My winter holiday journey around southern China

Red is where I went. Blue is where I hoped, but didn't go -- yet

Red is where I went. Blue is where I hoped, but didn’t go — yet

BEIHAI, GUANGXI PROVINCE — It’s winter holiday time again, and time for me to venture out in the wider world.

My holiday travels this time were not as far ranging as I had hoped or planned, but still I’ve had a good two weeks of travel.

Here’s my itinerary in brief: Jishou – Changsha – Hengyang (all in Hunan), Guangzhou – Shenzhen (in Guangdong), Hong Kong, Beihai – Nanning (in Guangxi), then back to Hunan, for 17 days in all. The map above shows where I’ve been.

My original plan was to go someplace really exotic, like Hanoi or Jakarta, but a friend asked me to travel with her for a week at the end of January. Also, my tutorial student wanted more lessons, so rather than leaving right after exams ended Jan. 6, I stayed in Jishou till the 24th.

Meanwhile, I made up my mind not to exceed my budget, as I have managed to do the last three journeys. This time, I was determined to have at least a month’s pay in the bank when I returned. This decision required me to return to Jishou once my funds dipped that low.

So, after scoping out my options after arriving in Beihai on Feb. 2, I settled on returning to Hunan this weekend. In fact, I’m writing this while waiting for the high speed train to Nanning, my last stop outside Hunan.

I accomplished one principal aim for this holiday, to escape the cold weather in Hunan, at least for a while. Winters in Guangdong and Guangxi are milder than in Hunan, and often spring-like. I visited beaches in both places, though the temperatures precluded sunbathing or swimming. Also, I enjoyed the company of friends and a relaxing itinerary. No rushing around, and no set plans. Just go when and where I felt.

Shoulder and hip straps can be covered for easy stowage

Shoulder and hip straps can be covered for easy stowage

For this trip, I tried something different in terms of packing. Usually, I use a roller bag, a day pack and a small shoulder bag for passport, wallet and phone. Reading a travel blog by Kristin Addis, I decided to try her method. She uses two bags: a mid-sized backpack that can be zipped up to cover the shoulder and hip straps for convenient carry-on stowage, and a security shoulder bag by Pacsafe.
Pacsafe security bag

Pacsafe security bag

The Pacsafe bag has a shoulder strap with embedded wires to make it cut-proof, shielding against RFID readers, and wire mesh to protect the bag from being slashed with a knife.

I found the Pacsafe bag online at (388 yuan or $62), but Addis’ REI backpack I replaced with a Chinese equivalent for far less money (see above left). It was conveniently on sale 50% off on New Year’s Day for 150 yuan ($24).

Another novelty for me was a set of packing cubes, which Addis also recommends.

I bought a set on Taobao on sale for 208 yuan ($33), and I’m hooked. They keep things very compact and manageable, whether I use a roller bag or the backpack.

Packing cubes and my shopping bag

Packing cubes and my shopping bag

I took my laptop, too, which I hardly ever do, because I intended to use it. After I was done, the pack weighed about 14 kg (31 pounds) and my camera, zoom lens, wallet, passport and small items went into the Pacsafe bag. But, because I was traveling from cold weather to warm, I ended up toting a cloth shopping bag, too. It was only a slight nuisance, as it only had my sweater and lightweight jacket, which I couldn’t fit in the backpack. As it turned out, I needed both despite the milder weather.

Was the pack more convenient than a roller bag? Yes and no. On the plus side, it’s easier to navigate subway systems and city buses with a backpack. Roller bags and turnstiles are not meant for each other, and a pack leaves both hands free. On the other hand, rather than dragging 14 kg behind me, I had it on my back, which is a little tiring when you need to stand in line for tickets, or stand on a crowded metro for an hour or so.

Probably I just need to get used to it. And pack less next time. Hah.

Coming up: where I went and what I did, and how much I spent each day.

PS. If you’re interested in buying those bags, click on the links provided to order from I’ll get a little money if you do. Hint, hint.

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