Expanding Bounds in Liming China
Tips from a First Time International Traveler
I took my first solo road trip 2 years ago and it changed my life.
The day I was supposed to leave I woke up in my bed and started crying. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay and be “safe.”
Those tears continued the entire six hours it took to get to Moab. After nearly running out of gas, I had the worst night in the middle of nowhere, shoved inside my car because I was too scared to sleep alone in my tent (I know, I know).
The next day, when I had the ridiculous realization that I’d made it through the night, I looked out my car window to find I was parked next to a beautiful pond. I ran into a nice family nearby and asked if I had any hope of finding a gas station close by. From that seemingly innocuous moment forward, I had the best trip of my life. It was a time that would produce my love for off-width rock climbing, amazing friends, and more photography skills.
Since that teary eyed drive, I’ve learned a lot more about both travel and myself. Just because things are unknown doesn’t mean you should be afraid of them. When you put up boundaries of fear you are closing yourself off to what’s beyond them: different experiences, people, and ideas. If you’re open to the unknown, it’s not as scary as you think it is, because you already have the tools … it’s just about applying your known to the unknown.
Which brings me to this year. I felt brave enough to delve into the unknown again and take my very first international trip to Liming, China, where I learned quite a few more things …
How Do You Know When You’re Ready?
You will never feel ready. I have never felt ready.
Accepting that and deciding to take a manageable step, like my first solo road trip, taught me to trust myself. I steadily learned that all the things I wasn’t sure I could do were possible. Problem solving on a small level made me feel more confident as my goals became bigger.
All travel breaks down in the same way, so picking a small local objective can teach you the basic set of skills you need for larger trips. Commitment and trust in yourself is key, skills can always be learned along the way.
Don’t Have a Place, Have a Purpose
I never stop being overwhelmed when I think about traveling and, at first, “China” was just too big of a concept to wrap my head around. What really helped was to have a purpose and a focus to bring that huge concept down to something manageable. I wanted to go somewhere to rock climb and take photos of rock climbing, two things I’d already proven to myself I knew I could handle. So there was my purpose, a known in the unknown.
At first, I didn’t have a place in mind at all – there were just so many possibilities. But when my friend Ashley pulled up a photo of a crack in Liming, it quickly checked all the boxes and became the obvious choice.
Our decision was also reinforced by the fact that for as rural as that climbing area was, there was an established guidebook with lots of information about getting and staying there. Being able to look up an area can give you confidence as you begin to identify the steps you need to take to make a trip happen.
You Don’t Have to Go at it Alone
Danny and Ashley are two of the friendships forged on that initial road trip two years ago. We became fast friends and continued to meet up and climb together over the following years. Through many late night campfire chats, we realized we all had the same goal of traveling abroad.
None of us had ever travelled internationally, so we found common ground in realizing that none of us really knew how to go about it. We each have different strengths, and worked as a team to fill in the gaps. Danny and Ashley are planners, anticipating as much as possible: how to get visas, supplies we might need, and tips for international travel. I’m really good at dealing with problems in the moment: figuring out how to get a cab, where we could drop our luggage, what to do if we lose our passports. We reminded each other of what we needed, shared tips and tricks other people had suggested to us, and bonded with quick glances of “well, I have no clue, but at least we’ll have no clue together”. Turns out that three brains trying to deal with the unknown was much better than the one (*ahem*, me) who didn’t even think to bring wet wipes.
Every Culture is Different. Embrace It.
International travel can be jarring and intimidating. Things you’d otherwise deem ordinary are completely different elsewhere. I found that in China, being assertive is just a way of life. In the small village of Liming, it was commonplace to just walk straight into the kitchen of a restaurant to get the cook’s attention. The new folks in town were always easy to pick out, as they’d be hovering outside the door of the kitchen instead of just walking on in. Eventually, you gain your cultural sea legs. By the end of our trip, I was walking straight into traffic to get us a taxi, knowing that standing passively on the sidewalk will, quite literally, get you nowhere.
Community Can Be Found Anywhere
We walked in for our first breakfast utterly lost. We realized that not only did we not know how to order something to eat, but we also had no clue what to order. This is how we met Jill and Wade. They showed us how it was done … I credit them for introducing me to the best plate of dumplings I’ve ever eaten.
Traveling, and the bewilderment that comes with it, fosters an instant sense of connection. This connection flowed through everyone who came to Liming to climb. People were so open and excited to share beta about everything–not just their climbs: where to eat, what’s good on market day, when not to pet Ding Dong the dog because he rolled in poop.
You’re Probably Going to Get Sick
If you expect this before you leave, at least you can be ready for it. Traveling to an entirely different continent means a whole different system of bacteria and microorganisms that your body isn’t used to. And guess what? It’ll probably make you sick. I found a digestive enzyme, which you can get in pill form at a natural foods store, seemed to ease the transition, but even that didn’t save me entirely. Quick tip: always plan for a 3 week trip when you’re going international. We were away for just over 2 weeks, but if you plan for a bit longer, you won’t have to worry about running out of the things you know you need (read: enzymes and wet wipes).
Do the Thing You Love!
Climbing!!! It’s what we came for, and we were not disappointed. Beautiful sweeping walls of sandstone with wide, small, high, and sporty options. We barely scratched the surface, but everyone found something to be psyched about.
Get Amongst It
So you had a plan. You stuck to said plan (we climbed!). Now what? Well, it would be a missed opportunity to not take the time to actually explore the place to which you traveled so far. In fact, I felt that the best part of the trip was getting to explore some of the cities we passed through. A lot of places have a “left luggage” desk, where visitors can drop their luggage off for a small fee, and go off and explore without the burden. Wandering the streets of Lijiang and Kunming really made me feel the difference between America’s few hundred years of culture and China’s few thousand years. For me, that was when the details and textures of a place halfway around the world really sunk in.
For me, going to China was a big step. With this trip, I dove into the intimidating. But being open to new experiences has only given me a stronger sense of wonder about the world … about all the beautiful things I can find in it.
The unknown doesn’t have to make you cry and sleep inside of your car. I know that now. The unknown is simply a place you haven’t gone yet … and all you need for it is the knowledge that it’s just an adventure you haven’t yet begun.
Take that first step. Decide to go, and find yourself in your own adventure of a lifetime.
Irene is a climber and climbing photographer from Las Vegas, NV. She started climbing three years ago and immediately fell in love with the sport. It inspired her to pick up a camera and start chronicling her adventures and the wonderful people she has met along the way. You can follow her on Instagram @ladylockoff or at http://www.ladylockoff.com/.