Handouts In Developed Nations: Advice For The Responsible Traveler

June 8,2016

Traveling from an industrialized country to a location where markers of systemic poverty might be more prevalent, we often feel moved by sympathy and a desire to make an altruistic gesture. Conventional wisdom and responsible travel experts, however, advise that when traveling in developing countries, giving handouts like money, toys or food can perpetuate a cycle of begging and can be harmful to vulnerable communities. But what about traveling in developed countries?

If you happen to live in a major city, you may be accustomed to encountering panhandlers on a daily basis, and you may have heard a variety of advice on what to do:

Give money if you want, but only a little.

Give a gift card instead of cash.

Give food and/or bottled water, but never cash.

Offer to buy someone a meal.

Politely decline.

Keep walking and do not engage.

What’s important to keep in mind is that charitable impulses are not inherently wrong. Issues arise, though, when charitable impulses are misguided, often because of a lack of nuanced understanding of systemic poverty and its related social issues, like homelessness and panhandling.