Last summer, a university friend and I decided to embark on an adventure of a lifetime in Western China. We had worked hard throughout the year to fund this trip, but because it fell at the end of the term, a lot of that money had gone towards other unexpected expenses.
By the time we begun our adventure, we realised that we were both on limited budgets.
This, however, did not stop us from doing everything that we wanted to do. Travelling on a budget isn’t all counting coppers, our budget allowed us to be creative and think outside the box.
- Staying with locals:
During this writer’s time in Xinjiang, we stayed with local families in their homes to save vital funds. This was a great opportunity to learn not only about their lifestyle but also hear about the origins of their culture and develop more of an understanding of the local political climate.
For instance, one family that we stayed permitted us to ride their horses around a vast, beautiful lake that truly beggars belief. The mother cooked us a meal, and sitting around the fire, it allowed us the opportunity to browse old family photos, augmenting our cultural understanding. Importantly, due to the fact that the parents were not able to go to school, they only spoke Uyghur and no Chinese, so their children would translate for us. It was this more than any other previous experience that gave this writer a sense of perspective. It allowed a comprehension of the basic advantages afforded to many of a different and some would say, more economically prosperous background such as easy access to education and healthcare.
Travelling on overnight trains in China is not the most ideal method of travel.
When staying with locals, it is extremely important that you respect their culture, a common yet often unspoken rule for the intrepid explorer. Be sure to research your destination beforehand to understand what is appropriate and what isn’t. Undeniably, due to the fact most of Xinjiang’s population is Muslim, it was important for us to dress appropriately while spending time with these families.
- Slow, packed trains:
Moreover, travelling on overnight trains in China is not the most ideal method of travel. Some of our train rides were over 12 hours long, in very crowded conditions and sat on increasingly hard seats. The carriage was lit the whole journey, and there was a constant roar of noise from other passengers.
However, it is not all doom and gloom; this experience allowed us to interact with locals finding out what they were doing and where they were going. We spoke to a local lady who shared her life story with us; she was now attending University in the capital city, and we were able to relate as we compared and contrasted our University experiences. It was curiously wonderful experience to see that, even though we live in different worlds, we still had a lot in common.
It is crucial to make smart decisions prior and while hitchhiking.
During our trip, the decision was made to traverse the Karakoram Highway, which links China to Pakistan. The Karakoram Highway is one of the highest international roads in the world – definitely a must see for the brave and redoubtable traveller.
Paid tours were extremely expensive, so we had to choice but to be creative and hitchhike along the highway. Hitchhiking on three different occasions, first in a car with that was taking locals home, then with a truck driver who was carrying bricks across the border, and lastly with policemen was a truly gratifying and wholly unique experience
Furthermore, it is crucial to make smart decisions prior and while hitchhiking. First of all, the advice of this writer is to never give out too much information about yourself. Keep it minimal. Moreover, do not allow your drive to take you on detours to see a scenic spot or meet a certain person, stick to your destination. Lastly, I suggest that you make sure to have your mobile phone on full battery, so if you run into any problems, you can call or message someone you know (in addition, make sure you have the local police number saved on your phone).
Although hitchhiking can be dangerous, if done with the proper precautions, it is definitely worth the trip.
Due to the uncertain nature of sleeping arrangements during our trip, we took the most valuable piece of equipment to the traveller, the trusty tent. This tent came was particularly useful the times when we got dropped off along the highway in the middle of nowhere. One night in particular, after walking around the area for a bit, we found a perfect spot to pitch our tent. We opted for that option instead of staying in a Yurt nearby in order to save our money for other things ahead. An incredible vista rewarded us with K2, which is the second largest mountain in the world after Everest, greeting us in the early morning light.
Travelling on a budget isn’t always the dream, but it’s definitely worth giving it a go: it will teach you more about yourself and more about your destination.
On this particular adventure, travelling on a budget made us creative. We went up to random people to ask for a place to stay, we learnt how to negotiate, and adapted to living in different places. This experience increased my confidence and fostered vital diplomatic skills through learning so much about the local culture and experiencing locales one would not have necessarily seen. Lastly, it allowed for self- discovery and personal growth
If you’re planning your own adventure, make sure you do your research first. Check out the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s travel checklist to make sure you’re all set for your trip abroad. It’s also worth making sure that you keep an eye on the @FCOtravel Twitter for updates on your destination of choice. If you do get into any trouble while you’re out there you’ll need to contact the nearest British embassy or consulate, you can find a full list here.