Saturday, December 21, 2013

6 Months, 30 Thoughts

Ah, travel!

It happened. I have officially reached the halfway point of my time in China. Looking back, I am astonished. Where did the time go? On the one hand, it seems like the blink of an eye. On the other hand, I've been here for at least 20 years, right?!

To celebrate this benchmark, I've decided to make a list of some of the things I've learned since arriving in China. Additionally, some of the things are beliefs and practices I had previously that have served me well here. Hopefully some of the things on this list will be elaborated upon in their own posts.  They are lessons about travel, about China, about people, and about myself. I hope those of you with your own lists will be kind enough to share them with me!

  1. There is no correct world traveler personality. Introvert, extrovert, young, old, married, single... as long as you have an open mind and patience, you will do well. 

  2. Children are the same everywhere. Parenting is not.

  3. Learning the language of the place you are in is extremely important. Otherwise, you will find yourself desperately wishing you could interview your ancient neighbors about the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, without the skills to do so.

  4. Traveling will probably not change who you are. Change has to start with you.

  5. Going to a halal restaurant is never a bad idea.

  6. It is perfectly fine to prefer things the way they are at home, wether that be breakfast, or a system of government.

  7. It's also okay to prefer things as they are in your host country.

  8. It is better to laugh than pout.

  9. Approach Chinese pastries with caution. They are often filled with dehydrated meat that will make you quite sick.

  10. Sometimes you need a plan to get through the day. That's okay.

  11. Sometimes you just need to wander around. That's okay too.

  12. There are still street-level soviets in China. That is cool.

  13. There is generally no "good" or "bad" way of doing something. Just a different way.

  14. It is okay to have a bad day. Even when you are on a grand adventure to a foreign country.

  15. Know the history of the place you are in. It goes a long way in understanding the people you meet and the things you see. Imagine going to America without knowing about the origins of our beliefs about freedom, justice, liberty, and democracy. Wouldn't American attitudes be a little baffling?

  16. If you can, avoid other foreigners for at least part of your time. Some (though not all) can be real downers, especially professional expats.

  17. Keep a journal. There are hundreds of little details in every day that you will want to remember. Writing them down is a fantastic way to preserve them.

  18. Photographs are amazing.

  19. Photographs can also distract from your experience. I can't tell you how many people I have seen in the Shanghai Museum who simply take a picture of each artifact and move on. They never look at it with their own eyes when it is right in front of them. That is a shame.

  20. Learn from those who have come before you.

  21. Vary the number of people you travel with. Spend one day alone, one with a group, and one with just one or two others. It makes a difference.

  22. Know your city dangers. Are you more likely to encounter pickpockets, or inflated prices? Human traffickers, or unlicensed taxis? Based on the answers, craft your modus operandi. Sometimes I've payed ridiculous taxi fares because I just wanted to be at the hotel ASAP, and that is okay. However, I have never hitchhiked to a hotel. See the difference?

  23. Keep track of your expenses everyday. Especially for longterm travelers, knowing exactly where your money goes is critical to a stress-free trip.

  24. Book with for flights, and for hotels. In my experience, they always have the cheapest flights and hotels. (These are not official, paid, or otherwise rewarded, endorsements. Just my own experiences).

  25. If you need a mental health day, take it.

  26. Research visa laws and restrictions very carefully, especially if you are hoping to change visa types.

  27. If you can, travel around the country. If you're in the city, go to the countryside, and vice versa. If you're in a big country, go north, south, east, and west, too. 

  28. If a culture has accepted something as food, you will survive if you try it. 

  29. Get a good map, and teach yourself how to read it. Even better, get several maps. 

  30. I'd rather experience interesting things than good, but boring, things. 

What do you think of my list? Anything you agree or disagree with? Anything remind you of a good story? The comments are below--have at it! 


  1. Informative and beautiful list! Most items conjured up a memory or two, so I must be doing okay with this traveling thing. Also, mutual feels on the professional expats. Many seem to believe that soul-violating eye contact is an acceptable way to stimulate conversation. The over-photography thing is a problem in photography exhibitions as well. A good amount of women, usually in their mid-20's, will take a snapshot of their favored piece on their fancy Canons and move on. I want to say it's wasteful, but since it's a photo of a photo, would viewing it later be like dividing a number by itself since they'll just view the photo, but through another lens? I leave you with this moral dilemma.


    1. Thank you! Also... AAAH! That is a delightful paradox that I will leave to the universe before I hurt myself thinking about it.