Begpacking: The Devolution Revolution Among Backpackers

Posted by - July 31, 2017 | Category: Library

If one can’t afford to travel, well then, one ought just as well stay put.

Or should one?

No money? No job? No prah-blemmmmmm. At least that’s the attitude of Bonnie and Clyde over here…

Begpacking begpackers in Bangkok Thailand Silom Road.jpeg

Just toss together a few snaps, a humble sign and a wholesome skirt, add a shocking amount of ignorance, and…voilà — instant occupation!

So how did life deteriorate into this bleak indigence? One can’t be certain what woeful chain of events reduced these two to panhandling street-side atop discarded cardboard, but one can certainly speculate.

And that’s a sandbox I’m all too happy to play in.

Are they being groomed? Is this a ring? Some sort of up-and-coming cult of which we should all be aware? Seducing backpackers into the dark arts of grovelling and mooching? Much like kidnap victims suffering through Stockholm Syndrome, are they perhaps under the spell of some nefarious commune/sect/cult leader and are being forced to panhandle for the greater good of their comrades? Because who of their own volition and free-will would be willing to out-beg actual beggars to fund their travels?.

That’s the confounding part.

Or perhaps it’s a natural byproduct of their one-true-forever-and-always-love? Let’s imagine the conversation that mutated into this modern-day, farang-manned lemonade stand:

Clyde: Oh babe, I love you so much, let me reduce my level to the street level so that I look up at your beauty level, but hey…you know what, while I’m down here — well I’ll be damned if this isn’t easy street to solving our cash-flow woes.

Bonnie: Well, it sure beats cutting.

Begpackers in Bangkok Thailand manonthelam 20170613_161811.jpg

So how did we get here?

Let’s backtrack a little. It all started with brokepackers. You see backpackers have their own little caste system down there for who’s who on the totem pole (or is that the totem trail?)

A brokepacker is the sort of backpacker who is at the end of their financial rope, but instead of heading back home to earn some 9-to-5 grind coin, they fill their days abroad free-camping and extreme budgeting — maybe even taking on some odd jobs at the hostel to squeeze a few extra nights out of the trip. They fall at the bottom of the totem pole.

Err, well, they used to.

The commotion at the moment surrounds a whole other class of backpacker. And no this isn’t the glampers or flashpackers that were so hot last season — the ones at the top of the totem. Nope. In true Trump-pioneering fashion, these are new-wave pilferers found foraging along the bottom: the begpackers.

Bonnie & Clyde here are classified as begpackers. And a begpacker is a traveller who resorts to begging or selling their wares streetside to make it to their next destination.

Your Price -- we travel around the world and around this beautiful country. Begpacker sign bangkok thailand -- 20170613_161811.jpg

Only the most ungrateful can misspell “thanks.”

Can we just talk about that sign for a moment?

“WE travel around the world so YOU don’t have to. We’ll spare you that indignity. We’re doing all the heavy lifting here folks — the touring about, the frolicking on beaches, the belly button shooters — our only humble ask is that you bankroll it.”

And guess what people, for contributing your hard earned baht to their cause, you get to TAKE PHOTO! As if allowing you to do so is to put their very lives in jeopardy, akin to revealing Bonnie is the real Mata Hari, or some such stunning intrigue.

Photos for sale by begpackers in Bangkok Thailand Silom Road

“How about a photo of Bonnie peeping coquettishly from a field of lilacs? Or perhaps one of her come-hithering amongst the twigs? Do we have any bidders for her shaking hands with a meerkat?”

Full disclosure: I’ve worked illegally in the past in a few countries. I was a gardener in Israel for 4 months solely because I was one of those aforementioned brokepackers, and I did not want to go home in the winter. And I worked for a hotel in Greece for one whole day.

Was I taking a job away from someone then? I doubt it. I was doing work that the local population didn’t want to do, or there was a demand that wasn’t being met. Begpacking on the other hand, well there’s hardly any demand for that, and there are plenty of disadvantaged souls already lining the streets of Bangkok trying to eke out a living begging or shilling their modest goods.

While sites like Investopedia classify Thailand as a second-world country, begpackers see it as an emerging market to shill their goods and services.

But wait,” you say, “they’re pouring that money back into the local economy!”

You’re hardly contributing to the local economy when you’re competing with it.

Withlocals Bangkok Thailand Tours.jpg

Photo courtesy of

On the other side of the spectrum, there’s a company called Withlocals in Bangkok, where residents can sign up to offer tours and other services to boost their income. Think of it as an Airbnb for local guides. I haven’t used them yet so this is not an endorsement, but I do like the cut of their About Page jib. Give it a read here — you’ll see what I mean. And isn’t empowering locals instead of undermining them a step in the right direction?

Withlocals in Bangkok Thailand.jpg

Photo courtesy of

I know many of you will call me out for begpacker-shaming, but if one can’t shame the shameful, then what exactly can one shame?

Thankfully, the Thai government appears to be cracking down on begpackers like our dear Bonnie and Clyde and their ilk.

In the end, we’ll all answer our maker, for that which we’ve done, and that which we’ve ached for. And I’m wagering begpacker-shaming is a smidge less reprehensible than actual begpacking. But in the current political landscape, nothing surprises me any longer. So let’s hear your thoughts. What do you think of begpackers?

Spare me your daggers folks, and I’ll spear you mine.

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17 comments - add one
  1. These people should be stoned to death.

    You are too kind emoji’ing their faces out. I feel like that Game of Thrones walk of shame should be the reward for this level of disrespect toward the country they are visiting, to other backpackers who saved up to travel, and toward themselves.

  2. Gotta say im with you on this one. Busking is one thing (still a grey area for me in SE Asia) but trying to sell shitty print outs of your own average photos that anyone could download off the internet. I mean its not even creative. Go mooch off some people in a country where the average person actually has an equal chance to travel and mooch as well.

  3. Such a great read and well put! I only recently learned that ‘begpacking’ was an actual thing, but when I witnessed it first hand (in Chiang Mai) I was taken aback. I even saw some buskers in Malaysia who were ‘busking’ yet they diminished their talent by exhibiting one of those sad signs. I suggested they ditch the sign and stick with an open guitar case or hat. They male of the couple duo wanted to ‘debate’ their cause. I later saw that they had acquired a proper gig playing music at a local cafe and without a ‘we are traveling around the world please give us money’ sign. Anyway thanks for posting this.

  4. WeLol said. If one wants to travel the world, they got to save for it. Or work for it like you did. I’m an African who’s quite travelled and we are always required to show adequate proof of funds, return flight and accommodation before you pass the immigration at your destination countries. I believe if we all did that you won’t have begpackers in the streets of Bangkok.

    Carolina |

  5. I enjoyed reading your perspective on this topic. I am not a big fan of panhandling backpackers either. I first noticed them in South America. They were mostly Argentine hippy kids. What really bothered me is that they were always selling jewelry that they had made in towns where locals are just trying to make ends meet doing the same exact thing. Sometimes people just straight up beg too. They don’t even sell anything. A local might only be able to sell one necklace or bracelet to a tourist a day in their hometown and so how must they feel when some foreign kid (that is basically on vacation) shows up and sets a blanket out on the sidewalk close by with some shit on it and tries to rob that local of that sale. It’s not right, and in my opinion, not the backpacker way. We should contribute when we travel, not take.

  6. Ummm…yeah Raymond, I am sure this goes over well with locals in countries that are making not super duper first world LOL. Just tough to feel for folks who grew up in wealthy nations, could afford to fly to these lands, then, decide to beg instead of starting a business or working a job or doing whatever to make dough.

    The lower energy part of me calls this despicable 😉 and the higher energy part of me has compassion that begpackers are so afraid to work that they actually ask for money, in countries where the locals would likely want to smack them up side the head….if not in a face saving culture. Based on that foreign writing, looks like a face-saving country to me 😉

  7. I’ve seen a few people like this, though not with the sign. It seems a bit pathetic and irresponsible. Begging to fund travel, especially in countries where there is extreme poverty, shows disrespect to the local community. In many such countries it isn’t that difficult to find a quick job and earn some money. More importantly, people need to ensure they have enough money to get home in case of emergencies.

  8. So glad to see you took this… this abomination on.

    “Because who of their own volition and free-will would be willing to out-beg actual beggars to fund their travels?.”

    Indeed, one can only wonder. It takes an especially bitter flavor of “pathetic” to…

    No wait! “Pathetic” is too nice of a term for such gross insult to… a despicable MOCKERY of every blessed local soul that really DOES need a few baht to feed themselves and their families.

    “if one can’t shame the shameful, then what exactly can one shame?”

    One can, and one jolly-well should. Thanks for that, Raymond.

  9. How one can stoop so low without feeling any sense of shame is beyond comprehension! Shame away these self-entitled pricks by all means. They are not kids anymore, yet clearly act like they are as they want others to pay for their luxuries like Mommy and Daddy did. Time for them to grow up!

    The Digital Age has made it so much easier and convenient for long-term backpackers to find legal and meaningful ways to make money on the road. There is absolutely no excuse for this. None!


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