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Backpacking in China: solo travel

Are you just one? But you must have a Chinese friend, right? But... These questions I heard from a custom officer at Hangzhou airport at 1 am in the morning. I found it very awkward at the moment. It turned out to be exactly second question virtually every Chinese asked me. People were stopping me just to ask this question, in subway, in villages.

At any other country I would, from caution, answer that I have ten friends waiting behind the corner. I didn't feel that need in China.

"You are very brave" was usually the response. Yet I did feel it more meant "you are crazy" from some. From some even fatherly : "didn't your parents raised you properly?".

Indeed, in many cities (except Shanghai, Xi'an, Chengdu, and Beijing) you could count number of western backpackers with fingers of one hand. Chinese don't see a single white traveler often. They actually don't see Chinese backpackers that much too.

Conversation with local young people (which were basically all the conversations I had with Chinese except few working for an international company) often turned to the topic of single backpacking. They asked how many times I backpacked, what it had given me, how it had changed me. It almost feels like they didn't see the point and they were looking for excuses to do it. I filled couple of questionnaires for answering exactly the same questions.

Or maybe they were only looking for reasons to tell their parents. In Beijing I met a guy in a hostel, he just finished his degree. He said to me on the third day: "Psst, do your parents know that you are here?" I was like, "you're joking, right?" It turned out that indeed, his parents wouldn't let him go alone so far to Beijing (he was 23).

Once I asked why they think I am brave. "I wouldn't be able to go alone to your country." That made it clear.

Outside of China, you will find Chinese mostly travelling in tours. I am not surprised: it is very different to be a white not speaking Mandarin in China and to be a Chinese not speaking English in Europe. Or even just in South East Asia.

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