The past week has been an all out, sight-seeing rampage. Day after day we were hopping buses, waiting in lines, buying steeply priced tickets and sweating the Chinese summer heat. From Chengdu to Xi’an we visited pandas, a giant Buddha, ancient city streets, the Terra Cotta Army, bell towers, drum towers… and it has been exhausting. Quite a jolt after the week we spent settled in Yangshuo—biking, climbing and enjoying the very affordable local food.

Each recent stop has definitely been worth visiting—all historic and so different from anything we would find back home. Joining the masses of tourists at each stop has also made me realize that most places aren’t as remote as they use to be. I guess after years of dreaming about this place, I imagined our time in China would be more… difficult? Adventurous? Wild?

Xi'an, Xian, China, travel, backpacking, tourist, tour, terra cotta army, terra cotta warriors, history, dynasty, muslim quarter,Standing next to a British teenager snapping a selfie of herself in front of the the Terra Cotta Army reminds me that this is more vacation than adventure and I think to myself, “Why wasn’t I here 15 years ago?”

I spent years dreaming of China, yet getting here seemed too difficult, too expensive, too adventurous for the younger me—I simply scared myself out of it. I opted for the easier but more expensive holiday in Europe, or blew the cash I needed on belongings I probably no longer own.

If only I’d known.

While a little rough around the edges, (e.g. babies pooping in the street), what little we’ve seen of China in a month has been no more difficult to explore than neighboring states back home. Trains run efficiently, hostels are mostly clean and comfortable, good food is easily available and tourists’ money is obviously welcome everywhere.

Xi'an, Xian, China, travel, backpacking, tourist, tour, terra cotta army, terra cotta warriors, history, dynasty, muslim quarter,Sure, it can be exhausting at times when the heat and pollution smother you, the local waves you off without even trying to interact or the dinner you ordered—and so desperately needed—was far too spicy to eat. But where else are you going to find some of these wonders… with shops and restaurants built every step of the way there?

I do dream of a little more adventure. Not for nights spent sleeping on the street, missing luggage or lost trains; just somewhere a little more remote, away from the hustlers, the KFC, the mass-produced souvenirs, the cities, the smog and the selfies. All that, I’m afraid, is quickly disappearing.

For now I’ll just do my best to avoid stumbling into that American family’s next Christmas card as they take their photo with a camera on a stick and leave you with this—China is an amazing place to visit and not as hard as I—and maybe you—thought it would be. Don’t put it off any longer.

About The Author


Mark quit everything to travel the world for a year with his wife, Britnee. Along the way, he picked up a love for many other things, including illy coffee, Nepal, Bolivianos bills, and Thai beaches. Now happily home in Utah, Mark is a balding marketing professional with a mountain biking addiction.

6 Responses

  1. memographer

    I wish I was there :) Can’t wait to see the Terracotta Army. More photos please!

  2. Catherine

    This is both strangely depressing and reassuring at the same time! I’m going to take the positives out of it and say I’m glad to hear it’s not as many might have thought :) Hope you get some challenges thrown your way soon though (in a nice way!).

  3. Sarah

    Wow! I love your blog and the whole idea of this trip! If you don’t mind, I’ve got a couple of questions…

    The biggest problem that I namely have with long term travel is that I would want to do what you are doing: bring a laptop and some higher end camera equipment. But my problem is what to do with those things in transit/while exploring. For example, when your hosts took you to the spas in Japan, did you take those things with you or did you leave them in your hostel? While having those things being pick pocketed off of my person while walking about is definitely a concern, I’m a bit more worried about what to do when leaving them in the room/what situations you deem acceptable to leaving them in the room. In the same vein, when you are walking around in crowded, close quartered streets, what do you do with your camera? Obviously you want it accessible to take pictures, but are you worried about people trying to rob you for it? Or do you put it away. I have never traveled with an expensive camera before, and am just wondering what the logistics go that go into it are, especially in terms of waterproof/safety/etc. Thanks!

    • Mark Johnston

      Sarah, it’s all on a case-by-case basis depending on where we’re staying. We’ll take a day or two to figure out our hostel and roommates and keep everything of value with us at all times, (which can be tiresome); traveling as a pair also helps as we can keep an eye on each others’ belongings. When we’re in dorm rooms there are usually lockers and our private rooms have all been very secure. In the case of the Japanese onsen trip- we left our valuables in our capsule rooms because we’d come to trust the staff and fellow guests by that point and there was always staff present in the small guest house. Pickpockets are always a concern and it’s too early in the trip for me to give great advice on the topic. We’ve made it through Japan, China and are now in Mongolia without incident and the biggest threat to my camera was rain and humidity in Yangshuo. Common sense should prevail and if you’re ever uncertain about a situation it might be best not to flash your fancy camera–although that might mean missing some wonderful picture opportunities. And insure your gear before you go!