Solo travel will alter the nature of China’s vast tourism market

By Catherine Valley Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/11 17:58:39

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

I was delighted when I recently saw a headline in the Chinese media saying how solo travelers have opened up a new tourism market. I love traveling alone! It opens so many doors to adventures very different from what you can expect when you travel with a partner or in an organized group.

For example, how often can you ride on the back of a stranger's motorbike or take a spontaneous trip to a deserted beach? Or decide that you would like to spend an extra day in a place that you enjoyed so much that you would otherwise have to rebook your flight?

That would be a logistical nightmare if you were traveling with friends or a tour group, not to mention the added stress of having to get your companions to agree to the change of plans. I can go on and on and list all the advantages of traveling alone, but you get the picture.

However, there is one thing that can spoil the experience of traveling alone. That is how others perceive you. Since Chinese people expect holidays to be done in the company of family or friends or large groups being lead around by a flag-waving guide, solo travelers here are seen as introverts, weirdos or even creepy. And let's not even talk about what Chinese think of female solo travelers.

Sadly, due to social stereotypes, women traveling independently risk being misunderstood or put in a situation where they must be extra vigilant about their safety.

Whenever I'm packing for an upcoming trip, unpleasant thoughts enter my head and cause me some anxiety. I wonder what people think when they see a petite, pretty white girl like me going on an adventure in an alien country all alone?

I reckon that most of the negative perceptions are made up by people who have never traveled alone; these same people probably pay to sit on a diesel bus all Golden Week. They will never know that one of the most satisfying gifts of being on a trip all alone are the new friends you make along the way. Traveling solo expands your social network in ways WeChat can never achieve.

But traveling with friends has advantages, too. Sometimes I really do want to travel with someone I know well, as you needn't worry about making a good impression. All you have to do is relax and be yourself.

However, I should admit that, after I moved to China, finding a trustworthy person to travel with was rather complicated. First, all of my closest friends are in faraway Russia, my mother country. Second, it is not easy to make friends in a transient city like Shanghai, where most foreigners come for only six months or so to work hard, party harder and then suddenly bail on their friends and girlfriends.

To be honest, my difficulties finding good company here have almost forced me to give up on traveling. But I recently joined a three-day organized tour to the Great Canyon in East China's Zhejiang Province. During the trip, I hiked, rafted and camped with other travel-minded office workers and students who simply wanted to escape Shanghai for a weekend without feeling awkward about traveling solo.

Right after that trip, I bought a ticket to the Philippines. I had a blast there, too. In just two weeks I met more people than I usually meet in Shanghai in two months. Most were solo travelers, but none of us ever felt lonely. I also had an eye-opening experience volunteering with Manila street children.

The growing number of solo travelers in China will eventually dramatically change the structure of its tourism market. Youth hostels, for example, are no longer just places for a cheap bed. They have become sought-out venues for individuals from around the world to interact face-to-face with new people.

Traveling alone is not a thing to be underestimated. It is a personal choice. Now that traveling across the world is easier, going solo is no longer a challenge; it is the way to leave everything and everyone here behind and open your mind to new experiences.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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