Last weekend I went on a practically mandatory trip to Beijing after over 10 months living in China. Despite living some 2,000 km south (a 3 hour plane ride), Beijing has always been at the top of my must-see cities in China list. I mean, would you ever believe me that I lived in China if I didn’t have evidence of having gone to the Great Wall?!
It was on this excursion I went with a group of my closest and most intimate intercultural friends.
Now I have nothing against forming quick bonds with other hostel goers (especially the fellow solo travelers). I’m guilty of having posed for pictures with strangers while traveling seemingly pretending to be amongst a close knit group of friends.
But there was something about a couple of the travelers I met that made me reconfirm what I learned when I questioned whether I’d ever solo backpack again after my trip around the Balkans.
Rapid pace solo backpacking leaves me jaded. It makes me desperate for genuine companionship. It voids my travels of any true purpose.
And it’s f*cking obnoxious.
Enter two of my fellow hostel goers. Now I don’t mean to write a roast on these two girls, but they both just so perfectly embody everything I don’t want from travel.
If it wasn’t the endless selfie sessions or forced group-of-me-and-my-new-friends-together-having-the-time-of-our-lives photoshoots,
The heat on the Great Wall reminded her of hiking the Inca Trail, the mention of a Swedish friend reminded her of trips to Sweden (and freebie: Norway too!), and most foul was the reminder that the Great Wall was one of the 7 Wonders. This particular piece of knowledge sparked her to write down all the Wonders (of course referring to Chichen Itza as simply Mexico) and immodestly announce to a full table she only had three left. A little low of me, but I shrewdly proclaimed that I too had only three left to see although I’d be “scratching off” two more in only a matter of months.
You’re probably thinking one of two things. Britt, you’re mean. Let the girl take her selfies and gloat if she wants to…you’re really just as bad. or Gosh! She sounds dreadful. Backpackers don’t get much worse than that.
This one wasn’t big on tooting her own travel horn, but she did live for a photo op.
I overheard the two planning their day of sightseeing in the morning. Miss showboat listed all the major Beijing sights and added in, “Oh and I guess that square is supposed to be good too.” She was referring to Tianan-frickin-men square. You know? That cute little square where hundreds, possibly thousands, were massacred during student-led protests wishing to expose issues with China’s political leadership less than three decades ago. We were only days away from the anniversary! Didn’t realize censorship of the demonstrations was a thing in England.
So I groaned internally and set out for the Summer Palace with our rag tag group of backpackers. After the numerous stops to juggle iphones, DSLRS and gopros, I could feel my patience slipping from me.
While walking to the metro on our way to the next
checkmark Beijing sight, Miss Speedy Gonzalez lamented on not being able to sleep in the comfort of her stuffed animal covered bed for another few months. To her, the hostel beds weren’t bad, you see, but it just wasn’t the same. Remembering my Balkans trip and that same miserable feeling of having to pick up and move every few days I asked her how many nights she was averaging in each bed.
“Oh well it’s been different every time. [laugh] I had planned four nights in Shanghai, but when I got there I really saw everything in one afternoon, so I just moved on to the next place,” she replied.
Yep, that was it.
I jumped off the metro at a random station shortly after.
And by some sudden stroke of luck, a friend of a friend living in Beijing had just messaged me to meet up for lunch in a cool, artsy area that locals and expats living in the city haunt.
My kind of travel. No photos were taken.
No traveler is perfect. We’re all guilty of pretension. Guilty of conceit. Guilty of naiveté.
We’re all transient.
and I took this selfie on The Wall