Finding a job: excitement, panic and disorientation

So, they said that coming back after travelling was going to be hard. But I was ready. I wanted to go back. I was eager and I had a plan. And coming back was wonderful! I could do my yoga practice every day, it was great being with my family again and I started teaching yoga (semi) regularly for the first time and really enjoyed it.

Initial excitement

I actually told myself I wouldn’t start seriously hunting for job until after the New Year (I got back in late October) to give myself time to readjust and focus on yoga but somehow job opportunities seemed to be falling into my lap. I went to a ‘Hackathon’ (a two day event where you quickly design a build a new digital product) and through that a really exciting opportunity at a well respected company seemed imminent. My dream design agency met me for coffee, and finally I experienced what looking for jobs when you have experience must be like. Looking for jobs had been horrendous right after I graduated but with 2 years solid experience under my belt, it was going to be a breeze. I worried about how I would choose if I got offered both.

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Panic sets in

Then somehow January and half of February happened and I still didn’t have a job. What had gone wrong? The hackathon job was still rumbling on, no sign of a decision in sight. And at least I’d got an interview for that one, I’d been rejected for many other similar roles: “We know you’ll be disappointed but…”. The coffee turned out to be an informal chat.

I started to look at my original Tier 2 companies with longing. What wouldn’t I give to be working there. I wish I’d applied earlier. I’d already turned myself into a User Researcher and an Interaction Designer, now I was to be a Content Designer and a UX Researcher. No one understood that I was ALL OF THESE THINGS AND MORE. Actually, if anything, I’d like to be a Service Designer, so there.

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Getting help

The single most bizarre experience of the whole thing to date is mindlessly sending off my CV to nameless recruiters advertising an “exiting UX opportunity in a fast-paced design agency in the city centre”, wiping the tears off my face as I despaired if I’d be able to find anything. Moments later, weeping into my pillow in what I can only hope is the lowest moment of the job search (it wasn’t).

…Only to be woken up from my afternoon nap to a chatty guy named Dave who thought he might have a job for me. I was still feeling slightly dizzy whenever I went to the loo (I had a virus all week), but I chatted animatedly to Peter (“Oh me? I single handedly turning around the fate of my company through UX design”) and he thought he might have a job for me. So did James and Nigel the next morning. Andrew even thought I had a great portfolio and thought I would fit in great at a company that didn’t try to make gambling more addictive and encourage rampant consumerism.

I was suddenly having real chats with real people who were chasing me about jobs and thought I was a bloody good prospect. It felt totally unsettling, absurd, bizarre and unbalanced, but not all together unpleasant. I felt a strong need for yoga, which I hadn’t been doing owing to being ill, and also the vague sense I was on the wrong path. How I had fallen from the high ideals of my earlier job search, of my passionate idealist self coming back home to change society for the better through design?

A sad reality

Interacting with the real world is hard. Being judged and found inadequate is hard. My expansive hopes and dreams were squeezed into so many different boxes, I wasn’t sure where I was anymore. I imagined so many different future realities, bringing UX design to the NHS by stealth and becoming a Project Manager, moving across the country, getting a minimum wage Healthcare Assistant job to get on the ground experience…it was exhausting.

What seemed so simple, dreaming my dreams in Rishikesh, turned out not to be. Coming back from travelling to the UK to the warm embrace of my family and friends was not hard. Re-entering the world of work was. And it was about to get harder.

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*Names changed.

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Image of the boot of a car filled with stuff to move house.

Following your path: coming home from travelling and starting the job search


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about following your path. How much do you need to choose and push for everything? How much should you see what happens when you allow it to?

Perhaps rather rashly, I’ve recently moved to Manchester.

Image of the boot of a car filled with stuff to move house.

What have I been doing with myself since my last post I hear my loyal audience ask? I came home in late October to find it just as I expected, except people had more of their own lives and so there were slightly less lazy communal evenings in and slightly more evenings home alone while my parents jollied off to do Pilates.

But it was more or less lovely. I got straight into my daily morning yoga practice just as I’d been yearning for, discovered some local yoga classes I could volunteer at and throughly enjoyed good home cooking. In fact, it got me wondering how amazing reality is compared to your imagination.

Reality vrs. Imagination

Pretty much just before leaving Nepal and my year of travelling, I did a 10-day Vipassana course. My one sentence summary on it is: it wasn’t immediately life changing, in the way my first yoga teacher training was, but it’s a good solid technique that I’m finding myself coming back to and I’ll probably do another course.

Apart from focus on my breath and greeting all sensations with equanimity, which was the intention of the course, I did a lot of thinking and imagining in Vipassana. Oh my, those dreams were entertaining and alluring in a time of so little external input. I designed a whole range of non-alcoholic cocktails that are going to take the UK by storm, starting with my alcohol loving family. I even opened a bar. I was the joint CEO of a Healthcare Design agency, expertly balancing childcare and business priorities. I’m very productive when I’m sitting cross legged on a cushion.

But the even more amazing thing? None of what I imagined was as intriguing, unexpected, or wonderful as what actually happened. The detail to which real life goes into is exquisite. The literal second by millisecond scatching your head, feeling your heart sink, squeaking through the terrible seconds of anxiety. It’s really all there for you to see in full excruciating colour. And imagination zooms over that. Just like a dream, you’ve no idea how you went from juicing a cucumber in your parents kitchen to opening a trendy alcohol free bar. You’re just suddenly there. You don’t know how you came to be juggling childcare with your new job share partner at a thriving socially responsible company, you just find yourself handing your baby to an intern and you bustle off to an important meeting.

Just like a in film, you plop in at the important scenes but none of the down time is seen. None of the staring into space, none of the taking three hours to cook dinner and wiping down the kitchen surfaces. With real life, you are a part of everything and you have the opportunity to observe it. It’s so much richer than anything you could every imagine. The depth of feeling, getting to really interact with other people, and the complexity how out of the blue things can totally change your direction are beyond what our fantasies can give us.

After so much time imagining, especially during Vipassiona, but perhaps also during the whole of my travelling when I was often wondering what I was going to do when I got back, being back and experiencing the totality of what I actually did when I did get back was refreshing.

Observing your own life and tuning into the terrifying details of it also comes into the idea of following your own path. Observing, following, and listening, not making something happen, directing or deciding.

Following your path

So right now, I’ve moved to Manchester and I’m having an interesting time not being terrified of not getting a job. I easily could be, with rent comes the responsibility to earn. But I’m trying to be more present than that. Something’s brought me here. Somehow it felt right to look at houses in early Jan, somehow I found this amazing one and bloody jumped on the chance. Somehow I want to nest and settle. I’ve brought matching bedside lamps and a fancy kettle. I’m making a home. I’m bedding down for the next chapter of my life, for which the travelling was just a prelude, and it’s here in my wonderful new bedroom with room for morning yoga that I’m doing it. Somehow, that’s what I needed.

So I’m trying to stay alert. That’s where not watch TV comes in, you might miss things. You have to be looking…what do I need to be aware of now? What should I be working on? What’s important? What’s happening right now and how I can do the thing this moment wants from me? How can I listen, how can I hear the next steps?

The intention for my yoga practice for the last few days has been: ‘May I be open for the next step in my path’. May I come to it with an open heart and through that be living the most powerful manifestation of my life. May I have a sense of childlike curiosity about what form my life will take.

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Slow travelling vrs. fast travelling

Before I started travelling, I was reasonably worried I wouldn’t like it. The only other time I’d really been travelling on my own, when I was 18 and travelled through Croatia and Albania for two weeks, I really hadn’t enjoyed it. I had been borderline terrified the whole time, although of course I wouldn’t have admitted it to myself at the time. The bit I enjoyed the most was getting lost in a book on the long bus journeys…not perhaps a good sign.

I was older and wiser now, having spent a decent chunk of my adult life abroad, so much better equipped to deal with myself. Still, the only previous time I’d spent a large chunk of time far away from home, when I spent 3 months in New York, I’d been frankly surprised at how much I’d enjoyed it, and even then I’d been fairly homesick and hoping time would go faster by about half-way through. So in many way expecting to enjoy long term travelling was fairly outrageous, and yet I did. I genuinely enjoyed myself. I spent 6 months far away from any ‘home’ and yet had some of the most heart warming and clearly ‘belonging’ experiences of my life.

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Look at these lovely people! Met volunteering in Tamil Nadu 😊

I think the key to my success is I spent the majority of my time in India slow travelling, I spent at least a week and often longer in each place, rather than ‘fast travelling’ as I attempted to do in China, where I moved every couple of days. When I planned the first part of my travels I had the dangers of not enjoying it clearly in mind, so I planned to spend the whole first month with a built in community and purpose on my 200h yoga teacher training course. It worked brilliantly and I made life long friends on the course who I could also travel and meet up with for the rest of my time in India. I kind of let the rest of India ‘happen’ without too much planning and so the slow pace continued.

Somehow though, the joy of travelling in India lulled me into a false sense of security so I’d lost my (valid) fear of not enjoying travelling by the time it came to planning China. Also, I think the time pressure of a 30 day max stay visa (dual entry) and also the pressure of trying to ‘understand China’ which is so much less visited by Westerners, encouraged me to try and see more. To my downfall. Now, I had some lovely times travelling Yunnan and Sichuan, but they were surrounded by plenty of feeling out of place, lonely and homesick times and segwayed by some stressed, confused and worried times.

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Ultimately, I don’t really get the point of fast travelling. The benefits of slow travelling have been clearly laid out of me:

  1. You get to meet amazing people who share your values and you can support each other in living the kind of life they want
  2. You get to learn amazing things from amazing people about concepts and practices that might not be common where you come from
  3. You get to question what is ‘normal’ by experiencing other ‘normals’ that are different from yours.

But you don’t really get any of that from fast travelling. You move too fast to make good friends and form a community, you’re not there for long enough to really learn something, and your already gone before the weird things you come up against seem normal. Fast travelling, it seems to me, you see more, but you experience less. It makes for better Instagram posts, but less learning. You get more of the less fun bits (long bus journeys and arriving in a new place which no idea where to stay or eat) of travelling, and less of the good bits. Frankly, anywhere that you don’t want to spend longer than a few days…why go at all?

This was clearly something I already half knew, hence why I got it so right in India, yet something I did forget when planning my China trip, which I one of the reasons I’m writing this, so I can hopefully reassure any budding slow travelling that their choices are valid and give them strength to resist the lure of fast travelling!!

When is it time to go home?

I breezed through 6 months in India and a week in Hong Kong without a thought in the world of going home. That’s not quite true, I set off on this trip knowing I’d come back within 11 months of setting off – I didn’t want to miss Christmas at home. I also knew I wanted to come back home and settle down, I just needed the time and space to think about what I wanted to do with my life first.

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The carefree life in my first stop: Kovalam, Kerala, India

So it was always on the horizon, but until my last day in China, it was in the distant future, something to long term plan for, but not something to contemplate in the here and now. My month travelling China was hard, I was lonely and struggled with the transportation and food. I’m not really built for fast travelling, moving every few days, and after an adult life including not inconsiderable portions of loneliness, I’m ready to be surrounded by people I love on a fairly constant basis. So, China was hard, but I was still up for travel in general after a month of it, just in places that had English menus and speakers.

On the last day in China though, I started to feel I might have done what I set out to do, and that changed things. I’d had the chance to think about what I wanted, I’d had the space to dream and I’d kinda decided what I wanted to do. I’d also learnt more than enough yoga to keep me occupied in my personal practice for the next few years. If those we my primary aims of travelling, decided what I wanted to do and learning tools to help me do it, I’d done them! What then, what the value it carrying on travelling?

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Fully immersing myself in the Chinese culture in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan

Then a week later, after my two day Buddhist temple retreat in Korea, some of the details began to solidify and I became even more sure. Just before I’d gone, I’d re-googled the masters program I was thinking about and found the details really fit into the rest of my plans. Those seedlings began to populate my mind whilst meditating by the sea, and when I got back all I wanted to do was phone my friends and family and let them know my plans.

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A wise friend cooled my ardour and advised me not to make a decision before I had to. How I feel now is a product of this specific context and after my Tai Chi and meditation course, two things I definitely wanted to do before I left, it’ll be a very different context and I might feel differently. Fair enough. But she also gave me a tip – the masters I want to do is in Healthcare Design and for it I need a job in healthcare to give me frontline experience. But I’m not qualified in anything healthcare related – how can I get a job? Easily it turns out, there are lots of unqualified ‘Healthcare Assistant’ jobs out there which prompted hours of scrolling though potential jobs dreaming of helping adults with learning disabilities live their daily life or assisting on a mental heath ward. Each new thing I learnt helped to flesh out my idea of my plans for the future and my excitement was palpable.

That’s what really changed my mind. The idea of going back home and starting to persue my dreams became more exciting than travelling more, even though that would be doing amazing things like hiking the Annapurna trek…I started to feel like it’s just a long hike. Back home I get I set up my daily yoga and meditation practice and see what it’s really like to do that day in day out, it allows me to start finding clients and seeing what the yoga teaching scene is like back home, it allows me to start getting settled in my new home and it allows me to start getting experience in healthcare and perusing what I think could be an awesome career for me. All from the comfort of where I grew up, surrounded by family and friends and home cooked food. What more could you ask for?

I thought when I left I wanted to settle down, and travelling has confirmed my belief. When I was young the only things I wanted to do was get as far away from what I knew as possible, going first to London, then Eindhoven in the Netherlands, and then New York. After graduation the thought of living in the country I grew up in wasn’t so abhorrent and so I moved back to London, but still thought of almost anywhere else in England as a barren wasteland. But now it’s time to go back to Cheshire. I actually think of it as bursting with possibility and opportunity now, which just goes to show how much more important your mindset is than objective reality as I assume the North West of England hasn’t fundamentally changed in th last 5 years or so.

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Indulging in the not so traditional Korean food of Seoul: a mushroom burger

How much travel is right is different for each person. Some people never hunger for it, others never get sated by it. But for me, I did hunger, but now I am full. I’m half way through dessert, and might just have some room for a few chocolates and a decaf coffee, but then I’m done. I’d rather save the rest of my travelling (I’m thinking of going back 2 months earlier than the longest I’ve thought of staying out) for when I really need it, and will really relish it.

Two Weeks in a Tai Chi school in China: discipline, commitment and support

I signed up for the Tai Chi and Meditation course at Maling Shaolin Academy on a bit of an impulse. In retrospect, I didn’t do a whole lot of research about it. Don’t worry, I enjoyed it immensely, but it wasn’t quite what I imagined.

Firstly, Tai Chi is a martial art. I know, seems obvious right? I’d actually never done Tai Chi before, but I had done Qi Gong a few times, mainly with the lovely No Mi and Dawa from Wobbly Spoon who I met in Dharamsala in India. I thought, in my total innocence, that Tai Chi was a bit similar. However, Tai Chi is a martial art, Qi Gong isn’t. Tai Chi is about fighting people, Qi Gong isn’t. Qi Gong is actually more comparable to yoga – not in the moves at all, but in that it’s purely about moving energy around the body to improve your health and wellbeing. Tai Chi also very much does that, but you can also use it to throw someone to the floor.

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Me and my fantastic teacher, Master Ning

Now, it might be worth mentioning what type of Tai Chi I was doing, as different styles can have very different approaches. The wonderful Master Ning at Maling Shaolin Kung Fu school taught Chen style Tai Chi, and while I was there we were learning the 18 basic steps. As I understand it, it’s a more external style focused on the applications in fighting than the more popular Yang style, which is probably what you have an image of in your head if you think of Tai Chi.

Secondly, it’s mainly a Kung Fu school. There are only about 20 students (I arrived at the end of the busy summer period) and most follow the Kung Fu schedule, which includes lots of fun stuff like jumps and rolls, conditioning (hitting yourself over the head to make yourself tougher) and power training, as well as three lessons a week of Kung Fu forms. The three of us who were doing Tai Chi while I was there joined everyone else for warming up, Qi Gong and power stretching, but the rest of the seasons (12) were all learning the Tai Chi form, aswell as 5 morning session which also worked on the same form. Absolutely perfect if you want to work on your Tai Chi, but you can feel a bit left out when everyone else is talking about the rewarding pain they felt hugging a tree in power training.

Once I realised what I’d got myself in for though, I was still really glad I came and got a lot out of it.

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A spot on Qi Gong in the wheat fields

Firstly, I loved the schedule. God, how I love a good schedule. I loved the yoga teaching training for that, my time in the Ashram and okay I could have done with a bit more free time in Sadhana forest but…schedules are awesome. For the two weeks I was here, I woke up at 5:30am to meditate for half an hour, then went straight to the mornings Tai Chi lessons. Then it was breakfast and time for about an hour of chilling. This is what I love about a good schedule – the time in between. Time to read a bit, to relax, to do some admin, to sleep, just in the middle of the day. Bliss.

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Then we all went for a 2km run to warm up and I went to Tai Chi while (almost) everyone else went to do Kung Fu. We did an hour training, then another half hour blissful rest, then another hour training. By lunch time you’ve already done most of the days work, a great feeling. After lunch we do another 2km run (or a 4km one on Thursday and a 10km one on Friday) and another hour of training. Then your free! There are optional classes in other marital arts styles Monday and Tuesday, but I took the chance to do my yoga practice – another awesome thing about being here was I had the time and space to do yoga after a 2 month break of hiking and travelling where I was hard to have any sort of routine. Which brings me to my next point…

Everyone here was really committed and motivated so it was the perfect atmosphere to physically train yourself. In the evenings, everyone was practicing their Kung Fu forms so it felt totally natural to do some extra training, even though I chose yoga myself. People are really here to improve them self, get fitter and be more in control of their own power so it really helps you on that journey too. Thank you guys!

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A chance to do some yoga on the roof top!

Another good thing, the actual Tai Chi! I found learning the forms very challenging and demanding, it’s a whole new language for your body to learn so it can feel completely unnatural and you have to wrap you brain around a lot of new things. Have you ever though how the power from you feet travels up you leg, and turns you hip in order to generate power in your fingers? No, me neither, until someone made me do it in a Tai Chi class. Your hip, arms, fingers, back and facial expressions all have to be doing the right thing and it takes time to learn it. The super super cool thing though is once you’ve learnt it, even just a little bit of it, you can start to visualise how the energy is passing through you, you can feel the energy sinking down to you feet or staying in your dantian (an area below your navel).

I’m just scratching the surface but this seems to be something that the Chinese traditions have a lot more of than yoga, really directly working with your energy/life force, which they call chi. People seem to worry about the exact translation and meaning of chi, but it seems very similar to the concept of prana in yogic philosophy. I imagine is as a flowing substance in my body, and I’m totally willing to believe it’s the same force that creates trees and tarmac. There are a lot of clearly awesome things in Daoist philosophy, I dug into it a little more reading the first half of ‘Decoding the Dao’ by Tom Bisio while I was here.

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Tai Chi Comrades 🙌

These two weeks got me thinking out of my comfort zone. Naturally, I’m more of a ‘Yin’ person when I comes to exercise, I find it hard to push myself that much, I tend to being slow and careful and my yoga practice is very meditative. But being surrounded by the hard Yang of martial arts is pushing through that, which I think is very balancing. I’ve thought previously I need a strong Yang practice if I’m going to develop my Yin yoga practice – too much Yin isn’t safe without the Yang to support it. Physically, if your connective tissue get too loose by stretching it out and you don’t have the strength in your muscles to support your flexibility, you open yourself up to injury. This experience has given me a good idea of what a good Yang practice could look like – the 2km run is definitely something I’d like to incorporate in my own practice, as is the stretching to help us do the splits, and I already know I’m going to look into doing some sort of ‘power training’ when I get back home to build my strength. My actual thoughts while being here was, this is amazing, the focus on improving yourself, the simplicity of the schedule, the support of your Kung Fu brothers and sisters, but I’m not sure martial arts is the skill I want to train, what I’d really love is to be better at ariel arts like hoop or pole…watch this space!

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Last but certainly not least, the people here were warm and friendly right from the beginning, all on their own fascinating journeys, and it was a pleasure to be able to get to know a few of them in my short time here. It certainly cured me of the ‘where are all my fellow intrepid travellers?’ syndrome I’d felt in much of the rest of my travel around China. They’re all here, learning Kung Fu. If you’ve ever wanted to learn martial arts, I’d definitely recommend joining them. Two weeks is about the shortest time you can stay, most people stay here at least a month and often up to 6 months or a year. The longest staying person the right now has been there for 2.5 years!

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Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge Solo: beautiful views, easy trails and people to talk to!

Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge was always on my travel agenda for Yunnan and it definitely lived up to expectations. It was a clear highlight of the trip for two reasons:

  1. It’s a beautiful hike
  2. I met lots of lovely English speakers so it was also the most sociable part of my trip

However, arriving at Jane’s Guesthouse, the starting point of the hike, on an unsuspecting Sunday afternoon to find the entire place empty of fellow hikers produced a trickle of fear in my heart. I’d been hoping and expecting I’d find loads of other solo hikers here who could join me on my trek. I’d never been hiking alone, was is safe? Was I crazy fool hardy to attempt it?

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I immediately began searching on the internet to see if other people, especially women, had hiked the trail alone and didn’t really find any, although I found a great blog post written by a couple. To my great relief, more hikers did trickle in later in the day, a friendly French couple and two guys from England. Both sets of two people I noticed, but they gave me the chance to talk a bit about the trail and calm my nerves.

The real bonus came when an American couple who’d just finished the trail turned up to pick up their bags and we got the chance to talk. Hearing about the trail first hand from them completely reassure me I was doing a reasonable thing. Here is a list of the reassuring things the American couple said, slightly embellished by my own subsequent experience of hiking of the trail. Hopefully it will reassure you in turn it’s a great thing to do!

  1. The most important one is that there are lots of people on the trail. My main fear about hiking alone is I break and ankle and have to drag myself 5km to get help. That just wouldn’t happen here, there were lots of people on the trail, maybe 20 or so a day while I was there in mid-August 2018 and also there are locals hanging about, tending sheep or shops along the way so you’d be quickly found.
  2. Secondly, there are good signs for the trail so it’s hard to get lost. I used maps.me to double check I was on the right path if I couldn’t see a sign – more often than not is be half way through checking it and I’d see the next sign but it was still useful a few times.DSC_2653
  3. Thirdly, sorting out baggage and getting onward buses to Shangri-la or Lijiang is super easy. You can leave your baggage at Jane’s Guesthouse and then get a bus that sets off from Tina’s and stops enroute at Jane’s for five minutes so you can pick up your baggage. Very convenient!
  4. Next, I actually had no idea of how food works on the trail. Do we need to get a packed lunch from the guesthouse? Buy our own lunch from the shop? It turns out though that the guesthouses are close enough together, and they all serve food restaurant-style to order, so you can just stop at a guesthouse for lunch. Easy!
  5. Importantly, they met lots of nice people on their trek and they all ate togethe. Exactly what I was loving for, and also what I go on my trek.
  6. On some blogs people say the men offering donkey rides are quite pushy but, like many others, I didn’t find them to be pushy at all, I just said no and walked off, easy peasy. I felt totally safe the whole time.
  7. Lastly, the guidebooks bang on about how hard the 28 bends are, but the bit leading up to them is just as hard, and many say harder, perhaps because it’s a less developed track. They actually ascend the same amount so, if you find the first bit hard, fear not, it’s not going to get any harder, just continue on about the same (it’s a much easier walk after the 28 bends).

So, with all these reassuring things in my pocket, I set off the following morning shortly after the English guys. The French couple had jetted off before breakfast because they only had one day to do the hike, which seems crazy to me but lots of people do it. It’s a challenging one day or easy two day hike from Jane’s to Tina’s, and there is plenty more hiking to do for three days. I took three days and I think the area totally warrants the time spent there.

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My route through Tiger Leaping Gorge

From Jane’s Guesthouse I hiked 2.5h (6km) to the Naxi Family Guesthouse for a quick snack, then another 3h (6km) to the Teahorse Guesthouse where I had a lateish lunch and ended up staying the night, it was too nice.

On the second day I hiked the easy 10km to Tina’s guesthouse in just under 4h for lunch, and then walked the quite steeply ascending 4km to Walnut Garden Youth Hostel via the road. Initially I’d not planned to go to Tina’s, there is a clear path the branches to the left 15 mins before you get the Tina’s that leads straight there, but there is nowhere else really to get food and I was hungry. Once I got to Tina’s some fellow hikers warned me off using the high trail saying it’s in less good repair than the rest of the path and could be dangerous. I have no idea how true that is, but it was enough to put me off. The road route is mainly along a tiny local rarely used road with great views of the gorge though so all good. Plus, I could book my bus ticket to Shangri-la for the next day at Tina’s.

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The third day, me and a lovely French lady I met at Walnut Garden hiked all the way down to the actual Yangtze River that made the gorge in 2.5 hours. It’s a tiny bit annoying because you have to pay entry to get down there, and if you did the route we did you have to pay twice but in the end it’s not much money so just cough up and be grateful you earn more than them (I’m assuming otherwise it’s unlikely you’d be travelling here!).

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It’s really worth it though, I throughly enjoyed the majesty and raw power of the Yangtze up close. Mesmerising. The only trouble is you do then have to hike back up and despite my now considerable experience hiking up mountains in Ladakh, I was slooooow and exhausted by the time I reached the top, it took me just over an hour and a half but other people were definitely faster!!

Once up at the top, I had a lovely bowl of noodles in a cafe just before you reach Tina’s (which I’d recommend, much more cosy than Tina’s) and jumped on the bus to Shangri-la. It wasn’t quite that simple a sign there was a landslide so we had to get a mini-bus and then clamber over the rocks to reach the bus…but by now we were a lovely group of people and so it wasn’t as daunting as it could have been!

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Travelling Alone in Western China: my itinerary, loneliness, infrastructure and food

In August 2018, I stepped over the boarder from Hong Kong to mainland China. I was anxious and didn’t know what to expect, but the initial arrival went very smoothly. As the month comes to an end and I sit in a Western cafe in Chengdu (the Bookworm), where I fly out tomorrow, how did I find the month? Would I recommend travelling this part of China alone? What would my advice be?

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Searching for a railway station in Jianshui that turned out to be 8km away…

Loneliness

The hardest thing about travelling solo in Western china for a month is there aren’t many English speakers here. Even when you find some, everyone is on the move so you’ll only have a few days together. Consequently, I found loneliness the hardest thing to deal with. No one to share my observations, worries and joys with.

It’s simply a problem I never had in 6 months of travelling India, I travelled slower and there much more English speakers so I was fairly constantly surrounded by lovely people. Coming out of that bubble was not what I wanted, and for me it pushed me to the edge of whether I was enjoying this period of travelling or not.

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Favourite food in Yunnan: rose cakes. Yum!

I realised the most important thing about travelling is the people you meet. It’s very clear, the bits of travelling I enjoyed the most were those I was with people I liked. Which is why, if I’m totally honest, I’d recommend travelling Western China with a friend or tour group. I met a couple of tour groups while travelling and they seemed full of nice people. Plenty of people who have travelled alone to other places choose tour groups in China it seems! Either that or travel slowly and do a course of volunteer, where again you’ll meet English speaking people – that’s my plan for when I go back to China in a week anyway, I’ll let you know how successful it is!

Good infrastructure

In many ways, getting around China was much easier than expected. Their subways, trains and buses run in much the same way as they do in Europe, and in all subways and train stations there are English signs and announcements so you know exactly what your doing. You can book your train tickets in English using trip.com, and do the whole things like a pro without speaking any Chinese. I felt completely safe the entire time I was there (okay, I had a tiny wobble when I was wandering around an unknown village after dark before finding my accommodation in Yuanyang…)

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High speed train in China

One challengingly thing is, hostels and guesthouses don’t always have clear signs. Either they’re only in Chinese, or they don’t exist at all. I had the most difficulties finding my accommodation in Shenzhen, Pugao in Yuanyang and Daocheng so size of town is no guide. The advice I’d give is if you think you might be in the right place, knock and ask anyway, you probably are and there just isn’t a sign.

Chinese food is a challenge

I surprised myself by getting to a stage where I couldn’t face noodles for breakfast after less than a week. In non-touristy towns, there isn’t any other option than Chinese food and it’s amazing how quickly you start fantasising about baked potato beans and cheese, if your anything like me anyway. You can get good Western food in Dali, Shangri-la, Kangding and Chengdu, and probably Shenzhen and Kunming I just wasn’t looking for it. But for the time in between I’d recommend carrying a bag of museli and/or snack bars so at least you can eat breakfast before wandering out into an unknown Chinese town. It’s not only the fact it’s Chinese food, it’s the fact there won’t be an English menu so you have to point at what you want, which is actually pretty successful you’re just not always in the mood for it when your feeling a bit worn down and hungry.

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One super nice thing about China food-wise is you can always guarantee to have hot water on tap or a kettle nearby. The Chinese seemingly have a weird superstition about cold water, thinking it will make you ill, which is great for us tea lovers out there. So if you bring your favourite tea bags, instant soups, pot noodles and hot chocolate sachets, it’s easy to make yourself at home here.

Itinerary: 1 month in China

I found it hard trying to estimate how long things would take and what journey’s would be possible or not possible so here is a detailed itinerary which might help you plan your trip:

Day 1: Hong Kong – Shenzhen

Day 2: Chill in Shenzhen

Day 3: Shenzhen – Kunming

Day 4: Chill in Kunming

Day 5: Kunming – Pugao (Yuanyang Rice Terraces)

Day 6 and 7: Chill in Pugao

Day 8: Pugao – Jianshui

Day 9: Chill in Jianshui

Day 10 and 11: Jianshui – Dali (night train to Lijiang, train to Dali)

Day 12 and 13: Chill in Dali

Day 14: Dali – Jane’s Guesthouse (Tiger Leaping Gorge)

Day 15: Jane’s Guesthouse – Teahorse Guesthouse (Tiger Leaping Gorge)

Day 16: Teahorse Guesthouse – Walnut Garden Youth Hostel (Tiger Leaping Gorge)

Day 17: Tiger Leaping Gorge – Shangri-la

Day 18: Chill in Shangri-la

Day 19: Shangri-la – Daocheng

Day 20: Chill in Daocheng

Day 21: Daocheng – Yading Nature Reserve

Day 22: Yading Nature Reserve – Daocheng

Day 23: Daocheng – Kangding

Day 24 and 25: Chill in Kangding

Day 26: Kangding – Chengdu

Day 27 and 28: Chill in Chengdu

Day 29: Chengdu to South Korea

How did the journey go?

The first part of the journey is a fairly well travelled route and went was fairly smoothly, you can read about my experience from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, and Kunming to Yuanyang Rice Terraces in previous blog posts. Shenzhen to Kunming was a dream, I took a high speed training and was thoroughly impressed. It took just 7h to do 1500km and arrived on time to the minute. There was hot water on tap and the views were stunning – I posted more pictures on my Instagram.

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In the middle of my trip I hiked Tiger Leaping Gorge, which warrants a whole blog post to itself.

After Tiger Leaping Gorge I went much more off the beaten track – most people just fly out of Shangri-la or Lijiang. I’ve written in more detail about my experience here.

Apps you need in China:

Trip.com – a great way to by train tickets in English. It’s really set up for use in China so you can just show a piece of Chinese text to the people behind the counter to collect your tickets.

Maps.me – a complete must have for travelling anywhere, maps.me is a bit limited in China because it doesn’t fully have Chinese characters. It’s still super useful though for finding your hostel or where the bus stop is. Use it with slight caution, the information is only about 90% right – it lead me astray in Jianshui, thinking that the train station was in town, when it’s 8km north of town. Its still incredibly useful to have a offline map you can bookmark and I t has lots of walking paths marked, so super useful for not get lost in Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Bidu maps – all in Chinese, and for some reason I couldn’t download it, but the most accurate map of China and you can copy paste your destination using Chinese characters.

Google translate – a must if you don’t speak mandarin! You need a VPN and wifi/data of course, but switch it to conversation mode and you can speak English into it and out will come (grammatically awful) Chinese, and visa versa.

Express VPN – or any other VPN of course but I found this worked the best in China.

Wechat – expect to make friends with lots of lovely Chinese people in restaurants and train stations. How else you you share selfies with people you barely know?

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XE currency – seems to be the best currency converter

Pleco – an off line Chinese to English dictionary, great for when you don’t have data to use google translate.