A few year ago, I spent about four months researching Giant Panda behavior in China. By the end of the term, we decided to make a short trip to Beijing. In our way from Ya’an (Sichuan) we stopped at Mount Emei. And there is where it all started.
Even though we had been living in China for three months, Beijing was a whole new world. Our tiny Ya’an had nothing to do with the big city. We got lost in the mountains, had to leave our hostal, got injured and almost got robbed by two old ladies (yes, it is true)!
Our main problem was our lack of research. We did not do any background check on the place we were staying at, or how long of a climb was mount Emei or that you should not trust overly nice ladies (strangers) from the Beijing underground that randomly start talking to you (they might want something from you). By the time we got back to Ya’an, we were exhausted. So, here are some tips that would have been really helpful during that time:
1. Have a plan
Don’t do like we did. We were so confident about China because we had been living there for three months that we basically did zero research before our trip. But Beijing turned out to be a whole different world from our little Yaán. More expensive, more stressful, more people. So… research. I mean, there are so many apps, blogs and travel guides out there, it wont hurt to check a little. If you have the time, read a bit about the place you are going to. Research about transportation, your hotel or hostel, expenses (this is very useful if you are on a short budget) and attractions.
2. But do not plan too much
Don’t try to do everything. It is stressful if you plan every minute ofyour day, get some free-spontaneous-time. If you have too many plans and places you want to visit, you will only get tired and stressed and your memories will be about yourself running from one place to the other. One of my best memories in China was spending the day after coming back from Mount Emei relaxing and getting a nice pink vodka drink. Mount Emei was so exhausting (literally, we walked over 30 km) and that day tasted like glory.
3. Sometimes you just have to let it go
Culture shock can be difficult to handle. Sometimes the easier thing to do is just to let it go. Remember that different places have different traditions and each place has its own ways, getting mad will not change anything. What you consider rude might not even be rude depending on where you are.
4. Assume you will get lost
We got lost. A lot. More than I am happy to admit. The best thing I have ever done is getting data to use for google maps (even better, download a map to have it on your phone in case there is no connection). It is always good to ask the locals, because sometimes you might not even be connection. If you don’t speak the language, then try to ask different people to make sure you got the correct directions. Language barriers can give you a lot of troubles. It happened to us. And the result was 20 extra kilometres of walking. It wasn’t fun.
5. Always have some cash with you
Don’t just assume there will be an ATM. What if there isn’t? and if your credit card stops working? It happened to me at the beginning of our trip. I found myself without any money. At least I wasn’t solo traveling and I could ask my friends for help, if not I would still be lost in the middle of the mountains living with the monkeys. Although that doesn’t sound as bad, right?
6. Have a safe copy in case you lose your stuff
It won’t happen, but just in case, get a virtual copy of everything in case you get stolen or you loose your backpack. Have a virtual copy (dropbox, for example) of your ID, passport, insurance, photos and other important documents. That way, you won’t lose all your info.