we have our own tastes and preferences because art, no matter in what form, touch people in different ways. Even if me and my sister will go shopping for shoes, we will never buy the exact same thing because of personal choice.

I get it – you feel for the locals who are also busking on the street but are not getting the same support. So what? It doesn’t mean they get zero. This is how humans respond to things. We have the freedom to choose. Remember, not all people watch Game of Thrones, listen to Nickelback, or read this blog. You can’t blame anyone for having their preference.

[us_message color=”yellow” icon=”fa-language”]Dictionary 101: (to) Begask for something, typically food or money, as charity or a gift.[/us_message]

Nobody is forcing you to give them money

This is a question we can’t really answer but it applies to everyone: when you were in Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore and you came across these ‘begpackers,’ did you give them money? For example, if there was a British guy who was singing very well it caught your attention, did you stop, watched and gave him a few bucks because you believe in his art and was awed by his voice?

If you did, isn’t this an action no one forced you to do? Isn’t this something you willingly did because you wanted to? I would really love to hear your first-hand experience about being obliged to give money to these ‘begpackers,’ if any.

This is related to the first discussion above about the consumer-seller relationship between travel bloggers and their audience. No one forced you to read our content nor follow our lead. Like giving money to these people whom we call ‘begpackers,’ it is up to you.

All opinions are valid

If you got to this point, thank you for reading. If you are reading this blog consistently, you will notice that like most people, I also have a lot of opinions about many things because that is human nature. Based on my experience, we always attack people who express their thoughts on the Internet without reading the entire piece.

As this is my blog, this is my space, you should take into consideration that, you and me, we are not the same. We don’t believe in the same ideals nor we don’t have to agree on the same things. But what we can agree to is that none of us is right or wrong. We live in a free world where every human being is entitled to voice their opinions. Unfortunately, it is easier for us to express them than to accept other people’s truth. At one point or another, we will be challenged but bear in mind that no matter the issue is, you have all the right to take your seat at the table and say something.

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What are your thoughts about the intense begpacking issue?

Whether you agree or not, negative or positive comments, I would love to know what you think! Leave your thoughts on the comment box below and let’s agree to disagree.

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Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak, and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She'd like to believe she's not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. In no particular order, her favorite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.

Comments

  • August 7, 2017

    Hey Trisha,

    Love how you were straight up about the world has all equal opportunities! I think what you mention above is mostly in relation to busking which is awesome. If you’ve got some great skills, give people an opportunity to show their appreciation via a donation.

    You mentioned the definition of beg, which mentions ‘ask’. This is where the confusion lies I believe in this whole situation. There are people actually asking for money to continue traveling 1000
    s of km from home where they are providing no value whatsoever.

    Weird situation on Kapas Island, Malaysia. Having a nice dinner on the beach when the restaurant owner turned out the lights so a couple of travellers could do their fire stick dancing thing. It was a mediocre performance but thought it was nice of the owner to let them perform (maybe in exchange for a meal or something?). That wasn’t the case, the backpackers then asked us directly if we could support them to continue travelling…massive gray lines here imo.

    Keep writing, Trisha.

    reply
  • August 7, 2017

    Hi Trisha,

    To be honest, the news of foreigners busking through SEA never came to me. What news I’ve been seeing on my timeline are the ones involving foreigners asking people for donation to fund their travels; no forms of art or entertainment rendered in return. Or at least, that’s how I read the news and blog articles. I actually have no issue about it but when I read the article posted in the forum, I reacted rather violently because these “begpacking” acts actually triggered the tourism authorities of those SEA countries to require visitors “show money” before they come in. This is where the problem comes for me, a South-East Asian with a considerably low passport ranking. These acts being done by people with “high-ranking” passports are causing a threat to people on the other side of the passport spectrum to lose the very few “privileges” they currently enjoy.

    reply
  • August 7, 2017

    Hi Trisha,

    I fully understand this whole new talks about “begpackers” and as an Asian too, your words really matter, certainly giving insights about what I feel actually and what my personal opinion is.

    Thank you as well for tagging me on this, it’s true we have different stories, different ways of traveling as well that might inspire others regardless of how we travel.

    Keep sharing!

    Ferna

    reply
  • August 12, 2017

    Interesting read, well done on wading in on such a delicate issue. I do believe that all those ‘quit your job and travel, don’t worry about the money’ (or similar) memes and ‘inspirational’ quotes we’re bombarded with can be misleading and too flippant, however I think most travel bloggers do a good job of explaining how they got to a point where they were able to travel. Us travel bloggers aren’t to blame – our audiences aren’t stupid! I’m not sure how I feel about the whole ‘beg packing’ thing but you’ve given an interesting perspective. I will say that a few years ago, a friend of mine got in a sticky situation where she was left with no money for a train ticket home in Amsterdam, and was forced to ask strangers for help. It wasn’t her fault, but she could have been in trouble had people not helped her. Everything is relative.

    reply
  • August 13, 2017

    To be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about this and I’m not quite sure where I stand. You make valid points about not judging and respecting local cultural norms and laws. On the one hand, I can’t suppress thinking you have to work hard for something, including if you want to travel on a limited budget. But, I’m also a live and let live type of person. Blaming travel bloggers, though, is just another way of pushing off accountability for your own actions.

    reply
  • August 13, 2017

    Great read Trisha! I only came to know the word ‘busking’ a couple of years ago, and I’m all for that. Especially if locals and ‘foreigners’ combine efforts. It’s a great cultural exchange blah blah.. But when I first hand twice have seen travel couples holding signs ‘asking’ folks to fund their world travel whilst selling ‘stuff’ or even ‘asking’ to fund their world travels while busking.. I got slightly nauseous. If they had been from my own country (USA) I would have lectured them like an evil auntie. 😀 However, one of the two couples I did speak with and asked them why, when they could play such beautiful music, they felt the need to brandish a sign asking people to ‘fund their world travels’.. They didn’t really have an answer. I’m personally more than happy to donate to buskers, especially talented ones as long as they aren’t competing with local talent. And for anyone who is truly down on their luck and in need of assistance there are always ‘volunteer’ jobs available. And if physically or mentally unable to work? It’s time to call your embassy.

    reply
  • August 13, 2017

    Totally agree with you on this one. Everyone has the right and opportunity to make their own informed choice and should be responsible for their own decisions!

    reply
  • August 14, 2017

    Tough topic. All your points are valid. It’s possible to find work and no one is forcing anyone to give money. On personal note, I can’t imagine leaving without the funds for the time away. I would have major anxiety attacks!

    reply
  • August 14, 2017

    This is a topic I will defer from commenting on. People have different styles and reasons for traveling. While I think begging to travel is not appropriate, I can’t judge without knowing the full story.

    reply
  • August 16, 2017

    Very interesting perspective and I agree with a lot of the points you make. I’ve always thought the same about begging vs selling something–if someone is buying something from you, you are not begging. In spots where you need permits I can see it being an issue, but I don’t see the two as the same thing. Also agree that I don’t think travel bloggers are responsible for this–everyone is responsible for their own actions and while bloggers could do a better job sharing the realities of running a successful blog, it’s ultimately up to each person if they travel responsibly and with enough money. Interesting insights and thanks for sharing!

    reply
  • lamesha
    August 16, 2017

    I disagree with several things you’ve said. Yes we are all human, but I am also a black woman and I like identifying as that. I don’t think that’s a problem. Granted, I’m also American so I am looking at this from a different perspective than you as we are from different countries. Yes, all white people have privilege to a certain degree. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that. In the states, it has been proven that white people receive shorter sentences for the same crimes as people of color, white people have better birth outcomes than nonwhites regardless of education, income and social class, and people of color are more likely to be pulled over by the police, frisked at the airport and told to change our hair (with chemicals) or be forced to leave school/work/etc. All of these things have been proven. So no, I’m not just a “human”. Regardless of how you see people they are treated differently based on their race, class and gender. And so are you. We all have certain privileges and that’s ok.

    Most people who graduate from university in the states have student debt to pay back, yes, but many have way less than $100,000 and many have more. I don’t know where you got that number from, but I highly doubt the average is $100,000. My guess is it’d be closer to $35,000.

    While traveling I do sometimes give buskers money if they are doing something (singing, playing an instrument, etc). If it’s just a “fund my travels” sign, then I don’t.

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  • August 16, 2017

    Very good post, Trisha, and I find it very difficult to talk about it. I’ve seen it myself in Bangkok – some guys sitting on the sidewalk with a sign asking to help them continue their travels. But after reading lots of xenophobic comments about the topic on FB, I’d rather stay out.

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  • August 17, 2017

    Begpackers are ridiculous. If you don’t have the money, then you shouldn’t be going to travel. Begging for people to support your travel when there are literally third-world people unemployed and starving around you is just the lowest of the low, as far as I’m concerned.

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  • August 17, 2017

    I think people should work and finance their own travels, hobbies or passions. I think these people make us Europeans and us Americans (I am both) look bad.

    reply
  • Yoo Jin Song
    August 26, 2017

    It’s become quite a sensitive issue, especially since race and money are involved. Bottomline: don’t travel if you don’t have the means. Be respectful of other cultures while travelling. Therefore, if begging to “support your travel” is a taboo in SEA, then respect and accept that fact. Backpackers must also be sensitive to the country’s social issues as well. I’ve seen some travellers holding up signs asking people to help them with their travel beside locals who beg for money just so they can buy food, how would you expect them to react? Most SEA countries have poverty issues, and seeing these foreigners on the streets begging for financial assistance just so they can travel, that’s downright insensitive. Anyways, just my two cents.

    reply
  • yada
    August 31, 2017

    Lol the hypocrisy. “all opinions are equal”. They are not against an opinion, they are in violation of local law. When you enter EU or USA they ask you for a lot of cash in the bank, return flight snd and a hotel reservation and even
    after that they can deny your entry for any or no reason.

    Travel on the cheap or with no money is not a virtue, you are leeching of an economy that depends on tourism to thrive.

    reply
  • October 4, 2017

    Interesting article Trisha. IMO, if there’s an exchange of goods or services then it’s not begging. And if there isn’t, and no one’s breaking the law or any cultural taboos then who cares? Giving money to a panhandler in SEA isn’t any different than giving money to one in your home country. It’s up to you if you want to support them. No one is forcing you.

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  • November 22, 2017

    I agree with you on all the points that you raised. Those backpackers selling their photos (or music) are no different from other backpackers selling, say, their services like teaching. Thus, in my opinion, it’s not fair to be pointing fingers at them and giving them negative labels.

    I think the real issue comes from travelers who are not really ready (mentally & financially) to head out to their journeys so they resort to begging. Plus, there are also locals who depend on tourism for their livelihood so it’s not fair to be competing with them, especially if you belong to a privileged class.

    reply
  • November 25, 2017

    Thanks for mentioning me here, Trisha! And more thanks for saying you’re proud of me. Begging indeed is a very strong word, and I wish this topic were easier to dealt with. Information exchange is extremely fast these days, that bloggers and travel writers are often misjudged because little time is spent scrutinizing them appropriately. Although I quit my job 5 months ago, what I really meant was that I quit my conventional job. I still earn as a translator on the side and, in the coming months, I also wish to monetize my blog. That being said, we are so far from begging. In cases when we Couchsurf or sell products legally, I would hesitate to call it begging. For most people, money is not the biggest subject. They do these things to broaden their experiences.

    reply

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P.S. I'm On My Way is a blog by Trisha Velarmino. She didn't
quit her job to travel the world. She made a job out of traveling and you can do it, too.