This is written in response to the recent Telegraph article titled ''Gap yah' backpackers begging for money should be ashamed of themselves'. I take a light-hearted view on this topic as opposed to the view that young travellers should be shamed simply because they are in need of some money. However, what is possibly the more important point to consider is the welfare of backpackers and why begging for money might not be the safest idea.
To give some context to the phrase 'Gap Yah', you need to watch VMProductions' 2010 'Gap Yah' YouTube video in which a stereotypical rich and privileged young man chats on the phone about his gap year experience - the stereotypical gap year student is represented.
Following this stereotype, a gap year backpacker comes from an upper-class background, their parents likely paid for their entire trip so that they could have a 'culturally immersive' experience and they probably have a name like Pandora or Charles, but times have changed.
The article speaks a lot about white privilege and entitlement but in my opinion, the 'rise of begpackers' simply highlights the fact that this view of the gap year student is not applicable to all young travellers. There are more opportunities than ever for people of all social classes to go travelling - cheap flights, deals and projects give people more access than ever. It's certainly a fantastic opportunity for anyone who has the chance to embark on a travelling experience. A word of advice for any travellers: cheap deals are certainly appealing but you always need to ensure you are well informed about wherever you are going! The best place to find out about specific countries and their laws, customs and situation is to go onto the Foreign and Commonwealth website.
The rise of 'begpackers' is something which has started to be picked up around countries, particularly in Asia. The issue arises when backpackers begin to beg in some of the poorest countries in the world - it becomes much easier to understand the problem with young travellers begging for money on the streets to get to their next destination, whilst sat next to someone who hasn't had a meal in a week. Begging for money on streets abroad can be dangerous as well - not all countries and places have strict and available law enforcement around and so it can put you in an extremely vulnerable situation (especially in places you don't know well). If you ever choose to beg or busk on the streets, ensure you are in busy places with lots of people around and don't ever do it by yourself. If you are really in a desperate situation, then contact the closest embassy or call the international emergency number 112.
Numerous generalisations are made in the article, including the assumption that the only reason backpackers run out of money is because they've spent it on drinking in bars. There can be countless reasons why someone may run into financial difficulties abroad, some can be out of that person's control e.g. theft, loss of possessions, unexpected charges. Choosing to beg on the street for money can be a call for help - it is wrong to make assumptions about the reasons for someone's situation.
The article mentions Thailand as one of the poor countries which has seen the likes of 'begpackers' on the streets. Thailand became an upper-middle economy in 2011 so therefore it would be wrong to label it a 'poor' country - in fact, the locals would likely be offended if you were to describe their country in this way. Of course there is poverty throughout Thailand but, according to the World Bank, in the past 30 years, poverty has declined substantially by almost 60%.
So, what's the best advice for future backpackers? Any British backpackers who run into serious financial difficulties or issues abroad should contact their local British embassy. There, they will be able to get advice and helpful information such as dealing with lost passports or putting them in contact with relatives and friends in the UK if they've lost their phone or money etc. Although the embassy will not be able to give them money, they can point them in the right direction for help.
Begging for money or busking on the streets abroad isn't a situation you should plan to put yourself in. Wherever possible, it should be avoided - it can be dangerous, it can potentially cause offence, and it puts you in a vulnerable position. Something many Brits every year forget is travel insurance! You don't want to find yourself in a situation where you have to fork out thousands of pounds to pay for a simple medical treatment because you forgot to get your insurance. It's cheap, and takes only a few minutes to buy - it's definitely worth your while! Plan your travels as much as possible, be informed and, most importantly, budget! Running out of money is the last thing you want on your travels so try and avoid it. Break the stereotype - backpacking is for anyone, not just the stereotypical gap yah student! Save up, do your research, and make your travel experience worthwhile!