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7 takeaways from summering in China

7 takeaways from summering in China

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I’ll admit that whenever I thought of China—before going on this trip—my mind conjured images of chaotic crowds, dull gray looking cities, polluted air and rude locals. This conception is what I presume many others hold about the country, but I couldn't have been more off. My holiday in China proved to be a pleasant surprise as the negative expectations I had—fueled by comments from friends who previously traveled there told me—never materialized.

Shocking to some, my favorite part about China was its people. They were warm, inviting, helpful, and friendly. Whenever we approached a local who didn’t speak English, we’d receive a smile and an amused look. In all honesty, the real reason for traveling to the often stereotyped country was to experience the beauty contained in its rural areas. And that we did.

Now, my trip was far from perfect. There were highs, lows, and in-betweens, but that’s what makes traveling so thrilling—the uncertainty factor.

Here are some important takeaways from my two-week vacay:

1 - Solo travel v. friend travel

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I went on this trip with one of my best friends that I hadn’t seen in a year and a half. To say that I was stoked to spend time with her and explore China is a gross understatement. Despite loving her company the majority of the time (LOL) there were moments in which wished I was doing it solo, so I could see and do at my own pace, style, and whims. Yet there were many other moments I was grateful we were backpacking together. The presence of a close friend while traveling is a very special thing. The truth is that there are pros and cons to both solo travel and traveling with others. The solo alternative offers endless freedom and independence. While traveling with friends allows you to have a constant companion to share the beauty you are bound to encounter. Another plus that we encountered was the support system when s%it went wrong. I enjoy both depending on the circumstance, but lean towards solo.  

2 - Two weeks is *too* short

This trip truly reinforced how much I prefer slow travel. We visited four different parts of China in about 14 days and while I’m glad we did because I don’t know when the next time will be that the opportunity arises to visit the country, it was so exhausting! Those four areas we visited—Beijing, Chengdu, Guilin and Hong Kong—deserved at least a month to be explored. I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity, especially while traveling. What is the point of going to X amount of places if I didn’t truly get a chance to get a feel for the place because I was in a rush to get to the next one? This is why I’m excited to properly backpack after my contract ends next February, because I will have no time constraints!

3 - Define ‘vacation’

There are many styles of traveling. From business travel where the sole purpose is to conduct work-related matters, to backpacking which involves staying in affordable hostels and eating cheaply with the intention of staying on budget, to the more upscale traveling involving hotels, posh Airbnbs and chic meals. Just to name a few. These days, we blur the lines of travel when we use ‘vacation’ or ‘holiday’ to encompass the nuanced act of visiting new places. For example, backpacking is not a vacation. Backpacking can be tiring, more adventurous and spontaneous while vacationing champions comfort and insists on exploring new surroundings at a leisurely pace, even if that means missing out on a lot. Many times during my trip I felt that I was on backpacking mode while my friend was on a vacation state of mind… If traveling with a friend, make sure you’re on the same page about how you will go about doing so.

Yangshuo

4 - Things will go wrong

Anyone that’s traveled before will surely be full of tales where plans went awry, it’s inevitable. And my vacation was no exception. From being super disappointed at not seeing Yangshuo (pictured above) properly because we needed a few days to explore the very spread out town rather than mere hours, to arriving in Hong Kong 24 hours later than anticipated due to a typhoon, unexpected hiccups will arise. My neurotic nature showed up as initial responses to these issues, but I realized I needed a healthier approach for facing and dealing with such challenges. During these stressful and frustrating moments, having my bestie with me was incredible. She’d soothe and calm me down and have me laughing about the whole thing in no time. Thanks Rach!

I definitely wished she was there when I experienced a 10-hour delay while waiting to depart Hong Kong due to another tropical storm, which resulted in me getting stranded in Jeju (an island in the south of Korea) and getting home a full day later than expected…

The important thing to keep in mind about these trying moments is that our attitudes will end up defining the particular experience. And that problem-solving skills will surely be essential to figure how to get out of said problem.

5 - Ask, ask, ask!

At the hotel our friend Harvey helped us find. What a gent!

At the hotel our friend Harvey helped us find. What a gent!

Another reason why I loved having my dear Rach with is that she had no qualms about constantly asking people for help or advice. I’m a lot more comfortable these days doing just that, but anytime she wasn’t sure about where we were going or needed a reco about where to eat or drink, she’d go up to someone and quickly get an answer. I was in awe! This is almost common sense to do while traveling, but many times I think the person will be bothered by my intrusion - not the case. Most times people were happy to assist us. Next time you travel, try it!

6 - People are mostly good

The most important takeaway from my visit to China revolves around people’s generosity. Surely the world has a good amount of people harboring ill intentions, but I do believe it’s mostly filled with good souls. During one of our moments in need, we ended up in Guangzhou at midnight. We never planned to visit this city but found ourselves here because Typhoon Hato basically shut down Hong Kong and this was the closest we could get to it. While we fruitlessly tried to book a hotel, a local’s help saved the night. He found us an affordable and nearby hotel, reserved it via phone and drove us there! Harvey (his English name) proved our savior that night. None of this would have happened if my friend hadn't asked for his help as we called hotels whose receptionists didn’t speak English.

7 - Exercise caution with the locals

No need to be careful with this local though ;)

No need to be careful with this local though ;)

With that said, a lot of the locals do perceive tourists as a way to make quick cash whether by overcharging or running scams. Our tuk tuk driver in Beijing tried to give me change to a 100RMB note in a different currency than Chinese Yuan. The ladies that drove us around in Yangshuo promised 3 hours and delivered 2 because we trusted them too soon. When it comes to locals, awareness is key. Like any other person, they need to earn your trust but you should almost always remain skeptical. I usually employ the guilty until proven innocent tactic to try to avoid mishaps. It’s a fine balancing act. Use common sense and intuition.

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Viv Delgadillo & Matt Mateiescu [VM Creativ]: Photographers

Viv Delgadillo & Matt Mateiescu [VM Creativ]: Photographers