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Southeast Asia and the Scourge of the "Beg-Packers"

"Beg-packers" begging for travel funds from foreigners and locals alike (Photo Credit: Metro)

"Beg-packers" begging for travel funds from foreigners and locals alike (Photo Credit: Metro)

As I was perusing the Internet last night, I came upon something that I had previously seen a few months ago on Facebook.  It was a picture of a couple of western tourists (backpackers) in a Southeast Asian country (I think Malaysia or Singapore) begging for money.

Initially, I did not think much of it.  After all, it is not unusual for people who are down on their luck to beg for money or some kind of assistance although I found it unusual for a western tourist to have to beg in a place.  If there is a problem, why not go to the embassy of their respective country or request friends and family to help them out by wiring money or something else?  I have traveled to enough places to know that begging is unfortunately common in all parts of the world.  However, this was different.  

These two backpackers (photo: right) who were begging for money were not begging because they had had all of their possessions stolen or were genuinely down on their luck.  Considering how there is a DSLR in the photo, and they don't look like they're in any dire straits, they seem to be doing fine.  These two were begging to solicit donations from not only locals but also other travelers and expats to continue their travels.  As can be seen on their sign, "Support our trip around the world," they simply want people to pay for their travel.

These types of people are known as "beg-packers."  Essentially, a "beg-packer" is a traveler typically in Southeast Asia that relys on the kindness of strangers to fund their travels throughout the region or maybe even the world.  Some of them resort to straight up begging to busking to selling postcards or cheap little knick-knacks.  These are people who either did not think things through carefully when they decided to travel, want to travel on the absolute barest of budgets (little to nothing), or are lazy and want others to pay for them.  I personally think it is a mix of all three.

I had spent some time in Southeast Asia several years ago in 2012, and I can honestly say that while I saw a lot of backpackers that fit the description of these types of people, I actually never saw any western tourists begging for money in an attempt to fund their travels.

"Beg-Packers" selling postcards on a street in Thailand

"Beg-Packers" selling postcards on a street in Thailand

The first question a person would probably ask is why are these types of people are doing this mainly in Southeast Asia?

You don't hear of this happening in Europe, the US, Africa, or even South America (as far as I know).  I believe the answer is that Southeast Asia has been a haven for westerners for decades because of its cheap lifestyle for tourists.  As is well-known, many Southeast Asian countries, when compared to the rest of the world, with a few exceptions, are generally poor. Many locals make almost next to nothing when compared to someone in a western country.  A traveler with an absolute shoe-string budget can go to a place like Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia and be quite comfortable for less than $50 a day.  In addition, laws in those places tend to be relatively lax, and foreigners are generally given a pass (except for major crimes, such as sex crimes or drug trafficking).

The second and most important question that a person would probably ask is why would they resort to begging?

Travel is a wonderful albeit hobby and experience, but 98% of people will tell you that it is expensive and will hit your wallet no matter what.  I myself have much experience with that.  A lot of these "beg-packers" often carry signs saying "Traveling the world" or "Traveling through Asia" or something along those lines.  Surely, those people who are begging for money would have known that no matter where you go, things will cost money.  Plus, they obviously had the money to fly to those places, so they should have had the money to be able to get themselves out and onto their next destination or back to their home countries.

In my personal opinion, these are absolutely terrible and shameless people that should be deported from the country or blacklisted for doing something like that.  While they might view it as harmless, it actually makes westerners look very bad in the eyes of the locals.  The locals obviously know that these western tourists had the money to come to their country, and they certainly know that these westerners have way more money than they do, even if it might not be on them physically.  In addition, when these "beg-packers" are sitting on a street corner asking for donations to help their travels with smartphones, DSLR cameras, and travel gear in their possession, it makes a mockery of the true beggars and those that live in poverty.

This is the poverty I saw when I visited the slums of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

When I traveled in Southeast Asia in 2012, I saw poverty that was unlike what one would see in a western country.  In many of these Southeast Asian countries, there is little if any social safety net, so these people that were in poverty had to really fend for themselves.  They could not rely on government to help them out in any significant way.  For these so-called travelers to beg for money to fund their travelers is in very bad taste, and it does nothing except to feed into the typically negative stereotype of backpackers in Southeast Asia.

It is common sense.  If you decide to travel, make sure you have the money to support yourself.  If you don't think you have money, then do not travel!  It's simple and easy logic that most people can understand.

Thankfully, Thailand has caught onto these "beg-packers."  Thailand is now requiring visitors to Thailand to prove that they have enough money to support themselves.  Thai immigration authorities, now have the power to make sure visitors to have at least 20,000 Thai Baht ($748) since they are trying to crack down on the number of "beg-packers" and people who want to enter the country illegally to work.  While I think that is a good start for the Thai government, I do hope other Southeast Asian nations take similar steps.  This is a truly shameless activity that should be stopped immediately. 


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