I was rather apprehensive when I arrived in Beijing. My 14 hour flight had turned my brain into mush and I now had to make my way onto the Airport Express train and a subway with a backpack that my nonexistent muscles did NOT want to carry. Before this trip, at least five people called me brave – a word that has never been applied to me before. Aside from wanting this trip to teach me about myself, I had something to prove – my first solo trip couldn’t be a disaster! Could I really do this by myself?! I would soon learn that solo doesn’t mean alone, and sometimes I would be able to count on the support of others.
Luckily, my first day went off without a hitch. I used a Mandarin ATM, got to my hostel with no injuries, and was feeling pretty proud! My conference in Beijing had a social event that night near the Olympic Stadium, so I attempted to become presentable and managed to stay for about 45 minutes before literally falling asleep standing up.
I went to bed around 7PM, which seems like a great plan on your first night in a foreign city. In the morning I had my first taste of making friends while solo! A Chinese guy staying in my hostel invited me to tag along for a traditional Chinese breakfast. We went somewhere completely Mandarin and unintelligible to me – I couldn’t have ordered anything without a Mandarin speaker. This picture is terrible because I was trying to be surreptitious – difficult when you’re the only Westerner around and people find you fascinating.
My next realization that solo doesn’t mean alone came after the first day of my conference: I made a friend for the trip to the Silk Market! Another Nova Scotian was solo in Beijing, so I tagged along with him.
Although I’m not a particularly nice person, I tend to be way overly polite toward strangers – especially pushy salespeople who have a tight grip on my arm and are yelling at me. This very specific situation obviously occurred at the market, and I was happy to have a friend there to drag me away! Regardless of the terrifying workers, I got a GoPro selfie stick for 115RMB (about $22) and a “North Face” jacket for 175RMB ($32)! I was sorely tempted to buy a “Chanel” purse and many other fun things, but I was sadly on a budget.
My final, and most exciting, experience in the wonders of making friends while travelling solo occurred on my way to the Great Wall of China. Look out for a whole post (and tons of pictures!) on the marvels that are the Wall, but suffice it to say I had an awesome day with awesome new friends!
As for these friends, I decided to brave the trek to Mutianyu in the name of saving money. I tried to get on what I thought was the right bus, only to be screamed at in Mandarin for no clear reason. A group of 15 young Tunisians in the same situation realized we were in the wrong spot, and they grabbed me so we could get on the departing bus! They took me under their wing and we ended up spending the whole day together. It was only a few hours in that they realized I was also there for Enactus – can you say coincidence?
The Great Wall was mindblowing, and I’m so glad I spent the day with some rambunctious, welcoming, hard-core negotiators. It sure made for a lot of great stories! Also supplied me with people to take my picture 😉
Needless to say, this trip taught me dozens of lessons. One of them was most certainly that solo doesn’t mean alone! It’s almost easier to make friends and travel buddies when you’re alone, and even the shyest of the shy (me) will certainly manage. Don’t let a fear of being alone stop you from travelling alone – you never know who you’ll meet and what you’ll do!