Getting the Most Out of a Trip to China
Travelling is as good as YOU make it. China can be life changing if you allow yourself to explore. My name is Cathal and I went to China with Gotoco in 2019.
The Gotoco programme gave me a true taste of China, from teaching and living in Chinese culture to a funded paradise getaway to Yangshuo.
China is MASSIVE, with deserts, beaches, cities, mountains, ice cities and an overflow of beautiful history. Planning to go to some of its wonders is important but leaving room for spontaneous adventure is key. You never know how people and China will surprise you. Two weeks into my trip I got invited to camp at a weekend electronic music festival on The Great Wall of China, something I never even knew existed. The great Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, had an exhibition in Shanghai where the outside of the building rotated, and I got to witness otherworldly art and an infinity mirror room. Such a big country has so much to offer, particularly if you love photography, travel and meeting new people.
Every party, hike, dinner, karaoke session and city is different and unique. Giving yourself the time to wander and make new connections every day can be the difference between a good trip and an unforgettable experience. For example, one day I hiked to the top of a glowing lantern above the city of Dongguan where I made some Chinese friends, who spoke very little English but they happened to be well-versed in English music. They owned a music shop in the heart a glowing Light District full of artists and bars near a river. Nothing warmed my heart more than drinking some Tsingtao beer beside colourful lights and singing The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’ alongside new friends.
Other Ways to Explore
Taking part in Gotoco was key to a wonderful experience but I chose also to immerse myself through Workaway. Workaway is a site that allows you to work a little for free accommodation and food. Hostels and trains are also really cheap too. With Workaway, I spent a few weeks living in an Artist’s Incubator Community in a rural farming village outside Beijing. I helped with painting murals, upkeep and building a bar. There were lots of other solo travellers doing the same as me. Being a part of a small community in China opened me up to their true kindness. I got to drive tuktuks, ride a skateboard through beautiful countryside, use the art facilities to create, play volleyball tournaments for watermelons, watch movies on a projector at night with villagers and make lifelong friends. Workaway allowed me to save money and be a part of a community. That is also what Gotoco is, a big community of other travellers looking at opportunities for adventure. Remember there are so many ways you can travel cheap: Couchsurfing, camping and hostels are all things I used to find an authentic experience on a student’s budget.
I had such an amazing trip from going to a Beijing Burger Festival to riding a bike through the blissful Yangshuo mountains. One girl I met had hitchhiked through China from Vietnam and was going to continue her journey to Mongolia. This speaks to my inner into-the-wild persona and inspired me at the beginning of my trip to take every opportunity to just go out and wander to every corner I could find. It also showed me how safe China really is, there are always dangers anywhere but there was always a greater feeling of security over other countries I had been to.
About the Author:
Cathal McGivern, a university student from Dublin, joined a Gotoco programme in Dongguan in South China, bordering Hong Kong, in July 2019. Since graduating, Cathal has been eager to move to China and has been using his TEFL to teach online before moving to Beijing later this year.