Throughout the course of my trip I've learned a few lessons or tricks while traveling. If a hostel says that they have a DVD room with DVD's, they have 1 or 2 movies in the native language of the hostel. If there's more they probably won't work. If you plan on taking advantage of the DVD room, bring a small case with some of your favorite DVD's. It would have been so nice to settle in with the guys to watch a good English movie.
Afterbite. Bring it. I'm covered in mosquito bites. I can count 5 of them on my left hand alone. They itch like crazy and are slowly driving me insane. I'd love some afterbite to put on them.
Phrasebooks are your friend. They really do help. Asking for directions while pointing on a map really helps too. Especially if the map's in English and in Mandarin.
Talk to strangers (in the hostel). Most other travelers staying in hostels are really friendly. If you're traveling alone it's really nice to sit down and chat with a complete stranger who's also traveling on a budget. You can swap stories, share experiences, and give tips. What's good to see and what isn't. It's also useful to chat with these people on the first day of your arrival to see about places to eat or fun things to do. Sometimes they'll even join you if you both want to see the same thing.
When I was in Europe I saw some people at the hostels doing absolutely nothing for the entire day. I could never grasp how these people could do that when they're in a foreign country. I can now completely understand. Sometimes it's really nice to just sit back and relax and talk to the other people in the common room. If you're in the city for a while or have been traveling for a while it's fun to do nothing. I've done a large amount of nothing and it was nice.
You don't have to pre-plan everything. I have a habit of planning everything in advance. Buying tickets in advance. Booking tours before I leave home. You don't have to do this. Train and bus tickets are generally really easy to buy right at the station. Plane tickets can be bought for a low price a few days in advance as well. Tours can be booked through the hostel when you get there. I've learned to go with the flow and not to get upset if I don't get a chance to do something.
Toilet paper. I've learned in Europe that it's best to bring some toilet paper with you in case there's none in the stalls or if you have to pay for it. Now, pack enough or if you don't make sure the stuff you buy isn't scented. Discovering that the Kleenex I bought was scented came as a huge shock to me.
Knowing the language and accepting other cultures. I already knew it was important not to judge other cultures, especially when you're visiting it. I also already knew it was important to know a few phrases. I never realized how difficult it would be when you don't speak a word of the language and you forget your phrasebook at the hostel. It's also difficult not to judge or get revolted when you see people doing things differently. The spitting for instance. When someone spits they make this loud disgusting phlegmy noise and spit it out. It's pretty gross to see and hear but it's a part of the culture. Apparently people do this because they're getting rid of something negative in their bodies. One of my tour guides told me that when they feel something negative they have to try to spit it out. It can be absolutely nothing physical and they'll do it because of a feeling.
Pictures. I've learned that in China it's an honor to have your picture taken with a foreigner which is why they always ask foreigners to have their picture taken. If you refuse it's like giving them a slap in the face and cursing at them. It's also polite to ask first instead of simply clicking.
Rubber sandals are awesome. Cheap rubber sandals are even better. This things are great to wear in the shower and around the hostel. I got myself a good pair for under 2$ CDN.
I've also learned that even when a situation looks absolutely horrible there's often a lot of good that can come out of it. In Suzhou I absolutely hated my hostel for the first day but I stayed because I was stubborn. I ended up having a great time there despite my bumpy start. It's good to always look on the bright side of life. If something goes wrong or doesn't go as planned it's all right. Things usually end up working well in the end.
Above all I've learned not to panic. Take everything in stride even when the initial plans you've made seem to fall apart. Things always seem to work out in the end while giving you a wonderful life experience.
This trip was a great experience and really opened my eyes to the world. I knew that the countryside was absolutely gorgeous and I had never really been a fan of large cities but I've found such beauty in Shanghai and Beijing. I'd love to go back there someday there's so much to see and do. Even though I've been home for a day I'm already itching to go away again. I already have an idea for another backpacking trip. I'm thinking of doing Eastern Europe before I go on a major trip across the world. I've decided that if I can survive in China by myself I can survive almost anywhere. Nothing ever goes completely according to plan when it comes to backpacking. I wonder what my next travel adventure will bring?