Begpacking- what is it and why does the world get so angry about it?

Begpacking- what is it and why does the world get so angry about it?

Traveling has become more accessible in recent years. Airlines and hospitality service providers compete ferociously to provide the best experience at the lowest price. And yet traveling is still a privileged luxury for the few who can afford it… or is it?

The last couple of years have seen the rise of Begpackers. Travellers (usually westerners) can be seen in cities throughout the world busking, begging and selling everything from postcards to handmade jewellery and, yes, even hugs in order to fund their travels. This is often prevalent in poorer countries throughout Asia (and to some extend in South America).

And the world has judged and judged and judged. Here is why:

  • Firstly, it is illegal. Anything you do while visiting a country on a tourist visa that provides you with an income in that country is seen as work. In order to work in a foreign country you need to have a work permit. It’s pretty straight forward.
  • This phenomenon is seen a lot in low-income countries, countries where living expenses and transportation is fairly cheap compared to western societies. The general consensus is: ‘If you cannot afford to travel, stay at home’.
  • It is insulting to the local people. The fact that begpackers go around asking for money and then spends the equivalent of a local family’s monthly income on an excursion or a night out at the bar raises some moral and ethical questions.
  • They are taking from the local communities who might need it more. Someone purchasing something from a begpacker probably would have spent their money in the local community. Perhaps these begpackers support the local community while in the area, but then they move on, taking that cash with them to the next country and experience.
  • It is saturated with privilege. Try to tell the man working the rice paddies from dawn till dusk in order to feed his family that he can travel the world by standing on street corners selling hugs and he will laugh and laugh and laugh.
  • Begpackers have other options. There might be the odd occasion where you might find yourself in a bit of a bind (travel insurance, anyone?). Begpackers have the option to stay in their home counties and work to save up for their travels. They can pursue careers like teaching English and scuba diving or working in hospitality that could offer them plenty of opportunities to travel and emerge themselves in other cultures. They can pursue online careers and become digital nomads… I could go on. The question here is: Why depend on local communities to sustain your travels?

As a white woman from South Africa I sit and wonder why I find myself so judgmental of how these people choose to fund their travels. Because, you know, I am also all about light and love… And perhaps the answer is found in another question: How come I need to work so hard in order to fund my own travels while begpackers believe that it is perfectly ok to ask strangers to fund theirs?

*A version of this article first appeared at

Juanita Pienaar

Juanita Pienaar is a citizen of the world, recently settled back down in her home country, South Africa, after spending time traveling and living in Asia and Africa. She has a passionate love affair with the ocean and loves to share that passion by teaching scuba diving. She is a yoga teacher and fully believe in finding the balance in life. She has recently discovered the joy and freedom of wearing yoga pants ‘out-and-about’. Juanita loses herself in the written and spoken word.

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