"We're going to China!"
"Oh, wow! Going to see the Great Wall?"
"Flying into Beijing?"
"Yyyeahno, we're not."
"Not that either."
It's easy and, frankly, logical for people to assume that, when you're going to China, you're going to see very particular things. Great Wall, Beijing, Shanghai, maybe the terracotta warriors in Xi'an. We had the above conversation multiple times and in each scenario, I felt a little bit ... almost ... ashamed? I don't know if that's the right word, but it's pretty close to the feeling I had that we were not doing things that were important to do.
We went to China with very specific intentions and, as usual, a limited amount of time. Job one was to go to Guizhou, in the Southwest, to see the villages and festivals of the region's numerous minority groups. Job two was to go to the karst country of Guangxi Autonomous Region, one of the most magical landscapes in the world. And to do that, it was both easiest and cheapest to fly in and out of Hong Kong. And thus our itinerary was written.
Still I felt little pangs of guilt, looking at pictures of the majestic Meridian Gate or the glittering Bund or the long, unfurling line of the Wall. "We're going to China, but we're not seeing the most Chinese things of all," I thought. This is the problem that will always plague independent travelers who have limited time and modest budgets. And here's the thing:
You can't see it all.
Especially in a country like China, which encompasses more than 3.7 million square miles of land. We could spend the rest of our lives traveling to China and not see it all.
But what you can do, and I'll argue, on the heels of this supremely fascinating and enriching trip, should do, is travel for your own reasons. If you're passionate about something—like I am about textiles, like Cory is about the beauty of the land—let that shape your itinerary and you won't be disappointed.
Following your passions will get you deeper into your destination and lead you to unexpected surprises that you couldn't even imagine if you were simply going down a checklist of the must-see sights. And the fact of the matter is, the major "must-dos" are probably going to stand the test of time. The Forbidden City will be there. The Great Wall will be preserved. Meanwhile, the villages and mountains of Guizhou are being bulldozed and exploded to make way for sanitized replica towns and highspeed rail lines. There's a very real chance that they will disappear, not only within our lifetime, but within a decade. Don't wait to see what is most important to you, or you might never be able to do it.
I'm experiencing the feeling of guilt for what we "should" be doing again, as we prepare to launch into our next trip. But this time, it's easier to beat it back, with knowledge that our trip to China crystallized so perfectly for me: following our passions, rather than someone else's, is what makes for great travel.