Begpacking has been around for decades.

Begpacking has been around for decades.

2017 has seen a lot of debate about the so-called begpackers. Many people seem to think that this is something new and only has to do with the young generation of today. But beg packing was also around when I was a teenager traveling the world 30 years ago.

How did the begpacking debate start?

Mostly the people begpacking are portrayed as young westerners who beg while they travel. Mostly in order to finance their further journey. But the debate in 2017 actually started when a Singaporean woman wrote a piece about it on France 24’s website. She posted photos of young people playing instruments and selling postcards in metro stations around Southeast Asia. And asking for financial support in exchange.

In the west, this is not really considered begging though. Buskers are all over the place if you walk around pedestrian shopping streets and metro stations in major western cities. And many people are happy to drop a coin in their hat and like street performers and street vendors. In many Asian countries though, this is seen as being degrading. And also seen as being arrogant. Because the young westerners doing it in Asia, mostly come from backgrounds that are a lot wealthier than the locals where they do it. But I think that it’s more about the young travelers not understanding what is socially acceptable in the countries they visit. They clearly do not see themselves as beggars.

You DO have a few people who travel the world to beg.

You do occasionally see western travelers begging though. Thailand in particular has a few of them these days. Some people don’t want to go home after they run out of money. And they try to finance their stay by begging, stealing from other backpackers in hostels. And sometimes by trafficking illegal items across borders.

But this has been around for decades.

When I was a young backpacker in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I spent a lot of time in Greece. Greece back then was the big backpacker destination. It was too expensive to fly to Thailand for most young people back then. Flight prices were much higher back in those days. But trains were cheap and hitch hiking was free and quite popular. So Greece became the place to hang out for weeks and months for young European backpackers. Mainly because it was sunny and cheap.

Because of the hundreds of young backpackers going there, we also had some in the community that ran out of money. And some resorted to outright begging in the streets. Greeks are traditionally generous to beggars. and the foreign beggars earned quite a lot of money by begging at metro stations and at the Monastiraki flea market in the centre of Athens. These beggars back then were mostly British, Scandinavians and German by the way.

Maybe I was begpacking too!

I was also a young backpacker with no money at times there. I was never begging though. But I was handing out flyers for backpacker hostels at the train station. I would also try to walk them all the way back to the hostel I worked for.  As I worked on commission. We called ourselves “Runners” by the way. We would get a bed in a dorm and a small commission for being a runner at an Athens hostel. The pay was miserable though. It was just enough to survive. And since we were working with no work permit, we would typically be paid on a daily basis and fired without notice. Either when the hostel owner was tired of us. Or when he owed us so much money that he thought firing us could save him some money. But we were young and carefree and we were mostly happy to live on two gyros and two Amstel beers a day. Life as a runner in an Athens hostel is something I look back at as a fun period in my life. Even if the pay and the work conditions were horrible.

But we were disliked by many Greeks. We were seen by the Greeks as weird outcasts who were wasting our life. Greeks back then had less money than today. Whenever I had a longer conversation back then with a Greek, they would always ask me the same questions. They could not grasp why young people from countries with wages that were 3-4-5 times higher than in Greece would go to Greece and live a life that was more poor than the average Greek.

Now we are down to some of the same things that the Singaporian woman was talking about. She was upset because young travelers are deciding to live like tramps in countries where this is seen as a disgrace if you can afford not living like a tramp.

I am not trying to judge or defend anyone with what I am writing here. Just trying to put things a little into perspective.

And also to try and tell my own generation that begpacking is not something new. When I read comments from my own generation in the beg packing debate of 2017, you would almost think that our generation only did what authorities told us. But we didn’t. And I am happy about that 🙂

Happy travels, all you wonderful wankers :-)

Happy travels, all you wonderful world travelers 🙂



  1. Well, I have been backpacking since early 80s, in Greece, Sri Lanka, Thailand and more. I never saw those begpackers than. In the 90s I met some and I always tried to put some distance between us. And I despise their way of exploiting the friendlyness of the locals.
    Thank you for your words to make me think about it again. I have already written about it in early 2016

  2. At least Greece is a developed country. People are infuriated because western people are begging in developing countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and even Cambodia and Laos, where there are probably a lot of poverty and most people haven’t even been on a plane before. It’s like rich people asking poor people for money to fund their luxuries.

  3. Debbie graham

    Just learned of this…busking etc is part of western/ European culture. To do that in countries we have invaded or exploited is wrong. Travelling for pleasure is a privilege, not a right. We should be bringing cash to those countries, not taking it!

  4. Pingback: What is 'begpacking' and why is it so bad? - Tourism Teacher

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