No one ever wants to feel like a number. This is especially true while travelling. China, like most destinations, has a well-worn travel circuit. While this circuit does provide convenience and access to places which would otherwise be near impossible to get to on your own, it can also leave you feeling like your big adventure is really nothing more than a stock experience doled out by the thousands to people just like you. To make matters worse, travel in China can be daunting. Fatigue and unfamiliarity can take a toll on your outlook and increase your natural inclination to seek out the creature comforts from home rather than make new discoveries. Here's a few pointers to keep in mind which can help you get off the beaten path, keep your enthusiasm up and have the kind of unique travel experiences you can call your own.
1) Make learning the language a priority
Language opens doors. It doesn't matter how long or short a trip you are planning, or if you don't expect to ever use the language again. Picking up even a bit of Chinese will heighten your awareness, show respect to the locals and win you experiences you never would have imagined. It provides the impetus for paying attention to what's going on around you. If you concentrate on learning the language, you'll find yourself observing locals, their mannerisms and their conversations rather than tuning them out.
2) Travel alone
China is a very safe country. The concerns that travelling alone can raise in other parts of the world just aren't a factor here. Although challenging at times, travelling alone gives you freedom and flexibility. Most importantly, it gives you the space to develop your own impressions. It also forces you to meet and talk to more people. Travelling with another person is a great way to test the relationship between you two, but it often detracts from the trip itself. You'll likely return home with a better understanding of your travel partner than of China. Visiting a friend can be handy for making arrangements and getting advice, but spending time in China with a resident expat can result in repetition. Expats tend to carve out a niche for themselves and rarely venture beyond it. Also, they usually have very firm opinions about China that will overshadow your impressions.
If you have the misfortune of travelling in a group, be sensitive to the group dynamics. It doesn't take much to turn what could have been a great adventure for all into a seemingly endless stint of unpopular compromises. Don't be shy about breaking off on your own if you feel other people's personalities or agendas are getting in your way. Planting a seed before the trip is a good way to diffuse any misunderstandings. Let the people you're travelling with know before you leave that there will be days when you will want to be on your own. Remember, this is your trip.
3) Travel longer
For most people, a trip to China is a rare opportunity. Give it the time it deserves. Although work and family obligations make it difficult to get away for extended periods of time, an extra week or two can make the difference between a run of the mill vacation and a life-altering experience. Having extra time means more options and the ability to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. If you try to cram an entire trip into a short period of time, you will spend your journey worrying about the logistics of what's next instead of focusing on what's happening around you.
Many people fail to plan for the likely possibility of illness occurring while in China. Pollution, lower sanitation standards and poor hygiene do cause many Westerners to get sick. Air travel deludes us into thinking that coming halfway around the world has minimal effects on the body. Circadian rhythms are real, and if you're not accustomed to international travel, you should allot some time to adjust to the local clock.
4) Read! Read! Read!
You don't have to become a sinologist, but the more you know about China before you arrive, the more unique your ideas will be about where to go and what to do. With just a little background knowledge, you become a far better witness than the vast majority of people who visit China. Reading up will enable you to draw meaning from sights that you may otherwise have walked right past.
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Keywords: travel China tips vacation China unique Chinese experience unique sights in China travelling tips China
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