The Travel Panhandling Pandemic

Last year, I had the opportunity to go to Southeast Asia. 30 exciting days in Thailand. This country is a true gem of cultural brilliance. The people are friendly, the food is amazing and the weather is fantastic. I remember flipping through the channels on the television and came upon a program talking about travelers. I was completely invested, as I am a traveler that loves everything about the traveling culture.

Or so I thought…

To my disappointment, the television program was discussing the fact that “backpackers” have been traveling to countries, without money, and panhandling their way back home. Backpacking is simply a way of travelling, independently, on a budget. The idea, is that you have all of your essentials in a backpack and travel, sort of like a local, off the beaten path.

Hands holding Bangkok Thailand travel guide book with map on the floor

The purpose behind being a backpacker and wanting to get the most out of your money with less money spent, is a noble idea. It diminishes the glitz and glamour culture of travel and highlights the country, its people and the overall culture of the country. Backpacking, when done respectfully, is a great way to immerse yourself in the education of travel and the world around you.

 young man traveler with backpack and hat at the train station wi

However, it is not okay to use it as a means to solicit money with the conscious knowledge that you did not have enough for your travel experience. Recently, there was a German couple who prided themselves on soliciting donations and eating at soup kitchens in the midst of their travels to Auckland. Wellington City councilman Brian Dawson believes that this behavior is upsetting, due to the nature of choice. There are people who have no choice but to eat in soup kitchens and he believes this couple (and many others like them) have the privilege of returning to a lifestyle that impoverished people are not afforded.

Panhandling in travel is like going into a restaurant, ordering and eating a meal then trying to wash dishes to cover your meal having already had the previous knowledge that you had no money and no intention of paying, initially. It has become such a pandemic that the phrase “beg-packing” was coined. Some countries, like Thailand, are requiring foreign travelers to have proof of round trip flights, accommodations, or a certain amount of money to ensure they will not be on the streets asking strangers for help.

As a traveler, it is your responsibility to be socially and culturally principled. Losing your wallet, cash or credit card is one thing,  but knowingly traveling with the purpose of others helping you eat, sleep and be merry is problematic. There are people, around the world, who are truly in need due to economic conditions, famine, and many other factors. We would all like to see the world on a dime, but the reality is that we must do our part to make the best of what we have or what we don’t have.

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6 thoughts on “The Travel Panhandling Pandemic

  1. Hey Imani. Thanks for sharing this, I really didn’t realise this kind of thing happened. I’m in shock and therefore my comment really isn’t very articulate. I find it pretty sad, both for the people they’re taking away from, and for people that choose to backpack for the right reasons, like trying to understand the country better.

  2. Thanks for talking about this. I’m a budget traveler and a backpacker currently traveling around New Zealand and it’s been hard because of people who abuse the style. Yes I want to use couchsurfing and go camping when I can to save money, but it’s also about connecting with locals and exploring different environments. There’s so much to it but when it gets abused (and it can go both ways as well, with cs hosts expecting too much or wwoofers exploiting backpackers), it really can ruin it for everyone, as I’m learning firsthand here in NZ. There’s a lot I want to say about this and I still need to work my head around it, but idea of sponging money off others for extended periods and calling it a travel experience doesn’t fit well with me. How do better the culture?

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