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07/08/07 - Memoirs of a "Traveller"


Unlike most articles written by “travellers”, I have no intention of boring you with tales of the amazing experiences I am having and the sights I’m seeing. Instead I’d like to question what “travel” is and when does a holiday become “travel”?

I have now been making my way around China for 5 weeks and have stayed in quite a range of accommodation from cheap hostels to a hotel that my mum put myself and my brother up in as early birthday presents for us both. But staying in hotels didn’t feel like “travel”, even if we did turn up with oversized backpacks and a limited budget. So are you only “travelling” when you stay in places where you share a non air conditioned room with strangers who snore at ear splittingly loud volumes and that cost under 3 pounds a night?

Can you define travel by the amount of time you are away or is it defined by the distance you are from your home?

“Top 25 Must See” Sights

I think it is very tempting to measure the success of your trip on the number of the guidebook’s “Top 25 Must See” Sights you’ve ticked off. However, the fact that any sight is on this list guarantees that it will have a swarm of other “travellers” who, like you, are all clutching their Lonely Planets and Rough Guides.

Despite the hostility of the language and its characters, China seems to be working its way up the league table of traveller’s favourite destinations. I have been amazed at how many of my fellow travellers can’t speak any Chinese. It would appear that it is now possible to travel from hostel to hostel and, as long as you’ve got a map, get in any taxi without speaking a word of the native tongue.

Beijing Airport + Thunderstorm = Mahem

However, I do wonder what these people would do if they got stuck at Beijing airport for 25 hours due to thunderstorms – this happened to us only a week ago. After waiting for hours in long, poorly organised queues, the only English the Air China staff could muster up was, “No time”.

No time! We slept overnight on the floor of an airport tea house, which was less than comfortable, and so “no time” was not what we wanted to be told. Eventually, speaking in (limited) Chinese and getting angry seemed to help some air tickets magically appear.

A Walk in the Gongyuan

I’m currently reading “Life on Air” by David Attenborough in which he describes his earliest explorations with the BBC back in the 1950’s, and somehow my guidebook and internet lead personal exploration of China seems like a walk in the park in comparison.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m having an amazing time. Over the past few days, we’ve been on a horse trek in the mountains on the edge of the Tibetan plateau and tomorrow we’re going on a 3-day cruise down the Yangtze River.

Holiday or Travel?

With the ever increasing number of cheap flights making the world a smaller place and today’s Gap Year (or three) culture, I’m just interested in what people are looking to achieve when they board the plane out of the UK.

If they are looking to explore historical sites, China and the other popular travel destinations can provide them in abundance. However, they must be prepared that more often that not, they’ll be joined by coach loads of others at the most popular places.

If it’s a country’s culture they want to learn about, then they must be prepared to get off the backpacker trail, otherwise they’ll merely be experiencing a very flowery version of what the country is really about.

Personally, I enjoy seeing the sights and learning about China’s long and diverse history. However, you can experience these on an organised package holiday. Therefore, what I am enjoying most about travel is the fact that I’m a long way from my comfort zone and it forces me to learn to deal with the challenges a foreign place inevitably throws at me.

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