• Josh Garman

I travelled 20 hours to Shanghai, was it worth it?

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

After I had said goodbye to my parents I was off and ready to begin my journey. I’m sitting in the sun right now writing this and there is a bee floating around where I’m sitting. If this bee decides to descend from above in a sea of red mist to attack me then I must apologise in advance for cutting the blog short. Until then however let’s get back to the start of one hell of a journey.

I travelled 20 hours to Shanghai, was it worth it?
I travelled 20 hours to Shanghai, was it worth it?

Entering Gatwick airport I was ecstatic. I had this trip in mind for a long time, what seemed like an eternity to my young and impatient mind. Every second of painstaking bar work I had performed for minimum wage was suddenly worth it, I wished only at this point that I had put more hours in. Oh the varying difference of the experiencing vs remembering self. However saying this I had saved for a while and felt financially sound, at least for a while. In my mind I didn’t really have a budget and further down the line this would be the source of a lot of torment.

Naive to my future fate I headed straight to Giraffe to grab some breakfast. I consumed enough sausages, eggs and beans to feed a family of 4 and washed it down with a coffee as well as two big glasses of fresh orange juice. Like I said budgeting was not on my mind… My server for the day was from the Philippines. His energy and excitement was a great start to my trip with his enthusiasm for the YouTube video I was attempting to film.

As I attempted to make my 2nd YouTube video for my channel I went back and forth filming my breakfast and walking around my table. I could only whisper an apology to all the people who sat surrounding me as I squeezed through trying to vlog everything. I think when people see YouTube videos they often don’t realise how much work goes into them and without any knowledge on making videos I was mincing through the best I could over 10s of takes.

Back then I believe that I was quite a friendly chap but conversation with strangers felt more difficult. Not having travelled very much meant I would still get jitters approaching new people and the idea of sitting in front of a camera talking about my trip was terrifying. My cheeks would always go bright red as people looked at me, I would always stutter my words and wonder what they were thinking. Who is this guy? Maybe they thought I was famous. When my server Stewart (a typical Pilipino name) came back with yet another glass of orange juice he asked about what I was filming and where I was heading. In the past due to the nerves of being a solo traveller I would lie. I would lie a lot.

I don’t know why I did it but I think it was an insecurity rearing it’s ugly head. I felt that all these people had met so many exciting travellers before so why would they be interested in me who I believed hadn’t done anything exciting. I know only through time that the truth is actually far more interesting. Often in life we are exposed to fake lives on social media, we see snippets of the real world.

Through this we get to only see the rich, juicy and exciting highlights of someone’s life. Hence why so many people feel that their trips aren’t enough, their experiences lacking and can get quite down about it. I had lived on this dopamine high for a while prior to leaving, watching hundreds of YouTube videos on traveling to exotic places. Real life is nothing like that.

I travelled 20 hours to Shanghai, was it worth it?

But now I have vowed to be completely transparent. When I go on an adventure I document everything, all the ups and downs. I hope to give a clear view of real experiences so we can all benefit from it. What most people don’t realise is that the social media influencers that flip backwards off waterfalls, or canoe down perfect streams don’t usually have the interesting stories to tell. But those people who travelled across a jungle through pouring rain getting bitten to pieces by mosquitos. Now that’s the kinda story I can get behind. That’s exciting!

As my journey progressed over the next year I began to love all the bad bits just as much as the good bits. I would often take bus journeys that were over 23 hours long. Here I would try and sleep across two seats, the seatbelts digging into my ribs as the bus jolted over bumps. I really loved those trips, it felt gritty and real, like the true adventurers of old. So I now realise that jumping country to country, seeing the highlights and staying in cosy hotels is not the kind of traveling that interests me.

With time I became more honest and my stories of my van breaking down, sleeping on beaches and eating ravioli with curry paste when my money ran out have become some of my favourite things to talk about. But I digress, I think I just needed to get that one off my chest. Right I’m feeling better let’s get back to it.

Stewart wanted to be part of my YouTube video, I must have convinced him I would be a big deal one day. I left giraffe and he said a goodbye message to my camera, we had a little scripted fist bump and off I went to get my flight. My first flight was 3 hours and 45 minutes to Turkey. As per usual I latched onto my seat and held my breath trying not to think of plummeting to my doom. Now stuck inside this metal toothpaste tube my mind went to all kinds of irrational places.

The adrenaline begins to pump and it freaks me out. This is one of the reasons I end up being so tired on plane trips, I use all my energy just sitting still. I can’t watch films, play games, read a book, nothing works. Whatever I do I just can’t tear my head away from what’s happening inside the plane and so I sit there, watching the clock and counting down the time till we land. This flight as you know was relatively short so although it felt very long for me soon enough we touched down into a country I had never visited.

As soon as I got off the plane it was distinctly different. Landing here reminded me of my first time landing in China, rich cultural differences surrounded me. Everyone dress differently, the language was unrecognisable and all around me it seemed far more busy. Some familiar shops remained like costa coffee but apart from that there wasn’t much else. I had been given a tiny glimpse into another country I know nothing about and I was sure to add it to my list for future travels.

Thinking back now I regret not staying here a while to soak in the culture. I should have stayed here in Turkey for a while maybe it would have given me another version of the world for perspective. But I pushed on and after a tedious airport wait of around 6 hours it was time to catch my flight to Shanghai. Now this was the one I was worried about, 10 hours and 35 minutes of pure terror and airplane food. I don’t think I have ever eaten an airplane meal I have particularly loved but I’m not one to complain and tucked in to whatever I was eating. Fun fact I learnt on this flight, vegetarians get food before everyone else so if you're hungry it may be time to convert.

I landed and breathed for the first time in 10 hours followed by berating myself heavily for not getting any YouTube footage while on the plane. As soon as I was off however I knew exactly what I was doing. I’d been here before and I knew Shanghai well. I quickly found my way through the busy mass of people knowing my way around the airport as if I was a local. I headed straight for my favourite way to get into the city, the Maglev. The Maglev is a floating train. Yes you heard me right a floating train! It uses magnets (and well that’s about all the science I know about it) to fly at top speeds of well over 200kph. I zipped along excitedly peering out the window into Shanghai’ nightlife.

Forget about getting your laptop out for a spot of blogging this train is lighting fast. Before I had got settled I was in the heart of the city and from here I took the nearest exit out onto the city streets. Having explored the area near the Bund heavily on foot during my last trip here I knew my way to the hostel which was lucky as my phone had died. Off I went getting some footage along the familiar roads to the Captain hostel.

It was pouring with rain but I didn’t care, I was back in China one of the best places I have ever visited. Hundreds off people crossed the road in unison their umbrellas perched above them in a variety of colours. It was like some great god had split open a giant bag of skittles which had now poured itself down the main city street.

I entered the hostel, went straight up to the same room I had stayed in before and met Max my best friend from China. He lives in the hostel and has been there so long that he is well respected. It almost felt like he was a mob boss when he spoke to the hostel staff and they arranged for me to have a bottom bunk in prime position. It really is who you know and although I had no idea what they were saying to each other I was grateful for this spot as most Chinese dorm rooms just like this one had 36 people to a room. 4 bed high tiers with steep ladders.

After I put my bag down having not slept in over 24 hours Jim jumped out of bed and invited me to dinner. I locked up my valuables surprised Jim didn’t have one of the fellow roommates guard it on pain of death and out we went back into the rain. We headed straight for a local hot pot spot and got stuck in to a mountain of food, drank rice wine and talked until the early hours of the morning. I was back in my favourite city and it had only just begun…

In next weeks blog I will talk about my trip to Thames Town a replica of modern day London right in the heart of Shanghai. An isolated ghost town with only me there, see you next week!

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