When I told friends at home I would be travelling through China as a backpacker, staying in hostels and yes, carrying a backpack, the most common response was something between horror and pity.
Backpacking? At your age? Really? Can’t you afford to stay in hotels?
The truth is, here in China, I wouldn’t want to.
The hostel network has grown here immensely over the past six years. I was in Beijing in 2005 in a double room with a leaky ‘s’ bend. When we complained about the fact the toilet was leaking all over the floor, the manager kindly fixed it with a plastic bag and a roll of tape….but things have changed a lot and not just in Beijing.
I’ve now graduated to a ‘flashpacker’(a term I don’t often use but one I seem to have been labelled with) and the hostels in China (as a general rule) have grown to meet the needs of backpackers and flashpackers alike.
According to the reliable backpacker’s fountain of knowledge, Wikipedia;
“Flashpacking is a neologism used to refer to an affluent backpacker. Whereas backpacking is traditionally associated with budget travel and destinations that are relatively cheap, flashpacking has an association of more disposable income while traveling and has been defined simply as backpacking with a bigger budget.”
Flashpackers also tend to be older (in my mid-thirties I definitely fall into that category), carry lots of electrical stuff and lots of chargers to go with that stuff. iPods, iPads, Cameras, laptops the whole kit and caboodle. I carry my camera gear and lots of chargers too. I check into a private room with an ensuite (with the added luxury of a Western toilet – there are some sacrifices I just won’t make), pay between 80 to 200 Yuan for a double room (about $10- $30 Aussie dollars, depending on the province) and spend the money I’m saving on accommodation on all the other great experiences that China has to offer.
But it’s more than just the savings.
It’s about meeting other travellers, swapping stories at the bar and learning the best way of getting to a destination/which train to catch/how to get a visa quickly/which restaurant has the best hotpot/how to pronounce Zhangjiajie (ok – I haven’t actually mastered that one yet), all this information is imparted freely and without the bias of a hotel concierge. What’s more, in China, there’s no guarantee that the hotel concierge even speaks English.
So here in China, luxury may be craved – a hot bath, a roast dinner – but for the next 2 months the benefits of the hostel environment win out over the luxuries I’ve left behind everytime. Besides…the beers are cheaper in the hostels