Collected thoughts about how much travel has changed me. I hope it makes a coherent story.
Fragments of our old life in Amsterdam were flashing by as we sat in a tram, on our way to a late breakfast with a friend. Raindrops on the window, slowly spiraling down. How much have we changed? How different are we compared to 5 years ago? With Amsterdam floating by, I realized just how much this past year has shaped me. People told me our trip would be life changing beforehand. But I have to see and feel to believe. And I believe.
In the tram I made a list to describe how I was feeling at the moment. Growing up. Changed perspective. Mature. Confident. Open minded. Loving. Caring. Compassionate. Open armed. Free. Understanding.
On the road we talked a lot about how this trip might affect the rest of our lives. We talked a lot. But we never ever thought it would be like this. I was surprised when I realized just how much I have changed, we have changed, us has changed. You see, I believe people can change. If you want to, you can. But it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be pretty. But you can. And you’ll be proud of yourself.
I let go of almost all of my fears.
I have learned to go with the flow, roll with the punches. I have learned to let go. I feel confident. I have found my limits, broken through them and imposed new limits on myself only to shatter them as well. I have learned to love, with all my heart. I learned to smile. Smile as wide as I can. Smile because I’m alive. Smile.
Do things that make you happy. You only live once (yes, I went there). Cliché’s are often true. You will never get today back. Today is your day to shine. And so is tomorrow. Learning to embrace this is the most valuable thing you will ever learn. If you live each day exactly the way you want to, you will be grateful to yourself when all is done and said.
Embrace what you have, but learn to let go. Your body is your own. Treat it well, it needs love to be at its best. Learn to let go of all the clutter in your life. Learn to let go of resentment, regret and hate.
When you’re traveling, the traveling itself becomes everyday life. I didn’t walk around exclaiming ‘oh my god, I’m traveling the world, it’s so awesome’ all the time. It’s just how it was. When it’s your everyday life, it loses most of its ‘oh my god’- factor. Now I’ve had some time to process it all. Looking out of the tram window it finally hit me: ‘Oh my god, we’ve traveled the world for a year and it was awesome’.
There’s this restaurant. When I lived in Amsterdam, I passed by every day and I never understood its name. Somehow I always thought it was a made up word. We passed by it again in the tram and for the first time I understood its name. It was ‘hello’ in Thai. Simple things like this make me want to travel more. I want to learn more of the world around me, I want to learn about the simple things and the deep insights. About myself and about the world. I want to experience. I want to eat sushi in Japan, speak Spanish (and eat tortillas) in Mexico, climb mountains in Nepal and swim with whales. I did find out I really need a place to feel at home, a place where I have some roots and where I can hide when the world overwhelms me. A place that is mine and ours.
I believe that everything that happens, just happens. There is no regret, just lessons.
It’s not just travel that changes you, it’s everything. You’re always changing.
Please share your thoughts, I would love to know what you think!
We’ve done all of our traveling in China by train and we absolutely loved it. China has one of the most extensive train networks in the world and you can explore almost every corner of China by train. Doing so will get you great views, convenience, decent comfort, cheap travel and a brief look into the everyday Chinese life. Here are five reasons why you will love train travel in China!
Train travel gets you some of the best views of China you can get
Lush valleys, misty rice paddies in full growth or during harvest, gargantuan cityscapes, bamboo forests in the south of China, dramatic mountain scenes, stretches of desert in the north of China, gigantic rivers meandering through the land, there is simply no end to the list of things we saw from China’s trains. We’ve been amazed again and again by the beauty of China. China’s landscape, as seen from a train, is ever-changing. The views just keep on coming.
Train travel in China is convenient and easy
Almost every train station of the larger cities in China has at least one ‘English-speaking’ ticket booth. This means that with a lot of pointing on our side and some broken English on the other side of the window you’ll get the tickets. What always helped me was a guidebook or a note with the Chinese characters for my destination on it. Your hotel/hostel staff won’t mind writing such a note for you if you ask. The ticket-seller has a monitor facing your way with all the information on it, like date of the ticket, prices, train number and departure/arrival time.
The signage in Chinese train stations is always clear enough make out where the train is leaving, in what waiting room you have to wait and at what time you are expected to stumble onto the train. If you are ever in doubt, just follow the herd that gets up as your train is announced.
Chinese train-stations will generally be in the center of the city, and I always make sure to pick our hostel or hotel strategically, so we can either walk there or take a short bus ride. This is great compared to airports, which are usually located 10+ km outside of cities.
There are lots of different classes in Chinese trains all the way from ‘deluxe soft sleeper’ to ‘hard seat’. Deluxe soft sleeper is a private cabin with two beds and sometimes even a toilet and a sink. This class is offered on only a very small percentage of Chinese trains, so you’ll be very lucky to find one every time. Hard seat can be as spartan as wooden benches, but usually they’re just regular train seats in a not air-conditioned carriage.
In all day time trains I’ve taken so far, I always had a soft seat. These carriages are air-conditioned and not as busy as the hard seat carriages.
I also took a night train several times and I can recommend it. It saves you some money on a night in a hotel and it’s comfortable enough. As a couple, we opted for hard sleeper every time, and it’s fine. It’s six beds in an open compartment. Three beds above each other, facing another three beds. We only had a snorer once or twice and earplugs work fine in that situation. Watch out for the tiny, frail grandma’s though, they fart a lot and it isn’t pretty.
You can pick the berth (lower, middle or upper) when you get your ticket. I liked the middle berths best as they have lots more space than the upper berths. The upper berths are a quite cramped. The lower berths will seat the other people in your cabin until it’s sleepy-time (lights go out at 22:00 and on again at 7:00). The lower berths are a lot more spacious though and Angela prefers those. You get clean sheets and pillowcases every time. If not, complain with the train-attendant as they probably just didn’t feel like changing them.
Do some grocery shopping before you get on the train. In some trains there’s a dining cart, or train-attendants will come by with a food cart. I ate the food served on two separate occasions. The first time it was delicious. So naturally I took it again on the next trip. It gave me food poisoning. You can’t pick, they just serve one dish, or maybe two. The price should be on the cart, make sure you don’t pay too much, I speak from experience here.
There were some telltale signs the second time, I should have used my common sense. The first time it was served by a fresh-looking lady, with a clean uniform, from a well-kept food cart. The second time however, the food was served by a grumpy teen in (very!) dirty cooks garments, that obviously hadn’t been washed for a while. The cart was a little rusty, my rice was overcooked and the meat was undefinable. The first time it was clearly chicken, but I’m still completely in the dark as to what I’ve eaten the second time. That’s an common occurrence in China though.
The toilets in Chinese trains are squat toilets. After a little practice these are actually more hygienic than Western-style toilets because you don’t have to touch anything while you’re using them. Make sure to bring some toilet paper as it’s always out.
Train travel in China is cheap
We got our train tickets at a fraction of the prices of flights. For example, a hard sleeper middle berth ticket from Beijing to Xi’an costs RMB265, which is around €31,- with current exchange rates, and that’s for 1,200 kilometers of train travel! That same trip by plane ranges from RMB777 (€93,-) to RMB1300 (€156,-).
Make sure to bring your passports when you go buy train tickets. We forgot them once. We were in Beijing and it was Golden Week. It was horrifying. It was our first time buying a train ticket in China and it had cost us an hour and a half to get from our hostel to the train station (always go to the train station to buy tickets, travel agents and hotels/hostels will charge you extra), about 45 minutes waiting in line, 15 minutes of discussing the specifics of our tickets with a stressed out ticket seller only to be asked for our passports. We nearly shit ourselves. By the time we got back at the English-speaking booth with our passports, around two and a half hours later, it was closed. We had to wait in line at the information desk for another half hour to get the number of the new English-speaking booth. The tickets we wanted were sold out by that time, so we had to get hard seat tickets, for an overnight train journey of around 14 hours. We survived though.
After that, we took a night train several times and we found it convenient to know the Chinese signs for the lower (下铺), middle (中铺) and upper berth (上铺) when you’re buying tickets, so you can specify which berth you want. They differ a little in price, with the lower being the most expensive, and the upper the cheapest. The soft sleeper is around RMB200 more expensive than the hard sleeper. You get a compartment with a door and only an upper and lower berth for that.
Train travel in China gets you an inside look in everyday Chinese life
As much as the Chinese stare at you on the train, or everywhere else, it’s fun to watch them go about their business. The Chinese are very social people and will often engage in conversation with each other (about you). It doesn’t necessarily sound nice to our Western ears, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t. Chinese often shout in conversation, or just stop halfway through a sentence to retch and spit. It’s so completely different from our standards of human interaction that it’s very interesting to watch.
All in all, I loved train travel in China for these reasons and we know for sure you will too. Did you travel by train in China? What were your experiences? Did you love it or hate it? Let us know in the comments!