Turning Dreams into Realities

Future pacing

I used to be a dreamer…

Head in the clouds, moonwalking through life. But for every dream I had I wasted a day in the real world.

It can be easy to get caught up in the day to day. Waking up and thinking how many minutes you can lie in bed before you have to get ready for work…

Watching the seconds tick away as you procrastinate until the end of the day.

But what about those future plans? When is the time for dreams?

Life doesn’t start at some indefinable point in the future, it doesn’t start tomorrow, it starts now.

This is an exercise designed to make those dreams of yours something tangible and achievable that you can start working on today.

It’s crammed full of NLP exercises, designed to motivate you and structure your thoughts to achieve your future goals.

It’s something you can do in a few minutes, but you can continue to use for years to come.

Whenever you’re feeling tired or de-motivated I want you to stop for a moment and perform this exercise. It only takes a couple of minutes, and once you get good at it, it will trigger automatically when you’re having doubts.

Resource anchoring.

I want you to imagine a moment in the future where you have everything you’ve ever wanted: absolute happiness…

I doesn’t have to be a complete vision of success, just a moment in time where you feel like you’re there. Like you’ve won.

Maybe it’s sitting in front of a cosy fire surrounded by your future family…

Maybe it’s walking into your dream home for the first time…

Maybe it’s standing on top of that mountain you’ve always dreamed of climbing…

Now step inside yourself and think about what you see, what you hear, what you feel.

Maybe it’s the warm touch of a lover, the feeling of elation as you watch the sun rise over the peaks, the pride of finally achieving your goal.

Close your eyes and take a moment to feel this, to live this…

 

How does it feel? Good right?

I want you to save this in your mind. The sights, the sounds, the emotions. This will be your light at the end of the tunnel, the thing that get’s you out of bed in the morning, that lifts you up when you fall…

This is your “Anchor.”

I want you to give it a name. Make it real. Use it like a resource, a trump card. For the sake of this article let’s call it “Absolute Happiness.” Because that’s what it really is.

Side Stepping

When you’re feeling demotivated I want you to close your eyes and perform this simple exercise.

See how it makes you feel now. Compare it to the state you were in a moment ago. Realise the “Trigger” that got you feeling the way you were.

Maybe it was something someone said that made you feel down, or something you saw, like looking at your bank statement.

When you get good at seeing the cues, it will trigger the thought of performing the anchor automatically.

If you want to take it further, you can take a deep breath and imagine side-stepping out of yourself.

Look down at your current self and think about what they look like. Think about how this state of mind will hinder them from achieving that goal.

Compare this to how you think being in the anchored state will help you to achieve your goal.

Shake your head at your other self and then step back inside and perform the Anchor.

 

Small chunks

Now I want you to image that this moment, Absolute Happiness, was going to be tomorrow.

How does that make you feel? Do you feel excited, nervous…prepared?

If you were to achieve your ultimate goal tomorrow, would you be ready for it?

Chances are, the answer is no.

Now can you see that your ultimate goal, absolute happiness, isn’t something that you can wave a magic wand and it will appear. It’s a process that you must build up to, that you must be prepared for, that you must achieve.

And how much better is achieving something than having it given to you?

This will help you bring that dream down to earth.

So let’s take a step back.

Now I want you to think about what it would take for you to be able to experience Absolute Happiness.

Perhaps in order to have the dream home you need a certain sum of money and financial security. If it’s the family you dream of, then perhaps you need to meet your future partner. And if you’re climbing the mountain, perhaps you first must have the physical or mental strength to achieve it.

So let’s make this the future goal. Because if you have this, you have the tools you need to experience the Absolute Happiness you named earlier.

Let’s call this “Readiness.”

Now I want you to think about how long it would take for you to achieve Readiness. If you started today that is, and put all your efforts into it. Just this one thing, nothing more.

Think about it…

 

Would it take 10 years? 2 years? 2 months?

Chances are, when you actually think about it, you could achieve this in a relatively short amount of time. Perhaps shorter than you’d previously thought.

Isn’t that amazing? To think that you could achieve Absolute Happiness in such a short period of time…if you started today.

So what would you need to do in order to achieve Readiness?

If you need a some of money and financial security, perhaps you would need to have a good job. If you needed to meet the partner of your dreams, then perhaps you would need the confidence to start and nurture a relationship. And if you needed the physical and mental strength to climb a mountain then perhaps you would need a personal trainer, or life coach.

So what would it take?

Let’s call this “The Vehicle.”

Think about what that Vehicle is for a moment…

 

So how long would it take for you to obtain The Vehicle?

What do you need to do in order to obtain The Vehicle?

Step back again, and again, and again, until you get to Today…

What do you need to do Today in order to achieve Absolute Happiness. Maybe it’s something as small as buying a book, hiring a life coach, or getting up an hour earlier.

Imagine if the road to achieving Absolute happiness started with something as simple as reading a book? Imagine that your road to Absolute happiness started toady?

Wouldn’t that be worth it?

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

 

Life gates

To be able to think about something in this way is incredibly useful. To be able to say:

“In order to achieve (Absolute Happiness) I must first have (Readiness)…and in order to obtain (Readiness) I must first have (The Vehicle)…and in order to obtain The Vehicle I need to (insert action here) Today…”

These are your Life Gates.

So you see having an actionable plan with a time frame for achieving your life goals isn’t difficult. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to plan your life.

And there’s nothing stopping you from doing this today.

You see in this way, you are motivated by this moment you named earlier, your Anchor, your Absolute Happiness, whilst at the same time you can see The Vehicle you need to obtain Readiness.

That intangible dream that used to float somewhere off in the future has now been brought down to earth. We have defined it, defined what you need to achieve it, and set an action plan that you can start today.

I want you to practice this every time you are feeling lost or de-motivated. Re-live your moment, Anchor those feelings to now, then break it down in to small chunks, and focus on what you can do Today to achieve it.

Identify your Triggers, use your Anchor, practice Side-Stepping.

If you can plan in this way, then you Will achieve your moment. You will achieve Absolute Happiness.

 

And so you see minutes don’t matter: Plan in years, live in days.

I used to be a dreamer…

Now I’m a doer.

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Take Back Time Part Five: The Question

We all have a fundamental question that lives in our hearts, and it guides almost every action we make.

For some it may be something simple like: “Will this make me happy?”

When you are choosing whether or not to have a regular coffee, or an orange mocha frappacino, you may ask: “Will this make me happy?” and the choice is obvious.

But to someone else who has a different question in their hearts, they may ask: “Will this make me lose weight?” and then the choice is obviously the opposite.

Everyone has a question that lives deep inside their hearts. Some may have two or three, but there will always be an overarching question…

The great writer Alexandre Dumas once said that a man’s fundamental drive should be:

To seek all pleasures that can be honourably sought, whilst avoiding all pain that can be honourably avoided.”

So his fundamental question when taking any action would be: “Is this honourable?”

Why do you do the things you do…? What fundamental question drives you onward? What question will help you overcome this insurmountable wall before you?

“Find your why and you will find your way…”

Not How but Why

The problem then becomes not how you will overcome this wall, but why do you need to?

What dream, what desire it is that lies on the other side?

What fear or pain is it that makes up this wall?

Why? Why do you want to break it down so much?

Why do you need what’s on the other side so badly that you’re willing to risk it all, spend your entire life hitting at it and chipping it away, staring at it, cursing at it, screaming at it to break, only to one day slump down against it old and grey and regretful…

When you find out why…this fundamental thing that drives you, then how is really obvious…

The Five Why’s

When you encounter a problem in your life you should always try to break it down to find the root cause. Because the first answer may only point to a symptom.

“Why were you late today?” Asked the boss in a huff.

“My car wouldn’t start.” Replied the employee apologetically.

The boss huffed in disbelief and marked him down on his next quarterly review for being late.

So what if the boss had asked him again: “Why wouldn’t your car start?”

“Because it’s broken and I need to take it to the shop.” Replied the employee.

“And why haven’t you?”

“Because I can’t afford it.”

The boss’s expression turns to mild surprise. “Why?”

“Because my wife left me and took everything in the divorce.”

The boss’s expression turns to one of mild shock. “Why?”

“Because I’m an alcoholic!” Cries the man and breaks down on the floor.

The boss stands there and stares at him for a moment and then his expression turns to one of deep regret. “I’m sorry.” He says, and puts forward a proposal for a company sponsored Alcoholics Anonymous program.

SAD

So let’s have the conversation between Mike and his doctor:

“I’m depressed.” Says Mike.

“Why?” Asks the Doctor.

“Well…It’s not all the time, it’s just in winter.”

“Why?”

“Well…I suppose it’s because winter is depressing.”

“Why?”

“Because…well, I just hate winter.”

“Why?”

“Because winter makes me depressed.”

“You have Seasonal Affective Disorder.” says the doctor. “Winter is why you are depressed.”

“Then I’ll live somewhere there’s no winter!” cries Mike, and off he goes to Rwanda.

This is How.

And you see that once you have realised Why you have a problem then suddenly you have an epiphany, suddenly How is so obvious that you look up from the sand and see the sea.

In Part Six…

So what was my question? In Part Six I am going to share with you the struggle I went through to find what my question really was. I searched all over the world for answers, but it wasn’t until I found My Question that I was finally able to understand my fear and conquer it.

Subscribe to receive email notifications and look out for Part Six: Infinite…

Take Back Time Part Four: The Journey

There will be times in your life when there seems to be this wall in front of you. You have gone down the straight path all your life without ever looking around and suddenly you find that you cannot go on.

But it is in these times that you wake up from the trance you have been in and shake your head and suddenly you realise that you’ve been searching in the sand all your life for a drop of water, not realising that it was a beach and that there was a sea right next to you…

You see there is always a choice.

You can stare at this wall and think about how high it is, and how difficult it seems to climb, and that the ladder you had been on your whole life is now in tatters on the floor…

Or you can look around and realise that the wall is only blocking you from what is on the other side…

You see if you travel with a river, so that you swim along with it, you’re going with the flow and everything is moving with you…you are at rest.

It’s only when you try to swim against it that the water rushes against you and pushes you back…

And what happens to a river when it hits a wall? It simply flows around it.

As long as the river flows, that is as long as life flows, the water will always find another way.

There is always another way…

You only need know there is a way and you will inevitably find it.

And there IS a way…

This is the key.


To Africa

So I took the money from the medical trial and the money from my redundancy settlement and I disappeared…gone with the wind…

I decided that I would do everything I’d always wanted to do. My old life had nothing left for me anymore and so I decided that I would find another way to live.

I had nothing to lose right?

So I went to visit my friends in Africa. They were living in a small house in Rwanda with no hot water, no cooking and barely any electricity.

Mike was a bicycle mechanic for the Rwanda cycling team and Melba was starting her own jewellery up-selling business.

I hadn’t seem them for years and they had been living the most extraordinary lives all over Africa, living from hand to mouth, from country to country, doing what they could to get by.

And I thought “Wow, how can they be living like this?”

So I asked Mike “Are you happy?” and he said to me “Dean, all I ever really wanted was for it to be warm.”

You see Mike has Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. He get’s depressed in the wintertime, and on the equator there is no winter…

For him it was a choice as obvious as whether or not to wear a rain coat in a storm. He saw the problem and saw the solution.

Because you see a problem is really just a solution upside down…

Problem: you hate winter. Solution: remove winter…

Does anyone else have a problem like that?

Problem: I’m fat…solution: remove fat…

But these things can be difficult, as I’m sure we all know.

So the question really is ‘How?’ Right?

Wrong…the question is not how.


So you’re friend says “I’m depressed.”

You respond: “How will you fix this problem?”

“I will become happy.”

“How?”

“I will think happy thoughts, and do happy things and pretend that everything is alright.”

Does this solve the problem? Does that ever solve the problem?

No. Because you never really find out what the problem is…and if you don’t know what the problem really is, you’ll never find a solution.

The question you need to ask is not “How?” but “Why?”

If you can find out why you are unhappy, why you are afraid, why you do the things you do, why you are at this wall, not how you got there, then you will be able to break free.


The Why

“How is it that you can do so many things?” asked the boy to the adventurer. “You can build a ship and sail it across the seas, and read the starts, and always find your way home. How do you do it?” pleaded the boy.

“It’s not how you should be asking” replied the adventurer sombrely, “but why.”

“Why?” asked the boy, confused, “but why?”

“Why do you do the things that you do?” asked the adventurer. “Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you eat breakfast, why do you look up at the stars and wonder what they mean?”

“Well…” hesitated the boy, “Well, I don’t know.”

“How comes after Why my boy.” whispered the adventurer with a secret smile, “It is his little brother. It follows him, learns from him and aspires to him. It grows to him, feeds from him and finds all paths that lead from him, no matter how hard or far: it always meets him in the end. So do not worry about How, find your Why and you will find your way…”


In Part Five…

In Part Five I’m going to tell you about The Question. There is a fundamental questions that lives in all our hearts, that guides almost every action we take: it is Your Why.

And if you know what your Why is then your How will become obvious.

Subscribe to get email notifications and look out for Part Five: The Question

Lethal force: a game park ranger’s guide

You can arrest someone on a schedule 1 offence for having sex with your rhino, but if they kill it, they won’t be committing a schedule 1 offense.

He’s making a joke about loopholes in the law to break the ice, but this is a serious talk. I’m sitting in the back of a wooden hut, in the middle of a game reserve in Zululand, South Africa, listening to a lethal force expert give a lecture to a bunch of armed private security contractors.

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It’s hot and the room smells of animal skins and rooibos tea. I’m privy to this as I am currently training to become a game park ranger, though not an armed one. Yesterday was rhino tracking, today is gun law. Our lecturer is a man who was a private security contractor for 32 years. He’s old, tough and has the eyes of a man whose probably seen more dead people than most people have birthdays. He is white with a deep tan and a thick Afrikaans accent.

“I know exactly how you guys feel.” he says when the young hot headed rangers roll their eyes. “I was in the APU business for 32 years, I’ve been in firefights, and I’ve been in the bush. It’s not like I’m reading this from the books, I’ll try and give you relevant information that applies to your specific situation.”

“First thing your lawyer will say if you shoot someone is “Don’t make any statement.” But you can’t do that. You have to have a working relationship with the local police. If you refuse to make a statement, they will look at the smoking gun and send you straight in front of a judge.”

The law doesn’t seem to be on their side. Apparently, a private security contractor is just a normal person in the eyes of the law and has absolutely no license to shoot anyone. If you shoot someone without good reason you’ll just get sent straight to jail.

“Necessity allows you to shoot a dog attacking a child in a built up area, or shooting a black rhino attacking a visitor on a wilderness trail, though in the latter, it would be career suicide.”

The problem seems to be that although people are caught a lot, in the private sector, people are not usually charged. What this tends to lead to is private security rough housing or shooting at poachers to deter them, rather than making useless and expensive arrests. I mean can you really blame them?

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A full grown male Nyala can fetch $10,000 at auction, but are mostly killed for meat by poachers

“The old section 49 of the law said that you could shoot someone for a schedule 1 offence if you could not reasonably arrest them any other way. Also, you must have the intention of arresting the person in order to justify that they were fleeing from arrest. Never use the term “Ambush”” The lecturer says, “that implies that you were trying to kill them, not arrest them. Say “Lying in wait to arrest.””

As a summary to this part of the lecture, he gets a bit sombre.

“Taking a human life is going to be the biggest decision you ever make, so if someone is joking about it, then don’t believe they ever did it. These things will break up your marriage, will give you ulcers, you will be looking over your shoulder your whole life, waiting to get convicted.” Let alone the guilt of the actual act.

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The skull of a hippo. More fatalities are caused by hippos than any other mammal in Africa.

We had an incident here just last night with poachers digging under the fence. They let there dogs through to hunt and bring back prey to the fence, then they drag it under and sell it as meat. This method has been developed to escape the law, putting the poacher out of jurisdiction of the ranger and out of actual bodily liability.

I’ve sat through some pretty boring lectures in my time, but this definitely wasn’t one of them. They say travel is the best education. Well I’ve sure learned a lot since I’ve been roaming. If you’re interested in more unique insights follow the blog below. Who knows, you may want to pursue a career as a park ranger too. Just think twice before pulling the trigger.

 

 

5 ways to “Super Charge” your adventures

If you’re like me and like to get more out of a trip, you’ll want to go off the beaten path, experience more and come out the other end with a truly amazing story. Some people like to come up with rules that they always follow, like always pack a map and sun cream, but rules are meant to be broken. Here’s some things I like to do to put an edge on my adventures.

1. Don’t bring a map

I’m not saying don’t know your terrain, but having a map generally slows me down. Always checking and second guessing yourself makes you frustrated and unsure of yourself, and often wastes time and valuable daylight. Just follow your gut and use your senses, navigate by line of sight and digest some breadcrumbs to find your way home.

Some top tips on how to navigate on the fly:

  • Pick a reference point on the horizon or up the hill and if you get turned around or have to go round an obstacle, you can always use this to get you back on track.
  • If the sun is out, look at your shadow. Which direction is it pointing in with respect to where you want to go? If you’re headed north west and its 1pm, your shadow will be behind you and slightly on your left, about 7 O’Clock (in the northern hemisphere.) If you can’t use a reference point, just remember to keep your shadow at 7 O’clock and you’ll stay on track for a couple of hours.
  • Path-finding. This can be a difficult skill to master, but there a a few simple ways to start. If you’re looking for a path, look for lines in the natural world. Paths often follow rivers, or natural depressions in the ground. The rocks might be slightly lighter where they’re exposed to more sun, or the grass or flora more down-trodden. You’ll get an eye for it eventually.
  • Look behind you. When you’re on your way home you’ll be going in the opposite direction and things can look very different the other way round. Remember to periodically look behind you and memorise what the terrain looks like that way.

It’s an incredibly fulfilling feeling once you get the hang of it and will make you more confident and independent whilst travelling.

2. Have a time constraint

I’ve often found myself running home after a long days adventure because I’m trying to beat the light, or the last lifts in a ski resort, and it’s these times when you really dig deep and pull out all the stops. It encourages you to push harder and gives you a challenge at the end of the day to keep you pushing on. I’ve often had the most fun trying to beat the clock, running down a mountain and leaping through bushes. It just feels so much more adventurous.

3. Try out new things

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Sometimes having too  much gear can slow you down, but there are things you might never be able to do without specialist equipment. For example: I would not have been able to climb half the peaks I did last winter in Andorra without my trusty ice axe “Bertha.” She definitely saved my life a few times, but then again, I wouldn’t have been hanging off all those cliffs without her in the first place.

Bertha is now my favourite thing in the world and I never go climbing in the snow without her, but I’d been on many climbs barehanded before. Snow shoes and crampons are another two things for climbing in the snow that I’m less fond of, but I tried them all out and found out which one was best for me.

You may want to seek advice or get help from a guide on how to use things for the first time, but that’s up to you.

4. Go nuts

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Don’t just stare longing at that tree, climb it! Many years ago my mother and I were hiking in the Himalayas and I leapt down from a tree in front of our group, having gone on ahead. A girl turned around to me and moaned, saying “err, why were you up there?” to which I replied “Why aren’t you?”  If you’re going to spend lots of money travelling and exploring the world, don’t let what other people think kill your buzz. After all, isn’t that why you’re there?

If you feel like climbing something, do it. If you feel like dive rolling in the snow, do it. If you feel like skinny dipping in a lake, do it! It’s your damned life. Just don’t get frost bite.

5. Don’t just take pictures.

I hate people who just go somewhere, take a picture and then leave. First of all you’re not really experiencing it, and secondly, a picture is a poor representation of a moment. You have at least five senses and sight is just one of them.

Whenever I’m alone out on a precipice in the middle of the wilderness, or in some peaceful forest by a lake, I take some time to really soak it in and remember it.

Finishing Sunset

Here’s how I do it:

  • Sit in a comfortable spot surrounded by as much space as possible (I like precipices).
  • Listen. Close your eyes and pick out all the specific sounds around you: the birds, the wind, the water. Try and visualise where they are around you.
  • Notice the feelings: the warm sun, the cool wind, the feeling of the rough sand, the smooth stone, the tickle of the grass. all the things that make this place unique.
  • Open your eyes and look all around you in a 180. Don’t try and remember everything you see, but pick specific things and solidify them in your mind. The way a rock formation looks like a face, the way the water swirls around a rock, the curve of a interesting tree.
  • Using all of these things, you can build a sensory map of your environment far greater than just a picture. Meld the sounds, the feelings and the sights together, then close your eyes again and try to picture it without seeing it.
  • This is the important part, because later on you won’t be able to see it. So imagine it, then open your eyes and check it, then close them and imagine it again.

Once you have a full map inside your head, you will be able to recall that specific moment and how it made you feel forever. Once you have some of these maps in your head, sit down at another time and repeat the process, going through each one and experiencing them again. This way you can revisit your adventures from anywhere in the world and draw from those experiences to super charge your life.

If you want some examples of my adventures why don;t you check out my Only in China, or Understanding Africa series.

Stay Strong.

 

6 signs of an average holiday and how to avoid them

No one wants to be average, so why spend your holidays doing the same thing as everyone else? I mean no one wants to sit on a beach all day, then go eat at the hotel buffet right?

I’ve been travelling the world for years now and I always try to do something different. Whenever I see myself slipping into the conventional, or falling for a “package deal” I keep myself in check. Here’s six easy ways to make your travels more interesting and avoid those tourist traps.

1. Are you lying on a beach?

We spend most of our lives sitting at a desk or lounging on a sofa watching T.V. make your holiday your chance to do something fun. Yea relaxing your stress away is one of getting out of work mode, but zooming along on a jet ski, or plummeting down a mountain is so much better.

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I always go to places I know there’s lots to do, whether it’s hiking in the mountains, snowboarding, diving, or horse riding, I want to do things I can’t normally do at home. You might discover a new hobby, or life long interest if you get off your ass and go do stuff.

2. Is there a buffet?

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If you’re staying somewhere there’s a buffet, don’t just eat pizza and chips. I’ve worked in so many places abroad where British holidaymakers just sit at their hotel buffet and eat stuff they eat at home. Whether it’s Paella in Valencia or Tagine in Morocco, its a chance to try out new things and explore new flavours. You never know you might just enjoy it.

3. Are there English people everywhere?

You’ve flown hundreds, maybe even thousands of miles to explore somewhere different, so why go to somewhere that’s just full of English people? The world is a vast and ever changing tapestry, so go somewhere you’re not familiar with, or better yet somewhere you’ve never even heard of before.

So many people end up in tourist traps full of other tourists and never even so much as converse with the locals. If you meet a bunch of English people and just get drunk with them, you might as well be in your local pub.

When you get off the plane at the airport talk to the guy in the bar of cafe and ask them whats going on, ask them where they hang out and what there is to do. Chances are there’ll be local customs and subcultures going on that are far cooler than whats on trip adviser and many locals are happy to show you round for free, just because you’re interested in their country.

4. Does someone have a megaphone?

If you’ve joined a tour group and someone is shouting over a megaphone, you’ve lost. If you’re being told where to go and what to take pictures of, you’ve lost the wandering that goes with wanderlust. Take off on your own, arrange your own transport to sights and spend time focusing on things that really interest you, not just a tour of the gift shop.

5. Are you taking a selfie?

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In this day and age everyone’s holidays photos look the same. Here’s a selfie with me on the beach, here’s a selfie with me on a boat, here’s a selfie of me with dinner. If you really want people to pay attention to your photos, buy a tripod, or mini gorilla pod and take photos with a difference. Craft a story (not on snap chat) that really captures the moment and then explain it to your friends.

6. Are you on your phone?

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We spend most of our lives staring at our phones these days, scanning other peoples lives for some source of fulfilment. The easiest way to know you’re not having a good time is that you’re looking at what people are doing back home.

When you’re travelling you are surrounded by sights and sounds, smells and feelings you can’t get through a small glass box, so leave your phone at home, or in the hotel and go explore. don’t let “what’s the wifi password” be the first thing you say when you arrive in a new place. Buy and watch and a camera and use these things instead. Besides, no love story ever started “I saw this cute guy staring at his phone…”


So what have we learned from this?

Be in the moment

Don’t go where everyone else goes

Meet local people

Eat great food

Leave your phone at home

Take good pictures

Go out and do stuff

If you’re committed to not being average, why don’t you follow the blog below to get more updates on living an adventurous lifestyle. Don’t just be yourself, be your best self.

 

3 ways to travel China on “easy-mode”

I travelled around China for four months, crossing from east to west, south to north, through 13 different provinces. We’re talking mountains, deserts, cities and more regional dialects than Europe has languages. It can be a difficult place to travel around, even getting a visa, but I learned how to do it the hard way, so now I can make it easy for you.

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Relaxing after a long day climbing Huang Shan: The Yellow Mountains

Here’s a list of the most important hacks I found during my adventures:

1. Visa

It can be difficult to get a visa to freely travel around China and they place a lot of restrictions on you, I even failed my application twice before I got through, just a day before I was travelling! On the application they ask for:

  1. Your return flight tickets
  2. Proof of funding for the trip (bank statements)
  3. Proof of booking and the full address of where you’re staying for the entire trip! Yes, every day!

So how are you going to do this if you’re planning on traversing the country, or planning it day by day? There are two ways to get around this.

  1. Book a bunch of rooms on Booking.com, or Hostelworld that are “Pay on arrival”, “No deposit required” enough to cover every day. Then simply print these out and submit them with your application. You don’t have to show up at any of them, since

  2. If you know anyone who is a Chinese national you can get them to write you a signed letter with a copy of their Chinese ID card. The letter needs to state that they have known you for 3 or more years and that you will be staying with them for the duration of your trip. This has to be a Chinese National, not someone just living there under a visa.

After failing at the first method, I chose the second, as I had a friend who had moved over here from China. Just ask really nice and bring them back some Chinese sweets.

Here’s a link to the Chinese Visa Application service, which is appointment only! Everything you need is there. Make sure to read the guide. If you’re successful you’ll receive a 2 year visa, maximum stay 90 days at a time. Just do a border run every 90 days.

2. Language

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A mistranslated sign in a toilet in An Hui province

If you’re going to be a noob and only visit Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an then don’t bother, but if you’re going anywhere else it is essential to learn the basics. 90% of the time I was in places where no one spoke a word of English and nothing is written in English either, it’s like being on another planet. 90% of all my problems could have been solved by speaking more Chinese.

 

Some basic tips:

  1. Buy a phrase book and learn it! Don’t worry about pleasantries, learn: numbers, directions, time, food, and most importantly how to buy things.

  2. Download Pleco. Google translate just doesn’t get Chinese grammar. Nothing will make sense when you try and read it off. Pleco is a fantastic app that explains all the variations of a word and how to use it in different contexts. You can also sketch out a symbol using your finger and it will translate it for you. Magic.

  3. Write it down. Pronunciation is incredibly difficult in Chinese. If you’re travelling somewhere write the Chinese character down with a sharpie on your arm. Use a guidebook and plan in advance.

  4. Use WeChat. Everyone in China has WeChat. It’s like Whatsapp but better and it has an auto-translate function, just hold down on the text and an option pops up. Everyone you meet will ask you to add them on WeChat and as long as you have internet, or if they share their wireless hotspot with you, you can simply type and auto-translate both ways.

  5. Learn to read. It may look impossible at a glance, but if you ever want to know what you’re ordering off a menu and how to avoid getting a plate full of intestines, it’s worth learning some symbols like “rice” “noodles” “soup” “meat.” The same goes for places.

3. Trains

China has the greatest and best railway network in the world…if you know how to use it. Trains are always on time, they go everywhere, the timetables don’t change on weekends and there is no difference in price, no matter when you buy the ticket.

Who dafuq

Why is there is a road sign in the desert?

There are three ways to buy a train ticket:

  1. Go to the train station and queue up
  2. Go to a ticket kiosk somewhere else in town and buy a ticket
  3. Book it online, then go to the train station and collect it

#1 is only advisable if you know the station is not busy, and that the tickets for your journey won’t sell out. Queuing for an hour at the station is commonplace and sometimes popular journeys will sell out for days. If you’re only travelling short distance between small stations, use method number one, just make sure to write your destination down in Chinese and take your passport to the station, as this is required to buy tickets.

#2 is great if you can find a kiosk. Some guidebooks will have them on the map of the town, or just ask a local where one is, but make sure it’s the right company. There is usually a small surcharge for this as it is a convenience option.

#3 is highly advisable if you’re taking a sleeper or long popular journey, as you can book in advance. There are a couple of different services for this, but the best one I found is Travel China Guide. This service is great. in fact, Travel China Guide is the best resource for travelling china, period. Their charges are quite high ($5 per ticket) but you can reserve ahead of time and then just pick up your ticket from the station before you go. They have a booking service online so you can plan connections, check availability and prices, and reserve seats. The first time you book with them you need to email them a picture of your passport, but then each other time you only need to reply to their email to confirm you want to purchase. Using this service usually takes about 2 days, so plan accordingly.

Yu Long rice man

A lone farmer emerges from a paddy field in Guilin

Hopefully you’ll be able to avoid some of the traps I fell into during my adventures in China. It’s a beautiful country and well worth travelling independently as Chinese tour groups are insufferable. If you want to learn more about travelling around China subscribe to my blog bellow and check out the other posts.