By the time I’m able to post this, I’ll have been travelling for more than a month. In that time I will – hopefully – have walked many miles, seen some truly astounding views and taken a really embarrassing number of selfies.
Before that, I need to finish my trip around China, which is taking place right now. In fact, as I type I’m sitting on a 25-hour sleeper train from Guilin to Chengdu (home of the Panda Breeding Research Centre).
But how did I get here? Travelling is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve been on holiday to some really exotic locations, but never for more than three weeks. I’ve done a month in Kyrgyzstan with World Challenge, but that was more than 10 years ago. I’d always planned to get away for longer, but constantly found myself short of money or time.Eventually, I decided that leaving my job would provide the motivation that I needed. There were other big changes in my life in the year leading up to that point, but if anything they acted as a boot up the arse.
In February, as Max and I were stripping wallpaper from the new house, I went to STA Travel in Oxford to look into my options. There were a lot – the world is a big place – but since I was small I’ve wanted to go to China, so that was a necessity. Seeing as I’d be practically next door anyway, it would be silly not to visit South Korea – the only country where eSports are more popular than real sports. To cap it all off, I added in some time in Australia, probably the most popular backpacker destination in the world.
STA helped me with flights, coach tickets in Oz and my entire visit to China: a group tour called The Dragon Trip. I didn’t realise how useful being in a group like this would be until I got here: English might be the most widespread language in the world, but not in China. The Trip takes goes all over the East of China, in a loop starting and ending in Hong Kong, but also taking in places like Chengdu (pandas), the Shaolin Temple, Beijing and Shanghai.
Bob at Meko was very understanding when I told him – in fact, he’d kept me for almost five years, a year over what he normally expects for a journalist. It helped that I’d given him six months of notice!
So here I find myself: at 9pm at night, surrounded by new friends and curious Chinese people (there really are a lot of them in China), about to settle down on the top bunk of a night train. I’m simultaneously outside my comfort zone and completely comfortable with the people I’m with. Life is good.