Sunday, April 03, 2016

Planning a big trip

China. China. China.

China has been on my mind for what seems like years now. I want so badly to see a Panda, to hold one in my arms, feed him bamboo and name him Peter before daydreaming about how I’ll take him home with me. I must admit to the embarrassing truth that I cheer myself up with Panda videos on YouTube, often welling up at the cuteness overload. There’s something about their black and white fur that leads me to believe they’re really men dressed in suits. It’s unbelievable that something in the world could be that cute - I have to see one with my own eyes to fully believe the magic.

Seeing a panda anywhere other than China is practically cheating so it was only right to start planning an itinerary… one that has been almost four years in the making. Because lets be honest, there is no point travelling all the way to China to see a panda, and not exploring the entire country whilst you’re there.

The sole purpose for such a drawn out planning process was due to two limitations, time and money. Leaving home for three weeks with family members that were poorly and dependable meant our trip was put on hold for a long time. We’ve been given some leeway in that regard, but are still held down by the conventions of annual leave.

The cost of a flight means we need to make the most of the trip there, but the fact that myself and my travel buddy (Mother Tye) both work full time, means we only have 21 days to concur 3.705 million sq miles. I am fully aware of how ambitious I am, but we’ve certainly got a jam-packed 500 hours planned. 

Time is always the problem, no amount of time is ever enough and I know I say it often, but it’s true. Two weeks is not enough to experience a country, the same way 5 days in Paris was nowhere near enough time for me to fully immerse myself in the city. If you want to learn a culture, understand a way of life and fully explore, you need to slow down, wander through and leave when your heart tells you you’ve had enough.

One day, I’ll walk the world with a backpack and do exactly that, but in China, we’re travelling with a stopwatch!

The main goal is simple: cuddle a panda.

But the journey will be so much more; I want to experience the history of such a traditional and deeply cultural country. I may not fully understand some of what China has to offer, but my open-minded wandering soul is going to thrive in the unknown.

There are two points in the year that are best to visit, spring and autumn. We missed spring this year, and fear of having to wait until 2017, means we’re heading to Asia in autumn. The plane touches ground in Shanghai on October 4th and my heart can’t wait.

There was so much I wanted to do and see; the list was endless. I had to prioritise and I would recommend this to anyone who is planning a trip on a leash. Write your list in order of preference. With what your heart desires most at the top, followed by things you can’t miss, with things you’d love to see, with things you wouldn't mind heading to if you had time. Knowing what’s important to you is the first step - and trust me, I spent hours changing my mind… because how can you really know what you want to do until you get there?

The luxury of wandering and not planning is indeed that, a luxury. You may end up with nowhere to sleep or stranded in a country with an out of date visa, but it’s exciting and freeing not to be tied down with set plans. I find planned trips are more stressful, at least in the run up. The sheer amount of planning means in essence there’s much more that could go wrong.

Instead of conquering China solo, we teamed up with Wendy Wu Tours. It’s a pricey investment to go with an operator, the first and last time I did was in 2006. We went on safari in Kenya, with team Kuoni and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. You can read about it here. We had a local guide who knew the country like the back of his hand and answered hundreds on my wildly imaginative questions for 12 days straight... he was incredible. That’s what you pay for, a guide to show you around, tell you the best places to eat, drink, see and most of all, the history of the place (particularly the parts you won’t read in the guide books).

I’ve been told a thousand times, most notably at the Adventure Travel Show I was invited to a couple of months ago, that if you’re going to China, Wendy Wu are the best – and I love a solid recommendation. Here’s hoping they’re as good to me as Kuoni were.

It’s almost hard to fathom that an idea we’ve been talking about for so long has materialised into something tangible… before long, you’ll see a video of me holding a panda, in floods of tears with the biggest grin on my face.

Until then, here’s a personal favourite...

Atlas by the incredible Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski, you can grab yourself one here


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