Beg-packing and busking: what’s the deal?

Beg-packing and busking

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Over the past couple of weeks, there have been several pictures shared on social media, various articles circulated online and a lot of chat on travel forums and in Facebook Groups.

Begging backpackers. Backpackers who are begging. Beg-packers and/or illegal buskers (and another portmanteau).

‘Beg-packing’ refers to western travellers visiting less-developed countries and busking, selling goods on the street or in some cases, asking for money outright so they can continue travelling.

Beg-packing? Busking? What's the deal with western tourists doing this in developing countries? Pinterest

What’s the deal with beg-packing, beg-packers and busking/selling goods in public places? Social media has expressed anger at this trend, but why are people doing it?




Are people visiting another country as a tourist, then ending up begging for money on the street? Or are tourists visiting another country with the intention of begging for money?

If it’s the latter – it’s very rare that I would use this word, but this stinks of privilege.

What goes through a person’s mind to think that it’s OK to do this? Why would someone think that this is acceptable behaviour?

Begging itself is not the problem – but when people from Western Europe or America visit a country like Thailand, they’re surely aware that a daily wage at home is a lot higher than a daily wage for a Thai person.

It’s disrespectful and completely insensitive.

If someone is really that desperate to continue their travels, it would be more worthwhile for them to fly home to work and live frugally for a few months. It would be less humiliating too.

People who have the ability and means to travel are very lucky. Many people are not able to travel within their own country, let alone travel overseas.

For those lucky people to land in another country to flout the laws (begging and busking are illegal in many countries) and they have the sheer audacity to ask locals or other tourists to part with their money – that is where the privilege and entitlement comes in.

Why are people beg-packing?

There must be reasons why people are beg-packing; let’s consider some of the possibilities:

  • They’re idiots who have spent all their money #YOLO? Outright #Fail more like
  • They think of themselves as ‘new-age travelling nomads’…
  • They’re scared of having to go home and/or do any “real” work

However – not making any assumptions here, let’s consider some genuine reasons why a traveller in a foreign country may need financial help or have a genuine difficulty in returning home:

  • They’ve been a victim of crime whilst in the foreign country
  • They’re accused of a crime whilst a foreign country (whether they were guilty or not)
  • They’ve become injured/physically or mentally ill during their trip
  • They’re not able to return home due to a personal situation
  • They’re running away from something/someone

For some of these situations – the answer is to have proper travel insurance and have backup money available in a bank account or credit card which you can access in an emergency.

You could also work in hostels or join a scheme where you work in exchange for accommodation if you’re not willing to end your travels.

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There are many, many ways to earn money legitimately whilst continuing to travel at the same time. A quick Google search for “How to earn money and travel” is a good starting point. (Spoiler: beg-packing isn’t the answer!)

For other situations, the answer is not so simple. As a traveller, you should always be prepared and responsible whilst staying respectful and sensitive towards other people.

That means not participating in beg-packing or illegal busking.

Begging on the street is extremely dangerous anyway, and is unlikely to earn anyone enough serious cash to continue travelling.

The bottom line is: it’s a ridiculous idea.




Busking and selling goods

When it comes to busking and/or selling goods in public spaces, there are other things to consider:

In most cities around the world you’ll often find street performers, entertainers and vendors selling jewellery, trinkets and other souvenirs in busy public spaces. The last time I was in London, there were dozens of them and they weren’t all British.

It is not uncommon to see a global array of entertainment in large, diverse, tourist-friendly cities. There are loads of buskers and performers in Cardiff, where I currently live.

If those western buskers who were performing in South East Asia have a permit, visa and license to perform in public, then that’s not really a big problem. You could argue that it adds to cultural richness of public spaces when there are performers from around the world there to share their act with anyone walking past.

The ethical dilemma still remains, the disparity in wages and opportunity still remains and the judgement from others will always remain.

The effect of social media

It’s very easy to judge a situation based on a single picture and a few reactive words on Twitter. It’s impossible to tell from a photo how or why someone may be asking for money, whether they’re holding up a sign or not. Just because someone is white – it does not mean they are wealthy or privileged.

It goes without saying that not every young traveller would behave this way. In cases like this it’s usually a small minority of bad eggs. They leave behind a bad reputation for the genuine tourists and travellers who are there to spend money, not take it.

How I’m funding my travels

In 6 months’ time I am leaving the UK with a one way ticket to travel for as long as possible. All the money I’ll need for this trip is my own; money I’ve earned and saved for the last 9 years. I’m still saving now.

I’m keeping £1,000 in a separate bank account – this will be my ‘going home’ money. If the unthinkable happens and I run out of money, I’d take that money to an airline and get myself a ticket back home.

One thing I certainly won’t be doing to top up my travel fund is beg-packing.

What are your thoughts on beg-packers or travellers begging for money when visiting other countries? Have you encountered anything like this on your travels?

23 comments

  • It doesn’t sound like a horrible idea, but I understand your argument!

  • Honestly as somebody who can’t quit their full-time job yet I’m slightly annoyed at this. A small part of me wants to say hey they’re making their travels happen however they can. But a larger part of me is annoyed because it’s bringing a bad name to travelers and it’s very easy to earn money while travelling these days even if the amounts aren’t giant.

    • Hi Liliane, I agree it is frustrating when so many people work so hard and still can’t travel at all. It’s just so entitled. Thank you for reading 🙂

  • Oh my gosh this is appalling! I’ve been living in a third-world country for nearly a year and I can see how hard life here is for many people. The rate of pay is much lower than many western countries and I constantly am reminded of how privileged I am to come from Australia. When people ask me where I have travelled to in the world and I list most of Western Europe, South America, Hawaii, New Zealand and more, I actually feel ashamed because I realise that it is so difficult for them to even travel out of their country once. I don’t really like it when people ask me this anymore because it makes me feel like I am exuding privilege (I did work part time and full time jobs to fund all of my travels). I totally agree with you that this is not the answer for western travellers to continue to fund their travel. It is different if the person has been robbed or something like that, but you shouldn’t be travelling without insurance anyway as you said. Great post!

    • Hi Katie – yes it is appalling 🙁 You shouldn’t be ashamed, you worked hard to fund your travels and it sounds as if you’re respectful towards others. Thank you for reading and taking the time to leave a thoughtful comment!

  • We’ve offered these types of people jobs! And they never want to take it. They would rather just sit there!

  • Oh wow! I didn’t even know there is a thing like that. I wonder how people come up with all their ideas. It really feels so wrong. I feel if you can’t afford to travel you first save money until you can afford your trip. We also love to travel and see places but unless we saved enough money we just stay home.

  • I really like your thoughts here. It’s not fair to expect people to support your travel habit when they have to save up for their own.

  • I see where you are coming from, I don’t like this idea either. I don’t think you should come from a pretty well off country and go beg in a country that is already struggling. Good observation and conversation.

    • Hi Ivanna, thanks for your comment. I agree, it’s important for tourists to spend money – many economies rely on it. It’s so wrong that people take advantage.

  • Hmmm, interesting! I’ve heard about this but have yet to really see one in my travels. I heard of foreigners victims of crime and losing all their money but there’s always the US embassy to go to for help.

    Mae | http://www.thegospelofbeauty.org

  • Wow! I didn’t know that was a thing and if there were beggars it would be the natives. Never have I ever gone on any trip or vacation without having a safety net. To know that there are people who intentionally travel broke is so disrespectful. If being a traveler is the life you want to live, that is great, but do it within your own means and not expect others to fund your dreams.

  • Living in Vancouver, I see so many beg-packers/buskers. It is frustrating, especially seeing so many young ones with plenty of opportunity but the choice to do nothing. I have a little bit of respect for buskers though because they are at least using their talents to try and make money vs someone who just sticks their hand out. And I had no idea that people actually travel to foreign countries and did this. Your post was very eye opening. Thanks for sharing!

  • I had no idea that people do that in developing countries. Seems a bit wrong asking for money in poorer countries. I didn’t know of this term until you posted about it. Thank you for sharing.

  • Wow. I had t heard of this. Most of us have to work 40+ hours a week to travel once a year. Sheesh.

  • Never heard of Beg packing and it sounds and looks very stupid to do. I love how you are honest when saying “They’re idiots who have spent all their money #YOLO? Outright #Fail more like” and I agree with you!

  • I haven’t heard of this for international travelling, but I do know several 20-something’s that hitchhike and beg their way across the U.S.

    Absolutely ridiculous! I’m okay with them street performing or selling goods, at least they are offering something in return and not flat-out begging.

    Enjoy your travels and stay safe 🙂

  • I don’t think it’s fair to lump busking in with begging–buskers are providing a real (albeit cultural/social and ephemeral) good and I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t get paid for it, regardless of what country they’re in.

    • Hi Jake, I agree… it says so in this post, international buskers and street performers are in almost every city and provide a service which most people enjoy. If they’re both talented, and have permission to be there then there’s no problem.

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