As I turned the corner toward Ben Thanh Market, the Central Market in Saigon, Vietnam last Friday, I was stunned to see two European backpackers sitting by the side of the road with a sign written on cardboard. One was singing a song while the other was playing a small set of drums. The sign invited people to give them money to finance their further travel.
They call these people beg packers and I have now seen them in Auckland, New Zealand; Berlin, Germany; Brisbane and Melbourne, Australia; Bangkok, Thailand; Pnom Penh and Siam Reap in Cambodia. Have you seen them in real life?
“Begpacker” is a contraction of the English words “beggar” and “backpacker”. They are Western travellers who when they get to their destination they beg, busk, sell hugs or small items such as postcards or souvenir items to fund further travel.
I do not know their success rates but I think it is galling to ask people in the place you are visiting to fund your luxury. Travel is still a luxury item for most of the planet. This week in Vietnam is Tet (the New Year) and people are planning travel back to their home villages and families. For many Vietnamese, they have worked for weeks in order to fund thus trip home. And along comes a Western asking for money for their holiday! I was appalled to see the practice in Cambodia where the per capita income is about the same as an airfare from Europe to the country and where 25pc of the country live below the poverty line.
I understand that not all Westerners are wealthy and they still want to travel and explore other cultures but expecting locals to fund your trip is offensive.
Begpackers also need to be aware that they are probably in breach of their tourist visa by trying to beg or sell to make money. In many countries there are often strict rules or traditions for busking and/or selling on the streets. They may be in fact taking a local seller’s pre assigned spot!
If you want to travel, have a garage sale -ask your parents – work two jobs but do not expect your host country to pay for your experiences.