Like me, you may have recently stumbled across this heated Reddit thread about a group of people known as begpackers — Western (often white) tourists who travel the world, begging local populations to fund their expeditions. For those who missed it, these panhandling backpackers, some of whom sell knick-knacks or play music in return for spare change, are most predominant in Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam. It’s become such a strain on the local population in Bali, where the average income is astronomically lower than in most Western countries, that immigration officials are now taking a stand against freeloading travelers, dragging them to their respective embassies.
As you might imagine, begpackers are popular targets for anyone wanting to digitally throw shame right now (check out this whole subreddit devoted to exactly that). The negative implications associated with begpacking are definitely clear: Intentionally traveling without enough money makes these people a drain on the local economy, one that tends to already be suffering much more than the Western countries from which they came.
To be clear, these aren’t, on the whole, people for whom begging is the only option to get home. “In my opinion, based on just browsing social media and casual stories, perhaps begpacking is trendy at the moment, and some of these people travel to foreign countries already with an intention to beg, or else they could seek other routes to return home — loans from friends and family, the embassies,” says Nguyet Tong, assistant director of the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies.
From the fact they choose such cheap travel destinations, it’s clear that begpackers are intending to get by on as little money as possible from the start, even though that means taking advantage of countries whose economy desperately needs those tourist dollars. “In Southeast Asia, there are fewer restrictions on selling things or begging in the streets,” says Tong, “and it’s more affordable to live there.”
The only question, then, isn’t whether begpacking is right or wrong — it’s clearly wrong — but whether those who do it are intentionally fleecing impoverished locals, or just so supremely privileged that they’re unaware of how gross their actions really are. “They’re irresponsible, they aren’t planning well and they aren’t taking things into account, like their own finances and the cost of living, so they’re just squatting in another country,” says Devin Feldman, who recently spent a year traveling around Southeast Asia (without asking the local population for money, I should add). “I wouldn’t be surprised if those are also the types of people who, when they do return home, will also continue to do so.”
In other words, yeah, they’re probably just a bunch of dickbags. So screw you, begpackers. And everyone else, travel responsibly — and if you find yourself running low on funds, just go the fuck home, man.