Let’s talk about begpackers and why so many netizens are angry about them

Traveling is not a necessity, it’s a luxury. Let’s make that very clear. You don’t need to travel no matter how many crappy minimalist Pinterest quotes out there tell you that you “have to” travel in order to achieve the fullest human potential. Which is why begpackers thoroughly confuse me.

When I talk about begpackers in the context of this article, I’m referring specifically to people–usually caucasian–from first world countries who travel visa-free to Southeast Asia and busk/sell postcards/or just straight-up beg for money for their next ticket to their next big adventure. They rely on the generosity of locals to fund their travels and so they can #ExperienceTheWorld (praying hands emoji) and have some new life-changing sunset photo (accompanied with essay) on their Instagram accounts like geotags have become their new collection.

This entire phenomenon has sparked some great online debates. Many are angry about it as they believe that these begpackers take the hard-earned money of locals so they can propel themselves to another country. Others are more dismissive, thinking that it’s up to the person if they donate to these foreigners or not as it’s their decision to give or not.

On the side of the angry, begpackers do more than just what people see on the surface. It can be argued that, yes, it’s up to you what you do with your money. That’s me in the mall every day arguing with myself if I really need another lipstick. But what these people are doing is asking us to pay for their luxury, something they should have been prepared to pay for. 

In the Philippine context, it feels more immediate. Even thinking of traveling to another country is tiring. Many require Visa applications that can take weeks or months with how slow systems are. It’s frustrating. And these applications can be denied, too. There’s no guarantee. So we really do have to be prepared just to prove we can travel to their country.

The inordinate amount of effort it takes for us to even fathom going to their countries is insane. Visas, being checked if we have enough money to travel, all the red tape? A lot of people ask: If it were the other way around, if we were the ones begging in Western countries, what would they do to us?

They probably wouldn’t let us enter their countries in the first place, because they wouldn’t allow us to come in without enough money. But because these begpackers are more often than not white and/or Western, they’re already at an advantage. They can come here without really planning in advance (whereas we have to plan maybe a year ahead) and people will look up to them and applaud them for their #journeyofselfdiscovery because of our propensity to give foreigners a free pass.

They can already travel to our country without having to go through so many steps and requirements and they still want us to be their stepping stones so they can #CarpeDiem themselves to places to rack up life experience points in countries where, for many, the luxury of travel can’t even be dreamt of? Many of them treat begpacking like they’re owed the experience of travel, like they’re entitled to it and like they truly believe it’s a necessity and bank on locals to fork over money they work hard to earn. It’s no longer just annoying/an eyesore, it’s an ethical issue.

Which is not to say, of course, that all of these instances of foreigners resorting to begging should be points of argument. We’ve also seen foreigners who were robbed and just want to gather enough money to get back home. These are different cases altogether and they’re unfortunate situations. They’re not part of this demographic.

Others firmly believe that it’s not a big deal, just people who want to go out and see the world and were being creative about their means. They stick by the idea that the money you have is your own and you’re free to spend it or give it according to your own preferences. While that’s also true, it, according to those who argue against it, completely eliminates the bigger picture and all the meaning underpinning this phenomenon.

It ignores the fact that these begpackers can get away with it because of their white privilege and how we let these actions slide constantly because they’re foreign. We can’t deny that we as a people sometimes see foreigners and put on a bigger smile. This mentality has allowed these travelers to bend and break the rules and use our generosity to their advantage.

Travel is something we don’t need but we can do with careful planning as a luxury. Do we owe it to people to help them fill their Instagram feed?

What do you think of begpackers? Let us know!


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