Excitement wasn’t the dominant feeling I had days before my scheduled trip to China last summer. Anxiety was! It was a mixture of fear, worry and regret. If you have been to China, you probably have a good idea why.
Traveling alone can be pretty scary especially if you don’t speak the language. So as a solo traveler, I try to educate myself by reading and digging up as much as I can about the country I am visiting. It helps to have a little background knowledge before setting your feet on to another world. It makes planning a lot easier.
The trip to China was my first long travel, backpacker style. So I planned ahead of time and laid out a full itinerary complete with maps, directions, how-to’s and online bookings. That isn’t very hard to do now with the countless travel blogs on the internet that offer lots of first-hand information and tips. So I got a pretty good selection of which places seemed interesting and well worth my time and effort. But when health and safety issues are among the things you are made aware of, then that is cause enough to raise a flag of concern. And that‘s what created my bubble of anxiety.
China is known to be polluted and its people having poor hygienic practices. My part-time job employer warned me of how dirty the air in Shanghai is, citing her friend’s experience of having to use an air-filter in the apartment the entire time her friend’s family was there. And she (my employer) even gave me a box of Vitamin C with the parting words, “Don’t get sick while you’re there.” How thoughtful is that?! But in my mind, I began to worry about food and water. I was scared of getting sick because I didn’t purchase a travel insurance to cut down on travel expenses. I’ll definitely end up spending more if I did fall ill!
The other issue raised was the rampant cheating and scamming, especially in the capital city. Foreigners are captive victims and easy prey to these scams. The discussion thread on Trip Advisor of foreign travelers’ scam experiences in the country blocked my sunny optimism with a shadow of regret. I can handle being cheated, just not the crippling fear looming in my head every time I’m on the road. This brought up some recollection of the Philippines. Sad to say, I do feel unsafe at times in my own country. I don’t feel as care-free as I do walking along the streets of Japan even late into the night. If I weren’t a Filipino, or if I had not lived in the Philippines, and with the media magnifying news about the country’s crime and various forms of dishonesty, I would definitely feel the same anxious fear about visiting as I did about going to China, or the United States for that matter.
But what is a great travel experience without getting the whole package? Every traveler’s story I’ve read is a string of exciting explorations, fun discoveries as well as frustrating misadventures. They had relevant and momentous experiences because they let go of the fear and embraced the journey, even if it meant getting lost or falling victim to bad influences. Now that doesn’t mean that they jumped off a cliff blindly like a headless chicken. They simply allowed the horse to trot and gallop in its own speed and style, but still carefully holding the reins. Which is another way of saying that they live through the journey each day as it unfolds, taking necessary precautions but without being held prisoner by limitations, difficulties or challenges.
Likewise, if I am not willing to open myself to the possibility that things could go wrong but that they are worth taking the risk, I might as well just book a tour with a travel agency and enjoy a safe and worry-free vacation. Don’t get me wrong here. I have nothing against an organized tour. In fact, I am joining a group for the holiday break in December. What I’m trying to say is that my travel to China wasn’t merely for enjoyment. It was for the most part to experience what the country is about. And by experience I do not just mean acquiring some interesting facts first hand, but also being able to actually see, feel and interact with its people, culture and nature. Having clarified my purpose brought in a rush of a renewed sense of excitement for the trip. All my travel logistics and activities were planned around this framework. I took serious note of the safety threats and warnings and made my own creed on how to keep safe. (I will talk more about this in another post.) During the entire trip though, I was floating in a constant state of mild paranoia. But then I guess that was what made me vigilant and therefore kept me on safer grounds.
One of the many things I took away from this travel experience was greater self-knowledge. It gave me an opportunity to test my limits, appreciate my capabilities, marvel at the world’s grandeur and feel specially connected. I feel triumphant having survived China for 3 weeks without a single scam. Excuses, if that sounds a bit vain… I do not mean to boast, but I can honestly say that my Do-It-Yourself Backpacking trip was a stupendous success. Thanks to everything and everyone I met along the way that made such an unforgettable journey possible. All due credit and a big shout-out from here to you!