Facing The Unexpected (Travel Edition)
My trip to Beijing in a nutshell
About a year ago, I started planning something incredibly important to me. Having finally secured a steady pay cheque and conscious of the fact that I’d never been outside of Europe, I was determined to kick off what had been a life-long dream of mine: travelling the world. With holiday to spare and my boyfriend at my side, we spent an evening talking through everywhere we wanted to go and eventually, settled upon Beijing as our first destination. Booking our hotel and flights in February for October, we proceeded to wait with equal amounts of excitement and trepidation. 9 months later (just like a pregnancy, ha!), we were finally off and ready to dive into the unknown.
After all, anyone who’s ever met me can tell you that I don’t like leaving much to chance, so of course, I planned as much of the trip as possible in advance. Being fortunate enough to have friends who had lived/gone to Beijing before, I took down all their recommendations and then some. By the time I had got onto my flight at Heathrow, I was armed with about three different guide books, six over-the-counter medications and countless confirmation bookings from TripAdvisor that I just had to book at home (sorry, trees!). Some might say that I was over prepared, but truth be told, I felt incredibly anxious, so every bit of prep gave me that much more peace of mind.
Little did I know that what’d had my heart racing at home would be the least of my worries when I had actually arrived…
Don’t get me wrong, the first few days were what I imagine every first-time traveller’s to be like. I was somewhat overwhelmed. Beijing is HUGE (ten times greater than London, in fact!) and some Chinese customs shocked me, for example, people spitting on the streets and domestic tourists never smiling in their photographs. However, I was also just constantly amazed. For one, I’d never seen architecture as intricate and beautiful as that of the Ming and Qing dynasties in my life, and the vastness of the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, left my legs feeling sore yet satisfied. Secondly, the food was any Chinese-takeaway lover’s dream! With dumplings for breakfast and a wide range of rice, noodle and fried meat dishes for lunch and dinner, we never left a place hungry. I fell in love with sweet and sour pork all over again, and milky jasmine tea quickly became a favourite. Finally, the Great Wall of China exceeded all of my expectations. Imagining what it must have been like to build, not to mention taking in the sublime views with its steep climbs, literally took my breath away.
It’s just too bad that what also took my breath away were the two allergic reactions I experienced mid-trip, where the latter eventually forced me to go to hospital! I have honestly never felt so frightened in my life and even though in the end, all it took was taking a stronger antihistamine and waiting a few days for my symptoms to clear, it completely ruined three days of our trip and tainted the rest. After all, how can you enjoy exploring a new culture and trying different delicacies when you have no idea if the next minute, your mouth and lips will go numb and you’ll find it hard to breathe again? Fortunately, not all was lost, as when I did finally feel better, we spent the last few days visiting old Buddhist temples, the Drum and Bell Towers, Silk Street Market and the Olympic Park!
So, all in all, I can only describe my trip to Beijing as an incredible adventure. Incredible as in stunning, all-consuming and thought-provoking, but also in the most basic sense of the word, as I never expected nor believed that I would get as ill as I did. It just goes to show that however much you worry and try to prepare for every eventuality, you can never predict everything. Your best bet is to just appreciate every day as it comes because while the future is totally unpredictable, today is certain and full of opportunities!