Lately within the travel community the issue of ‘beg-packing’ has come up. When I had first read the term, I was a bit confused about what it meant. After reading some other travel blogs, though, I knew immediately what they were talking about. On my travels, I had absolutely seen my fair share of Westerners sitting on the street with signs asking for assistance from others on their trips.
While most of the begging and packing takes place in poorer countries where individuals often have a hard time feeding their families, let alone funding white people, I’ve even witnessed it a bit here in Granada. The homeless here are my age—in their early to late twenties. Sometimes they offer necklaces or bracelets, but many just beg for food, or, you guessed it, funding for their travels.
Travel blogger and writer Helen Coffey wrote an interesting article about how we shouldn’t be so quick to judge these young people. She mentions:
“The consequences are more severe [for some Western travelers]. A friend tells me of getting mugged in Cuba, and being stranded for four days without a penny. Naval officer Kristian shares his story of arriving at the airport only to find his flight had left at 8am, not 8pm, and the ensuing embarrassment of having to beg for money from passersby to afford another flight home.”
While Coffey has a point (and I love her writing), this article kind of misses the main argument of the matter. There are times when you truly need help as a traveler and there are times where you are using your ignorance to display privilege. While some of the photos of these people asking for money might be taken out of context as Coffey states, many are simply just beg-packing.
Also, this privilege isn’t just related to money. Some of the beg-packers might be in a worse economic state than some of their peers—there is no way to know without asking. The reality is that even poor Westerners still have a better lifestyle and are more affluent than the poor in Southeast Asia—which makes up the vast majority of the population. This privilege is related to not only money, but also to Western privilege over Eastern, first-world versus third, and ethnicity.
I am a big advocate for being a self-aware traveler. Travel can be a lot of fun, but as I’ve stressed often, it’s not a vacation. Traveling in its purest, most difficult form pushes you to consider things from others’ perspectives and to recognize your place in the world. I can’t relate to those beg-packing because, for me, those travelers are not looking at life through another perspective—they are wondering how to get to their next destination without having to pay for it themselves.
It’s hard to be young, and it’s hard to feel like you don’t have enough cash to do the things you want to do. But instead of begging, there are options. You can work at a hostel for your board. You can sign up for a work-away program that allows you to experience what life is like for the individuals in the country you are traveling to. You can put the expense of traveling on a credit card and pay it off when you have steadier income (which, as a Westerner is likely). You can do a number of different things rather than sit and ask people who will likely never even dream of traveling to fund your travels.
I have complete understanding for those who need help while traveling. I’ve had horror stories myself when my debit card wasn’t working and I was unsure about how I would get a flight back home. I’ve had 15 euro in my pocket and a German couple offered to buy me a sandwich—even ignoring me when I refused. These things happen while on the road.
If you are considering beg-packing, I encourage you to think of some other ways to fund your travels. Let’s make the world a better place by being responsible travelers—it’s a privilege very few have.