Aly Brunson

Excitement and terror are hard to distinguish.

At least, they were for me as I lay awake the night before my first solo trip in China. I was really looking forward to getting out of the city. I was also really worried about travelling in a foreign country.

Sure, I'd flown to China on my own, but I booked the flight in the U.S. and started the trip in an American airport. All I had to do in China was walk off the plane and look for the people waiting to pick me up. Between the sign with my name on it, the giant bouquet of flowers, and the fact that my DOS (director of studies) was the only other foreigner in sight, they weren't hard to find.

I'd travelled on my own in the U.S., and I never worried. If I ran into trouble, I could always ask for help. The thought of doing so in Chinese, however, had me lying awake playing the “what if” game in my head. What if I can't figure out where to pick up my ticket at the airport? What if something happens to my phone and I have to get around without a digital map and my translator app? What if I don't catch the bus from Zhangjiajie to Fenghuang? What if I get lost? In retrospect, these were some pretty silly worries.


After all, every one of them happened. I got into the wrong line to claim my ticket. After waiting fifteen minutes, I was instructed (in English!) to go to that line, over there.

I broke my phone on the third day of my trip and had to figure out how to get to Fenghuang and find my hostel without it. If you want to know how to catch the direct bus from Zhangjiajie to Fenghuang, don't ask me. I never figured that out. I also took the scenic route to more than one attraction, and you know what? I had an amazing time.

The Zhangjiajie mountains

The Zhangjiajie mountains are stunning. It's easy to see how they inspired the movie Avatar, and spending two and a half days exploring them with new friends from my hostel was perfect. Our hostel even had a second location in the mountain, so on my second morning in Zhangjiajie, I woke up to this:

The Zhangjiajie mountains

Even though I didn't find a direct bus to Fenghuang, I did make it there. I ran into a Chinese tourist at the bus/train station also heading to Fenghuang. He told me that taking the train to Jishou then the bus to Fenghuang gets you there in about the same amount of time for half the price. He then helped me buy a ticket and used his phone to help me find my hostel. It turns out his hostel was just down the street, and we spent most of the next two days travelling together. Getting lost just let me explore some beautiful, quiet spots like this bridge overlooking Fenghuang's river.

Speaking of which, Fenghuang's river:

Fenghuang's river

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