Why Are You Skipping China On Your RTW?

I hear it often…

“I don’t want to go on my own. It seems intimidating.”

“There is a huge language barrier and I’ve heard they don’t speak English at all.”

“I’ve heard people are rude there and they spit everywhere.”

“It’s too polluted and dirty.”

“It looks big and I wouldn’t know what to see or do and it looks hard to get around.”

And I say… “Yes – because 1.4 billion people don’t speak English, judging every Chinese person of their personality is a great idea, they all spit at the same time, all skies are grey once you cross the border, and no other backpacker has ever entered China – making travel difficult.”

I’m not going to judge you for not including China but you sure as hell better think of a better excuse because the ones listed above are lame. While I understand that traveling in China may not be for everyone (just like traveling to any other nation may not be), the misunderstandings of a destination can be misleading and wrong. You are limiting yourself from what the destination really has to offer.

“I don’t want to go on my own. It seems intimidating.”

So China isn’t as popular of a destination as Thailand. China still has many mysteries. China has only recently opened its market in 1978. Not hearing as many travel stories creates a wonder and worry for some. That’s fair. A little internet research however and you’ll find most of what you’re worried about is silly.

You will not be the only traveler in China. The hostels in China are some of the best hostels I’ve stayed in globally. Not just saying that for the article, either. The atmosphere is fantastic and the staff has always gone above and beyond to make my stay comfortable. You can book your train or bus ticket at the hostel, they’ll deliver the ticket to you, and organize the transportation to the station. They couldn’t possibly make it any easier. Most will even have detailed maps for you to locate the sights and attractions of their city. There are hundreds of hostels nationwide and full of travelers just like you. You will never be on your own and most are open to tag along with you to the next destination.

Sometimes I’d arrive in a new city by train without booking accommodation ahead of time but there would always be people holding up signs for their hostel that actually work at the hostel. There’s no commission involved and usually their waiting to pick up other guests that arranged for it and you’re welcome to tag along. When I do book in advance, most hostels can arrange a free or cheap pickup from wherever you’ll be. Some even email me a few minutes after booking online to make sure I know how to get to their hostel. They understand there is a language barrier and they’re always willing to help which brings me to the next one.

“There is a huge language barrier and I hear they don’t speak English at all.”

For this reason, hostels are your best friend. Although many people DO speak English, especially where there are tourist attractions. The hostel can assist you to go anywhere you’d like to go. If I wanted to eat a certain food or go to a certain place, I simply had the hostel reception desk write it down for me in Chinese characters. It’s seriously easy. This should not stop you at all.

The international language of pointing with your hands can do wonders. The Chinese are usually helpful and will try their best to understand what you need if they can’t understand you. They find it amusing actually and it makes for a great laugh. Even with the language barrier, I’ve been invited to several homes, conversations, diners, and parties. Still though, carry a phrase book. It goes a long way.

I didn't understand a single word he was saying to me but I managed to get a haircut. We joked around after and took loads of pictures.
I didn’t understand a single word he was saying to me but I managed to get a haircut. We joked around after and took loads of pictures.

“I hear people are rude there and they spit everywhere.”

This one perhaps annoys me the most. While many do spit on the sidewalk; they are not rude. Most of the younger Chinese find the spitting disgusting as well. I’m not going to deny that you will not see this but it’s as simple as turning away. Are you really going to avoid going to an entire nation because you might see one person spit on the ground in a day?

Many Westerners think the Chinese are being rude by the pushing and shoving in crowded places. Again, it’s not that their being rude. In a nation where ten million people could be considered a small city, things are not as organized and laid out as they are at home. They need to get from one place to another and in many cases they’ll do whatever it takes. It’s nothing against you. In some ways, it is more convenient than having to say excuse me and sorry every second.

Very kind man I met at one of the parks in Beijing.
Very kind man I met at one of the parks in Beijing.

“It’s too polluted and dirty.”

Fair enough. Many of the cities are some of the most polluted in the world. How about going to the country side then? Yunnan Province is nearly untouched with its beautiful landscape. From every city, there’s an escape to open landscapes, green grass, and blue skies. China is enormous and obviously not all of it is polluted. Go outside of the city and experience the country side. With thousands of years of history and a huge population, they are still trying to adapt to the new modern world and that means building new habits and getting rid of the old.

Great Wall of China
Great Wall of China

“It looks big and I wouldn’t know what to see or do and it looks hard to get around.”

As I explained before, the train system is fantastic. I highly recommend them, you won’t even have to book that far in advance most of the time – just ask the hostel for assistance (Seat61 is another great resource). If not, flights are relatively inexpensive.

The long history makes China one huge museum. No matter how much time you put into travel in China, you won’t be able to see all you want to see. Don’t stress that it’s too big. Just go and experience all that you can. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Don’t be fast to judge a place…

Michael Tieso

Michael Tieso travels around the world writing, photographing, and filming his adventures. He is the Editor-in-chief of Art of Adventuring.

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