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Last Updated: April 2008

Dealing With Begging While Traveling or Trekking

Scruffy kids at Milarepa's Cave near Nyalam in Tibet

Scruffy Kids At Milarepa's Cave Near Nyalam In Tibet

Charlotte Ryan and Peter Ryan pose with two Hindu Sadhus in Kathmandu Durbar Square

Charlolte and Peter Pose With Two Hindu Sadhus In Kathmandu Durbar Square

As I walk though villages, I smile and wave at the kids. Quite often, the response is, 'pen, pen'. I wonder if they teach Tourism 101 in primary schools in third world countries.

Teacher: "Now class today we learn about western society guilt. If you ask them for chocolate, they will think they are harming your teeth. But if you ask for a pen, say after me class, 'Hello, pen, pen'".

Class: "Hello, pen, pen".

Teacher: "They will feel guilty that they have so much and you need a pen to go to school. It'll work almost every time. Except for tourists who have no guilt. We'll deal with them tomorrow."

The next day. Teacher: "If they won't give you a pen, try looking cute, but dirty. Tourists love cute dirty children. When they take out their camera, ask for one rupee for photo, say after me class, 'photo, one rupee'".

Class: "Photo, one rupee".

Teacher: "If they won't take your photo, just simply ask for money, say after me class, 'one rupee'.

Class: "One rupee".

Teacher: "One rupee is so little money, most tourists will give it. If they don't, you can do what you want because they're not going to give you anything".

Questions you should ask yourself

  • Will what I'm doing improve this person's life, or degrade it?
  • Will it promote greed and dependency, or foster some small degree of autonomy?
  • How will fellow travelers, tomorrow and a decade from now, be affected by my actions?

A few tips

  • It's probably better to give school supplies to the local village teacher, than directly to the kids.
  • If you plan on giving gifts to children, it's probably better to give them to the parent or older sibling than the kid.
  • When I have time to stop, I find that once they've asked you for the pen, photo, rupee and chocolate, they become kids again. They just play around, and you can talk to them, show them books, and play with them. I sometimes bring beanie babies with me, and the kids love playing with them.
  • I also recommend giving each person the same thing or amount of money. I gave one sadhu in Kathmandu 300 rupees, and another 200 rupees. Later the second sadhu asked me why I gave him less.
  • Be careful if you give a lot to one person, they may have friends who'll show up out of nowhere.