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I’m a Southeast Asian Traveler, Neither Rich Nor a Begpacker

SA PA, VIETNAM | Yes, I’m Jona, a Southeast Asian traveler, neither rich nor a begpacker. These are my honest thoughts on the recent “white Begpackers in Southeast Asia” phenomenon. 


That the native does not like the tourist is not hard to explain. For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives—most natives in the world—cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives; and they are too poor to live properly in the place they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go—so when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.

                                                                                                                     ―Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place


It ceases to surprise me that I am the only Asian on the bus ride the hotel manager persuaded us to book: all for the sake of comfort and Tobias’ abnormally long legs.

We are on the way to Ha Long Bay. We were reluctant to leave Ninh Binh, a place where I ran out of synonyms for various shades of greens.

Some days ago, Tobias and I had a passing conversation on basking in the place’s beauty and the guilt that often tails it.

We were by the road, looking at a woman attending to a grazing carabao. The woman wore a non la and a yellow long-sleeve shirt and pants. Not far from her was another woman in a similar outfit, uprooting some weeds from the field. A mama carabao and her baby grazed on the cleared field nearby. Behind them was a row of houses painted in yellow, blue, and orange, almost leaning on the towering limestones. The afternoon light cast another layer of magic of what’s already beautiful to my eyes.

The serenity of the scene awed me. Then the necessary question arrived. How do locals feel about us outsiders and about their lives?

Guilt started to creep in.

Farming is not foreign to me. I was a farmer’s daughter.

Come planting season, my siblings and I bore uniform holes in uniform length, dropped the seeds, covered the opening with loose earth. We repeated this whole activity like a GIF till the whole field was planted. For the kid Jona who only wanted to watch TV in the neighbors’ place, the ordeal was unjustifiable, but not for our father who often quipped, “If you’re fine with not eating, then don’t help.” Those who are not born to a poor family would surely scream, that’s child labor! But no, dear, it is called “how to feed the family, the poor way.”

I know, for sure, you’ve seen kids in Southeast Asia laboring around, helping their parents in the field, selling bottled water on the street, selling souvenirs, or some resorted to begging, not because they want to, but they have to.

So just imagine, some tourists saw the young me and my young siblings, found our whole setup beautiful, and took a photo of us?

Poverty is not some distant continent like Europe that I haven’t set foot on to. Rather it is a country familiar to me and my family. The cycle of poverty is rather a common story in Southeast Asia.

We managed to crawl out of it when we became adults. Among my siblings, I took the shakiest route to adulthood or old maidenhood.

I left the Philippines last December with USD3700 in my bank account, USD1000 Paypal fund, and some modest passive income here and there. Tobias, my boyfriend and travel partner for the past two years, is on a one-year sabbatical leave. He gets two-thirds of his monthly salary, so funding his trip was never an issue for him.

I could not dedicate all my waking hours to traveling, I had to hustle some jobs online on top of working on my personal writing projects so I could afford this extravagant lifestyle. (By extravagant, I mean, spending at least USD15-20 a day).

He is Austrian. I am Filipino. He got 156 visa-free country. My passport got 61 visa-free country. Germany got the highest rank, 176. That’s why “they’re everywhere,” said a German doctor we met in Lae, Papua New Guinea. Afghanistan got 24. The strength of our passport sadly determines our identity when we face an immigration officer.

We were in Hanoi when I read the news on white begpackers in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Malaysia. An hour or so before the news flooded my FB (well, I’m a member of many travel groups!), I told Tobias if I would be able to sell something if I do the same: find a space in the busy park by Hoàn Kiếm Lake, set up my postcard store, and of course, the most important of all, prod the handwritten signpost beside me, saying, Hi, I’m Jona, I’m from the Philippines. I’m selling postcards to travel the world. Buy now and help me fulfill my dreams!

It was a busy weekend in the park surrounding Hoàn Kiếm Lake. I spotted at least three white foreigners selling postcards (had to insert the white adjective there, because I am a foreigner too) and hand-painted photographs with the signpost beside them.

It never crossed my mind to sell postcards on a busy city street to fund my travel. I found it very problematic, especially here in Southeast Asia.

You see, for us, Filipinos, when we travel abroad, there is a lot of paper works involved, especially if it is your first time to travel.

Two years ago, I decided to skewer and cram five ASEAN countries in five weeks for my first trip. I was not able to get an Authority to Travel document (some bureaucracy public officials had to go through; I was a public university teacher), so I wore my freelance writer hat.

Paranoid, I asked my bank to provide me a bank certificate (even though it is not really needed if a Filipino is only traveling the ASEAN), disclosed my income sources, printed my itinerary, made dummy hotel bookings, and printed my return ticket back to the Philippines. You see, the Filipinos are not permitted to go abroad unless it is clear that you have a return ticket and you can fund your trip. My paranoia made my time in the immigration office short but still nerve-wrecking. {Wrote about it. Discussed the so-called Asian toilet too.)

Kristina, an Indonesian, commented on the post I shared on BWAB, that she found these “begpackers ridiculous. I know that NOT all tourists are rich but we as Indonesian (I don’t know about your country) have to own at least $5000 to get visa to Western countries approved. To prove that we are not gonna seek for any job and to make sure that we can fund our trips. Then why are these people begging for money while we take times to save money for traveling. Be responsible when you travel!”

In a separate discussion, Dan Arrojado said, “Isn’t it just insane that they can just soulsearch their way through Asia and we have to jump through hoops to even set foot in the West?”

When I applied for my tourist visa for Australia, I had to go through 19 pages of tourist visa application online, scanned all the stamps found in my passport, scanned three months of my monthly pay slip, two months of credit card statements, a bank statement, income tax return, my VULs.

Despite seeing traveling as a personal choice, for a Filipino traveler like me, traveling remains a privilege.

A typical working Filipino earns Php454.00 [8USD] a day. A lot of my countrymen lived below poverty line. [I sound like my nagging mother who kept saying the same thing every morning.]

I know traveling is a privilege, that’s why it never crossed my mind to sit by the busy city street and sell my terribly taken photos and expect locals to buy them. And I know too that I would not rouse enough curiosity among the locals who, by first glance, had similar features as I do. [What are the realities of an ordinary developing country citizen? Read. To educate yourself.]

Race is another factor. (You know I would pull the race card, don’t you?)

Over coffee at Café 76 in Hanoi, I told Tobias, if we conduct a social experiment by Hoàn Kiếm Lake, he with his signpost and me with mine, who do you think would earn more?


Now, the strength of one’s passport is one of the reasons white travelers despite the lack of money to completely fund their trip managed their way abroad. Most of them do not have to show bank certificates and return tickets. Their passport and their whiteness are enough proof that they can be trusted and they can afford their trip here in Southeast Asia.

Tired of the capitalistic and materialistic world, some backpackers left their homecountry denouncing the capitalistic world to death, yet they expect other people to fund their trip. Modern traveling, ironically, is very capitalistic by nature.

Some of them are the proponents of “everyone can travel” dictum. I just find it ironic when travelers from countries with strong passport say this. They’ve been to some poor regions of the world like Southeast Asia (their favorite destination because of high conversion, and everything is “cheap”), and they should know by then that not everyone can leave everything behind to travel the world.

That is, if they actually give everything a second or a third look and not just simply hang out, party, and get drunk with fellow white travelers.

“I wish we do what Brazil does: require visas from countries who require visas and allow visa-free tourists if their country of origin doesn’t require Brazilians visas to enter,” shared Nikki Alcantara.

Yes, I hope Southeast Asian countries will go for “an eye for an eye.”


Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona, originally from Cebu, Philippines, had live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and now currently based in Munich, Germany. This blog used to house thoughts on life and books, but eventually it morphed into a travel blog. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

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  1. Shelbe says:

    I am a bottled up thunder and I’m sick of having holdijg my travel stories and experiences likewise, excluding the reality shock when I left my tiny Caribbean island for the “bigger slices”, as a writer myself – I’d like to be part of this!!!

  2. Anne-Di says:

    WORD. I couldn’t agree more. For people who involved themselves in “begpacking” do this to accomplish a very privileged and first world activity while locals who beg do this for survival. BIG DIFFERENCE.
    I just can’t get my head with this thing because like you’ve said, we have to fill up an application form, submit many certificates, and must have a healthy bank account to prove that we are capable of travelling while they just come and go without such hassle. This visa thing, it’s just a form of neocolonialism for me. People from the north or developed countries can freely come down to the south or developing countries partying, soul-searching, and taking pictures why those of us who come from the south will have to undergo so many process.

  3. Ashley says:

    I love that you give an explanation as to why you don’t like the “begpacker” thing beyond the “other people shouldn’t fund your travels” argument. While I agree with both sentiments, yours at least has some backbone. I’m also a fan that you don’t mention buskers. I personally don’t feel it’s the same thing as begging with a street sign. I love when people (locals or tourist, or even better locals & tourists jamming together) perform and if people decide to give them some change, so be it. But as an idea to fund your travels is ridiculous. I also love the whole eye-for-an-eye idea with the visas! While that would probably be a negative thing for me (I have a Canadian passport) it’s only fair.

    Great post!

  4. J-Crew says:

    Hi! Your perspective on this issue is refreshing especially among the seemingly Western travel bloggers. I’m always reminded how different life was for many people especially Southeast Asians even 20-25 years ago, so perspective is lost on many travelers. By the way, were you in Thailand for the Thai New year called Songkran? We enjoyed the water festival among locals in Bangkok … Here is our link of the Thai New Year video: However, many people asked why I did not celebrate in the “Backpacker” area that is mostly non-local ….. This is what makes me angry about travelers!? Why travel if you don’t want to even mingle with real locals. Anyway, keep writing!

  5. Nick Morris says:

    My assumption is that these “begpackers” are trying to get donations from other travelers who they can relate to, not from locals. Also, i doubt their presence will affect the donations that a local beggar would get.

    With those assumptions in mind, what is the argument against these people? Sounds like its along the lines of “local people are miserable so tourists arent allowed to be happy, or that their level of happiness should be constrained.” I dont think thats a fair argument.

    The only other thing you could say is that its disrespectful… which i understand is possible because its completely subjective but i struggle to think of a legitimate reason that a local would feel disrespected.

    • Hi there, Nick.

      Have you read the post at all? I don’t think their target market is their fellow travelers. Travelers by far are outnumbered by locals. I’m not against street performance or vending, by the way. I’ve seen a really good one in Australia (a guy in a high monocycle, blindfolded while juggling three torches.) His is a legit performance, and he got a pretty decent donations. For postcards of really terribly taken shots, you must be kidding someone.

      The whole point is, a traveler, regardless of race, should be responsible of himself/herself financially as to not reach the point where one has to come up with lousy techniques like selling bad photos on the street and expect people to support their goal of traveling the world. And again, if you can’t wrap your head around this idea, please contemplate on the Jamaica Kincaid epigraph. Her words are more than enough to see the world from a non-privileged POV. I actually find it funny, you know, because traveling is supposed to expand every traveler’s perspective, not shrink.

      And by the way, local people in SEA are not miserable. We have our own branding of happiness that doesn’t require partying every night.

      • bart says:

        Travelers should be responsible for themselves? Why? Because you say so? Do you resent those white kids? Why? I’m not one of these kids, but I don’t resent them. Eh, Jesus was a beggar. It has it’s place in this world, and who cares what package it comes in or why. I would bet you are quite bitter about your background and your own struggles. To me, this is just another kind of racism, albeit insidious. To me, it sounds a lot like envy. Why talk about passports and rights of travel and throw that in with “white begpackers”? Sneaky and ugly article if you ask me.

        • Hi there, Bart.

          Travelers should be responsible for themselves because that’s the ethical thing to do. Do I resent white people? No, I’m dating an awesome white guy, by the way. I resent self-entitled travelers regardless of race and religion. Am I bitter? Nope? I am not. I’m more than satisfied with my life right now: to be able to do what I want to do in my life. Am I solely referring to my struggle in the article? Really? You might want to give it a second read, we called it close-reading. Really, this is another form of racism? Really? Putting a non-white privilege point of view on traveling and geopolitics is racism? Huh!

          • bart says:

            You might be able to drum up some business and get some people to follow you who have the same whining complaints with this kind of manipulative talk but eventually you will have to face up to the lies you tell yourself. At the end of the day, you do resent these people or you wouldn’t feel the need to even write about them. Just because someone is “living the life they want” doesn’t change the fact that one is bitter and wish they had it as easy as someone else had or still has. Maybe your article does NOT belong on the facebook page Nomads, MONEYLESS travel, huh?

          • Yeah, accessing the Internet and leaving a comment on this little blog requires no money.

            Enjoy your life, Bart, as I enjoy mine (responsibly.) 😉

            And yeah, this kind of writing doesn’t earn money. Too political for a blog. 😉 Going back to the instagrammable life of a traveler in a bit. 😉

          • Leonie says:

            I read your article and I think it’s wrong to make the white backpacker responsible for the unfairness in this world. I am traveling in Europe and whole Asia since one and a half years and I can see the unfairness and inequality between the western and the eastern world. And many people in the western world ignore this problem or do not even know or realise it. But what do you expect of the white backpacker? Should they not use the privilege and stay at home? I think most of the backpackers are aware of the inequality and they would be last to support this inequality! And in my opinion selling postcards, busking etc. is not begging, it is work and they don’t force anybody to give money. By the way, if I would use a daily budget of 15-20$ as you do, I could not travel for a long time either. I spend around 4$ a day. Solely because one is a white traveler, it doesn’t mean that one has a lot of money.

          • Hi there, Leonie. Did I say that all white backpackers act this way? I refrain from generalizing. Did I say they should stay home and mop for being white and privileged? All I ask implicitly is for all of us travelers to act accordingly.

            And by the way, I’m traveling long-term and yes, spend 15-20$ a day. I am able to do so, coz I save up for two years before I travel abroad and work online while traveling. I know too that not all white travelers have a lot of money. 😉

  6. Teja says:

    “Those who are not born to a poor family would surely scream, that’s child labor! But no, dear, it is called “how to feed the family, the poor way.” ”


  7. Kristine Li says:

    Your writing and sentiments are very mind-provoking, I really enjoyed this read and am glad to have come across your post from FTB! Indeed travelling remains a privilege and its difficulties for many in other countries will be something not everyone will experience. I’m from Singapore and it’s not difficult for me to travel too, so thank you for this humbling post!

  8. Alina says:

    It has been a big debate in my own country, after one lady announced that everyone should donate one lunch money so she can travel to Antarctica and “see the penguins”. Just because she wants to. She is not a biologist and is an educated, white, able to work woman. She did get the money though, in just a few short days.

  9. Fascinating. I love to be educated on things that I couldn’t possibly know about. I have a USA passport. My grandparents are from Mexico though. I have told many people that I wish I had Mexican citizenship to which they replied, what for? USA passport can get you ANYWHERE. There is privilege attached to it unfortunately. So many things we could discuss on this topic. I like Brasil’s policy. I hate the US’s policy. I had no Idea how difficult it was for some asian country passport holders to travel. (I also think that some places are overlooked and are much more worth visiting than capital cities in Europe and the West) I think we should keep these discussions going. We do hold different privileges though. You hold the privilege in parts of Asia of fitting in. I would stand out as foreign and might get charged more because they absolutely think I have money. Happened in Morocco. I got charged more for things left and right, but I wasn’t dressed like a dream. I was always walking around dressed simply (though I had a DSLR camera) and they pegged me with deep pockets. haven’t been to anywhere but Japan (so far in Asia) and it was while I was a university student so I had to pay for a visa and such, and it was 9 years ago. Can’t wait to take a big trip there later this year, mainly because I want to learn and be educated by the experiences in these knew places. Will do the proper research before hand and will definitely travel in the simpler and more conscious way.

  10. Lana says:

    I have recently started approaching the so-called “responsible travel”, which means traveling and being considerate. As a white European and let’s say, “Westerner”, I admit having very little idea about struggles of people from different countries and cultures, but I learned a lot from the story of the refugee-migrant crisis of 2015. Unfortunately, not many people learned anything about the real issues. Definitely, white people are seen differently than non-whites. There is another interesting thing to point out – life on the West is expensive – salaries might sound very high, but what people have to pay for their infrastructures and life conditions is ridiculous (in taxes and other expenses), and also, we don’t have much time, most of us are not “rich” for the place we live in. Therefore, it’s also somehow brave and challenging to be a Westerner who travels – again, particularly a Western woman who travels. I think we should, as women from different countries, cultures, and sides of the world, be more understanding to each other, and maybe we create more positivity in this world. Stay strong and brave, you awesome lady!

  11. Witek says:

    Dear Jona,

    I think you are unfair in your writing and comments about people travelling around the world. You assume that all Europeans are privileged people with good passports which proves that you are ignorant. Not everybody in Europe comes from Germany, France, United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway or Switzerland. You say you have to go through paperwork and prove your financial situation? , well I come from Poland which is also an European country and I also have to go through all paperwork. I need to prove my financial situation when I travel to China, I have to apply for a Visa to United States (unlike Western Europeans). Please remember that not all Europeans are super rich people from highly advanced nations. Do you realize what is the average salary in Poland? Around 400 dollars, in Ukraine it’s 100-200 dollars. Try to compare it to Western Europe where people earn that much in one week or a few days. I actually had to go to United Kingdom and work there for many months to save enough money to travel anywhere as I would not be able to do so working in my own country. Second thing, you mention about poor people from poor Asian countries. That is also not true and proves once again that you are ignorant who makes generalized comments and assumptions. Have you ever been to Europe? By Europe I don’t mean London, Berlin or Stockholm, I mean some rural parts of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, I mean small towns in Serbia, Macedonia, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, I mean countries like Romania, Bulgaria or Montenegro for instance. There are people there who also live under poverty line, there are people there who are unemployed and become illegal migrants in different parts of the world. I went to countries like Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, and also Pakistan or India. You know what? You are right, there are many poor people, in fact one of the poorest people on earth but it’s just common image, a false assumption that all people in those countries are in fact poor. I met people in Pakistan who earned more money that my entire family in Poland, do you realise that? In Thailand there are people who have more money than actually some Europeans. Try to imagine young students from Europe who travel around the world. You think they are rich, priviliged people? Not. Sometimes during their travels they meet people in those “poor Asian countries” who have a lot more money than they have. You think Europe is some kind of paradise? Please come to my country and you will see how many young people struggle with finding good jobs and they are forced to migrate to “priviliged” countries like United Kingdom, France or Germany. Do you actually understand that I felt like a loser, like poor guy when I went to Oman and met people who could afford new cars and houses? I met travelers who go anywhere they want to, I can’t. I have to make choices because I don’t have that much money as French or German people have. Try to understand and stop thinking we are all the same. How would you feel if I was to say “all Asians are the same, Laos, China, Japan or Korea, does not matter”. There are different countries in Europe and different social, financial and economic situation, even amongst people in France or Germany, there are also poor people there. When I was a student in Poland I could only find a job for 200-300 dollars per month, there are some people in Asia who earn that much in one week. People in Asia run hotels, bars, they live from tourism and they make small fortunes. Do you think that all people in Asia are poor and all Europeans are rich? This is false image, extremally false image that does not reflect the reality. I wish I could stay in China and work as engineer there, you know? Because actually I can earn more money doing this job in China than Poland, don’t believe me? Last thing. What is wrong with selling things on streets? Nobody forces anyone to buy anything from young backpackers, nobody. If anyone buys something from them then it means that that person has enough money to do so, “poor Asians” would never do such thing. So what is the problem? I am sure there are people in Asia who have more money that this backpacking guy selling something on streets. If they want to buy something from him/her, then why not? Does it cause any damage to you? Nope. You have not seen the reality, you think according to well known assumptions and stereotypes of Asian and European people, that is wrong. Asia and Europe are diverse continents. Thinking that “Asia poor’ and “Europe rich” is childish and not even worth discussion.

    Eye-for-an-eye policy? What a stupid thing to say. Ok, c’mon do it! Of course you fail to understand that imposing strict Visa policy would put tourists off and ruin economies of countries that depend on tourism like Cambodia, Laos, Philippine ect. Of course you fail to understand that. If you are unhappy about the way things are then say that to you government that fails to make any advancements in your economy. Do you know why you need Visa to Europe? Because many Asian people go there to work illegally, most people from Europe go to Asia for holidays. See the difference? Eye for an eye policy would only make things worse for economies of Asian countries. Stupid ignorant person…you are immature, ignorant and racist. Sorry to admit that. It’s always like that! There are places on this planer where you can go free without any Visa if you have certain Asian or African passprots, don’t you know that?

    When Europeans say things about Asian then it’s called racism, when Asians say stuff about Europeans and Whites it’s called “their right”. Shame on you.

    Also, you don’t seem to understand the concept of capitalism. Educate yourself. Asking others to fund yout trip is more about “socialism”, don’t you think so? Capitalism require you to earn your own money. Young people beggins others for money is not “capitalistic” at all. I don’t understand your thinking. It’s in socialism that people depend on others. Do your math. Traveling is not a priviliged. What are you talking about? Do you ask very single person why they travel? How they travel? What sort of choices they had to make? How do they fund their trips? I don’t have any savings or help from my parents. I don’t have job waiting for me when I get back. I don’t even have my own flat. Am I priviliged white person? When I get back home I only have 200 dollars left and vision of probably going abroad to look for a job… you know that I have to fake my bank account and pretend I have more money to get Visa to some countries? Does it ever occur to you can be ignorant and racist? Did you go to US? Well, I did not, I am not that priviliged. I can get rejected when I apply for a Visa to US. No more comments. What is wrong with asking people for help? I have no hesitation to ask for help in Kazahstan or China. Why should I ? It’s not only about money, we are all equal humans and want to help each other. Is hitchhiking also bad because I am from Europe and I can theoretically afford bus or train tickets? And my driver in Kazakhstan is probably less privileged than I am? Nope because it does not matter how much money we both have, our financial situation is out of question at that moment because at that precised moment we are two equal humans who just happen to be together. Why do you always have to put money into everything? I would help privileged Swedish people in my poor country knowing that they earn 10 times more than I do. You know why? Because I don’t care if somebody’s got more money than I have. I just want to be nice to others. That’s why I am not ashamed to hitchhike or accept food from someone. Maybe by doing that, people feel equal, they don’t feel “poor or worse”. Think about it. In Pakistan I got free Coke from a street seller who could as well sell it to me. He gave it to me altough I can afford a can of coke. He gave it to me anyway because for him it was about being nice to guests in his country, about pride and equality between us. It’s not that we have to be “customers” and “sellers”. We can be humans, not matter what is the difference between us.

  12. Mark says:

    I think everybody should do whatever they feel like, as long as they don’t harm others in the process. If a person decides to beg, they should be free to do so for whatever reason, and everybody is free to decide for themselves if they give this beggar money or not. All the money that the beggar gets is given by free choice and made both giver and receiver feel good. The beggar has deserved every penny he gets, he has not forced anyone to give it up.

    Live and let live; if you don’t like a specific person begging on the streets, then don’t give him money, and let others decide for themselves what they should think of it.

  13. Witek says:

    And one more thing. You talk about being “privileged” people. Well, I guess you don’t seem to understand that it’s easier for you to stay in US, Australia or Canada than for me. Yes! I can’t claim asylum there, I can’t go there ans just stay. I have to stay in my country and keep earning 300-500 dollars, you can just go there and claim asylum, just like many people from Asia of Africa. If I want to get job in Australia I need to prove I have special skills. Poor asylum seekers from Africa or Asia don’t have to. Yes, talk about “being privileged”.

  14. Vasyl91 says:

    I hope you don’t talk about white people here as it’s racist. There are also BLACK and ASIAN Americans, Asian citizens of Australia, Japanese and Koreans, people from Argentina or Chile or Uruguay, advanced countries and economies. They are not white. I wonder how would people react if they see Korean or Black American selling postcards in Laos. Would you say the same thing? I don’t think so, you are only prejudiced against white people.

  15. Lauren says:

    As a white South African traveller, I can totally relate. My passport strength is 90 countries will all of Europe, North America and Australia closed off to me unless I fork out a couple of thousands for a visa and slaughter a forest of trees. At the moment, I am only travelling to countries that are visa-free because I hate the paperwork and the hoops other countries make me jump through just because of my country of origin.

  16. Adriana says:

    Hey Jona, I just want to tell you my story as a ‘white westerner’ traveling and now living in Malaysia. I’m a freelancer and I have my own business, I’m from Romania, ex communist east european country. I started traveling 10 years ago when I was 27. That was when Romania was accepted as a member of the European Union. Until then it was very difficult to get a passport, not to mention applying for visa. While now Romanians can easily get a passport and even travel around Europe only with our national identity card, it is so humiliating to get through all the steps of obtaining a US and Australian visa. On the other hand I have to tell you that Southeast Asia is not cheap for ‘white people’. Prices are sometimes ten times higher just because locals sees us as walking wallets. The fact is that most of the tourists work a whole year just to afford a two weeks vacation on a tropical island. And another thing I want to share with you and your readers is that I, as you, come from a poor family. You would probably say that a poor family in SE Asia is not the same with a poor family in Europe. I dare you to think about it. In the end it resumes to what you said: work if you want to eat. And another thing and I’m done. When I was 18 years old, Indonesian Ambassy organized an event in my town. I went to the event eager to exercise my English and in the end they handed me a small map of Indonesia. I looked at the map for a few minutes, then handed it back. They insisted to keep it, but I didn’t. I said: ‘there’s no way for me to get to Indonesia in my life time’ and left thinking ‘If my parents never steped outside the country, it will also be impossible for me to do it.’ Just wanted to put things into a better perspective here. Hugs!

    • Hi there, Adriana. I do know the struggles of Eastern Europe, and I do understand the struggles of a white person traveling in SEA. I’ve been traveling with my Austrian boyfriend for the past two years, and yes, it is very frustrating for locals to see him as a walking bank and for everyone to assume he’s paying for my trips. But the point I’m making is beyond our respective personal struggles. I’m talking about global standards here. Eastern Europe is indeed poor, but SEA is surely poorer. I acknowledge your struggles, and all I ask is for the struggles of SEAns to be heard. Hence, this blog.

  17. Carla says:

    I partly agree with what you have said on your post and I think it’s great; however, I disagree on your views about the tourists selling postscards to fund their travel . I think it is a personal endeavour and shouldn’t be frowned upon . In a capsule, “to each, his own”. Besides if the pics are magnificent , why not? To live in a better world, we need to understand why ppl do such things instead of being righteous and judgemental.
    But I like what you said about the visa-free countries. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” so to speak.

    Cheers! ?

  18. Yes, you’ve totally hit the nail on the head with this. The most infuriating thing about the “begpackers” is not their race, it’s the fact that it’s so easy for them to go from their country of privilege to a country with less privilege (often one that’s been colonized or terrorized by Western powers at one point, I should add!) — despite not having the financial means to afford it and living off of others. While there’s nothing wrong with privilege per se, there is something seriously wrong with being this ignorant of it. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  19. Robert T Jensen says:

    So, what? You swallowed a few textbooks about Marxism and how white people are oppressors and now you’re qualified to take shots at people for being white? It’s not all roses being white

  20. Booi says:

    Thank you for writing about this! I am Malaysian and just finished a (fully self-funded after working a steady job for a few years) 9 months trip in South America. I met too many self-entitled tourists from Europe and North America who would echo the tone-deaf defensive replies here . OF course race has something to do with it. We live in a world that suffered from western colonisation for hundreds of years and just recently ended. Stop saying race has nothing to do with it and learn some history while you travel.

  21. Phoebe says:

    I think I’ve come to this post a bit late in the game but really enjoyed reading it! I’ve even seen backpackers begging for money with signs saying ‘Please give me money to fund my backpacking trip around South America’!?!?!?!

  22. […] A pessimist of my own choices and life, I calculated so many risks: visa, race, money, oh money. I have so many issues with money. Just flow with the world and don’t care about it. Shut up. We live in a capitalist world ever […]

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