This New Year’s, I decided to forgo the usual regrettable drunken debauchery that usually accompanies the coming of a new year and to instead go on a cleansing, rejuvenating weekend trip alone. Wanting to explore an area of China I hadn’t seen before, I booked a ticket to go to Mount Danxia in Shaoguan. Mount Danxia isn’t well-known to those outside of Guangdong Province, which means it’s not as touristy as Guilin or other more famous natural sights, but it’s beautiful and interesting in its own right. I thought that because I would be traveling solo I’d be spending most of my time alone, but that was from far what happened. I met a number of friends on my journey, and had a truly unforgettable experience! My trip reminded me of how much I love traveling alone, and how fulfilling it can be to go places without agenda or commitment to others. If you are considering taking a trip soon (especially with Spring Festival coming up!), read this handy guide to traveling in China alone.
Benefits of traveling solo
Traveling with friends can be enriching and fun, and it takes the burden of planning and paying for everything alone. But there’s a special kind of pleasure in traveling solo, too. When you’re alone, you can spend as much or as little time at each destination as you want to, and you can change your itinerary to suit your mood at any time. Also, you’ll be more likely to make new friends if you don’t already have a group of friends you’re spending all your time with. When I traveled to Mt. Danxia in Shaoguan by myself, I ended up spending barely any time alone because people were so friendly and invited me to join them for activities.
Unless you’re looking for a glam solo spa weekend or true luxury time, I’d highly recommend staying in a hostel if you’re traveling alone. Apart from being much cheaper than hotels, hostels have lots of amenities perfect for solo travelers. The people working there will usually be happy to help you find out what to do in your area and get situated. Additionally, hostels usually have lots of communal space to hang out in as well as programming such as cooking classes and day trips, so you’ll have opportunities to meet other people and participate in activities. You may even meet another solo traveler to compare notes with!
Where to go?
If you travel to a big city, you’ll of course be presented with an endless array of options for activities and destinations. However, consider going somewhere small if you want to see a different side of China than you may be exposed to otherwise. If you’re trying to learn Mandarin or understand more about Chinese culture, there’s no better way to immerse yourself than by traveling somewhere off the beaten path. Additionally, if you choose somewhere rural, you may have the opportunity to see some of the beautiful nature China has to offer. And although getting around may be a little trickier in a smaller area than in an urban center if you don’t speak Chinese, with Baidu translate, Wechat, and other useful apps, along with the unceasing kindness of strangers, you’re sure to find your way!
Safety first, last, and always
Of course, you should always keep your wits about you when traveling, and especially when you’re traveling by yourself. China, with its large police presence (especially in Guangdong province, where I live) and high level of public integrity, is a pretty safe place to travel, but it’s nevertheless important to maintain vigilance. Thus, a few words of safety advice: never get into an unmarked taxi, and always read reviews before booking a place to stay. Keep track of your valuables, and listen to your instincts always.
One last word of advice
No matter how much planning you do, there are going to be hiccups you encounter in your travels. They will probably be minor, but if you’re stressed out about having the perfect trip the whole time, you’ll be too busy worrying to enjoy yourself and appreciate the time you’re having. The biggest piece of advice I have for any traveler is to keep an open mind and a sense of adventure. The trip you end up having may not always end up looking like the one you planned for, but if you’re open to changes and new experiences, it may be even better than the one you set out for. Keep your wits about you but be brave and curious, and the world will unfold before you.