One thing that makes Boho girls awesome is that they have a fabulous sense of independence and adventure. Life is too amazing for us to let it pass us by, so I'm all for venturing out, getting messy, and seeing the world!
When it comes to travel, I know a lot of people stick to cruises, resorts, and tours, but I recommend something a bit more adventurous: going off the beaten track. It is the Boho thing to do after all.
I just returned from China where I gave the whole "adventure" thing a try. To step outside my comfort bubble, I decided to take a solo side trip to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, which is about four hours away from Changsha in the Hunan Province. I didn't speak, understand, or read a lick of Chinese, I didn't know the area, and I didn't have a guide to accompany me, but that was all part of the experience. I've found that if I stick to five simple guidelines, things just work themselves out. Now I'd like to share them with you with hopes that you'll take more adventures of your own!
1. Always Be Prepared
It's wonderfully freeing to cast your fate to the wind, but like a boyscout you should always be prepared. Although I went to Zhangjiajie by myself and with no language skills, I prepared by researching the area, booking a hotel, and asking a concierge to write out some helpful phrases such as "Please take me to the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park" and "I would like a bus ticket to Changsha." I also brought a pen and paper with me so I could draw out other things I might need, and re-chipped my cell phone with a local phone card just in case I needed emergency translation.
2. Go with the flow
One of the most important mindsets to bring along on adventure travel is a willingness to let things unfold as they will. Sometimes an unfortunate or uncomfortable turn of events can turn out to be one of the most memorable or funny things about your trip. During my stay in Zhangjiajie, I got a lot of stares and attention for being a tall Caucasian. Part of me wanted to freak out, but I decided to have fun with it and be a good sport. I can't tell you how many times I was stopped and asked to pose for pictures with people, but I just hammed it up and pretended this was my one shot at being famous. I even asked some of my spontaneous friends to snap a photo with my camera too, so now I have a bunch of funny pictures of me cheesing with complete strangers! If that's not a fun experience to remember, I don't know what is.
3. Be open minded, get messy, and make mistakes
I've seen so many closed-minded American tourists sticking only to shopping malls, Starbucks, and international hotels during their stays in foreign cities. What a waste! Perhaps these people are worried about getting lost, making a fool of themselves, or encountering problems, but I'd venture to say that all those misadventures are my favorite things about travel! Didn't Ms. Frizzle always tell her students to take chances, get messy, and make mistakes? It's the best way to learn!
On my first day in Zhangjiajie, I walked so far along a mountain stream trail that by the time I got to the end, it was already starting to get dark, and I realized I'd have to double all the way back to get out of the park and back to my hotel. At first, I thought I was royally screwed, but then I ran across two men carrying a litter, and asked if I could go for a ride. After a drawn out bargaining process (I was short on money, OK??), I hopped on for a ride, and rode like a princess through the forest for a good long time! I decided to get a bit more creative though- after a bit, I asked (or rather gestured and siigned to) my carriers that I wanted to carry the litter for a bit. This gave one of the men a brake, and ligtened the other's load- plus I had a blast carrying the thing. It gave me a taste of what it was like for these men to carry around a litter all day (they must be STRONG!!!), and I got a total kick out of everyone's reactions as we passed them by. Was I looking like a complete idiot? Probably, but I had a blast, gained some new perspectives, and cracked a lot of people up.
4. Be respectful
Hey, we're all for environmentalism and stewartship, so it goes without saying that we should be respectful to nature wherever we go, but we should also be respectful of local rules and customs. I always try to be extra polite and curteous when away from home, because I know I'm acting as a representative of the American people. I won't litter, yell, get angry, or reject the kindness of others. Though lots of people have stories of being ripped off or treated poorly abroad, I've been very lucky and never encountered such hardship. I think a lot of that is due to the way I act. You get what you put out there!
When I was about to leave Changsha for Zhangjiajie, my hotel concierge (and many friends) warned me of pickpockets, scam artists, and other people in general who might try to take advantage of me. Obviously I exercised great caution during my trip, but I also made an effort to be friendly and curteous. What I found was that those I might see as threatening were really just trying to help me. Because I was respectful and patient, I was able to make great friends. Nobody stole from or cheated me in Zhangjiajie as was warned- in fact, people helped me a LOT and even bought me local treats. Yum!
5. Have FUN
This is the ultimate travel tip. If you let yourself be tired, irritable, or uncomfortable, you will be. If you decide to enjoy yourself, you will! Travel isn't always easy, and it certainly isn't always comfortable, but that's what makes it extraordinary.
There were some times during my trip (especially during long bus rides on which everyone smoked and large animals hit and cracked the windshield) when I really could have lost it, but I reminded myself how lucky I was to be out on the road, and I deceded to make the best of everything. I'm glad I did- because I had a fantastic time!
Great luck with all your travels, and if you ever want to share your adventures with us, email some pictures and your story to firstname.lastname@example.org!