Meet Backpacker Becki
An interview with Backpacker Becki, our Cook Islands competition judge
Backpacker Becki is one adventurous travel blogger with big travel plans. She left London in July with plans to travel the world indefinitely while she blogs, volunteers and generally experiences everything the world has to offer.
An avid traveller from the age of 16, Becki started her solo adventures over five years ago. So far, on this leg of her travels, she is has been to Mongolia, North Korea and China, where she still is after seven weeks of exploration.
Becki is also one of our judges for our Cook Islands 'Best Kept Secrets' competition so we decided to catch up with her to find out some of her best kept secrets and what she's going to be looking for in the winning competition entry.
You're in China at the moment, a very tough place to travel. What have you found hardest about travelling in China and do you have any secret survival tips?
China has been extremely tough at times, and when you first arrive it's like a huge cultural smack in the face. I will never forget my first few hours here and the overwhelming sense of bewilderment. It took me a few days to acclimatise to the completely different way of life and learn to deal with the daily frustrations in order to get by! One of the hardest things is the language barrier and the fact that China isn't really a solo traveller destination!
While it's always great to learn a few words and phrases in Chinese, hardly anyone speaks English. As a result, most conversations, from ordering food to asking directions, takes a lot longer or you will find that one of you will give up on the conversation altogether at which point you will start the whole process again with someone new. Never get frustrated at the locals as they are working just as hard to communicate back, although hostel workers have great English skills so you should never have a problem booking trains and day trips etc.
As for solo travel, China is really safe but I haven't met many people travelling on their own. Instead they are in established friendship groups, are students or teachers, or people on internships and work projects. This has been difficult in terms of meeting people to travel with to other parts of China. It's such a huge country that most people have their itinerary set out or are not doing the exact same route or going in the same direction. Therefore friendships you build up really are short and sweet and at times you can feel very lonely when on your own. For the past three weeks I've been on a tour to reach some off the beaten track places and it's been a great way to break up the solo experience, but I quickly learnt that I actually preferred my own time, struggling with the trains and dealing with the everyday challenges.
We are all different but you will know what works for you in time, especially here where you have to quickly adapt to a completely different way of travelling.
My secret survival tips are:
- Learn to be a mime master. Most of the time, you will rely on your hands to point, make shapes, denote certain actions in order to communicate. Learn the Chinese hand signals for numbers - it's really helpful.
- Be prepared to push your way through a crowd to get to what or where you want. Queues hardly exist and waiting will get you nowhere fast. This is an especially hard adjustment for us Brits!
- If you really need help in a tricky situation, approach someone from the younger generation - they normally have a basic grasp of English and are always fairly keen to practice while helping you out.
- Accept that you will be famous. The local people will want to take your photo and rarely ask your permission. Try and bear with it even if it is a little annoying since it's hard for many Chinese people to leave their country to go abroad so you will be naturally fascinating, and a window to the world outside of their own.
- Don't be afraid to approach other travellers. Choose a lively hostel, book a day trip, or do what I did and approach a random on the street carrying the same Lonely Planet, who was obviously heading in the same direction! In China you are more likely to meet couples and big friendship groups, which might seem intimidating but you just have to suck it up and bee-line for the nearest friendly face. Even if you only end up hanging out with them for one night, it all makes for good memories!
Travelling as a solo lady must be an amazing experience but what have been the best and worst things about travelling solo?
I quickly learnt to enjoy being on my own. In certain countries it's a hard adjustment, but mostly you appreciate not having to be on a rigid time scale with a group. I can do what I want, when I want and without compromise or argument. If I like a destination, I stay longer; if I dislike it, I leave early; if a particular person is grating on me, I can choose to move away from them. I love the fluidity that comes from doing your own thing and being what I call a SoSi Traveller - solo and single! I've always had great experiences with group travel; for some destinations, it's essential to get around, but I don't take that option unless I really have to.
The worst is those times when you feel lonely and miss people. Mostly, you always have people around you, but there are times when you genuinely are on your own. This can a blessing, but I've also had many moments where I just want to transport myself back home for a couple of hours to see my loved ones or grab a bottle of wine with my girlfriends and tell them all the gossip!
You've done a lot of volunteer work while travelling, what was it that first inspired you to volunteer?
I had a fantastic opportunity to go on a charity mission to Madagascar four years ago as part of a PR campaign I was working on at the time where we all - clients and journalists included - had to get involved. I got to spend time with doctors, nurses, surgeons, dentists, members of the Peace Corps and other mission volunteers and more importantly interact with the local people, some who had travelled for miles in order to bring their child in for assessment to see if they were legible for the cleft lip palette surgery they so desperately needed.
I learnt more in five days from these fantastic people then I've ever done in a job that lasted five years. I saw a different side to life, a positive way to travel and a means to provide help to others in countries less fortunate than my own; It changed me forever, and I can't imagine my time travelling being without time spent volunteering. It's just an inherent part of me.
We've heard whispers about a certain trend you've started called 'Flag Collecting' care to tell us more?
Haha! Well, before I say anything more I just want to say this is a tongue-in-cheek discussion about hooking up on the road that is about quality (nationality) not quantity (I don't advocate sexual promiscuity!). My point with this is about keeping an open mind when you meet people. Travelling not only broadens your mind when it comes to opinions, knowledge and learning about yourself, but it also allows for interaction with people from culture very different to our own.
As a singleton on the road, this also extends to people who may find attractive, those who you would, in your everyday routine and set friendships circles at home, potentially never think twice about or have the opportunity to interact with. Never underestimate how much you will change when you travel and the fun that comes with it.
As an experienced traveller, can you tell us your top secret tip for surviving life on the road?
Be patient and be open-minded. Whether it's experiencing cultural extremes, getting caked in mud, eating new foods or having to use squat toilets, the more you learn to accept that each place you visit is different and as frustrating at times as it is fascinating, the more you will enjoy the experience. Embrace what's unusual; you never know what you might end up enjoying.
Can you let us in on the secret of what you think will make a great entry and what you're looking for in a winner?
For those that know me I'm cheeky, a bit of a livewire and pretty much speak my mind. I love the art of expression so I will be looking mostly for personality - it's the one thing that can make an entry original and stand out. I want to not only see an entry with a visual or worded artistic flair, but I want to know the person behind it! Make me laugh, make me think and ask questions or tell me something fascinating... then you'll have me hooked.
And finally, can you tell us your juiciest travel secret?
Ah, come on... happens on the road, stays on the road right? If I tell you I would get a few people into trouble! Buy me a beer sometime and I just might tell you.
If there are any ladies out there who have been inspired by Becki to pack your bags and travel alone, check out Solo Travelling as a Female and Backpacking Tips for Girls for some top tips on how to stay safe and make the most out of your travels.
And if you have a secret to share and want to win 2 weeks on the Cook Islands then check out our latest competition. The Cook Islands are the best kept secret in the Pacific Ocean so we're asking you to share your best kept secrets for a chance to win this dream prize.
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