China the Future of Travel interviews: Vina Wei, independent traveller

Case Study 10: The Independent Traveller

Vina Wei was born in the early 1980s in Hunan Province in southern China, but has lived in Beijing for the past 10 years, where she works in sales for English-language magazines. She has visited Thailand (2009), South Korea (2010), Hong Kong and Macau (around four times since 2010), Japan (2011 and 2013) and the United States (2012 and 2013).


How do you choose where you want to go?

I wanted to visit the States because I had been working with Americans and heard a lot about it, so I really wanted to see the country and culture and how people live there. Japan also – because I have Japanese friends. When I meet people, I really want to see their culture. Thailand was because I travelled with my [Canadian-born Chinese] friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. She moved to Australia from Beijing. Back then it was too expensive and too far to visit her in Australia, so we met in Thailand. My friend had already been there before, so she knew everything about Thailand and I felt more safe.


Have you ever travelled with a tour group?

I only travelled with a group once, when I went to Sanya [in China’s Hainan Province] with my parents. That was the first trip after I moved to Beijing, maybe in 2006. My parents were working in Guangzhou then, so we met there and signed up for a tour group.


Why would you choose to travel independently?

The second trip with my family was to Yunnan [Province], I went for my birthday with my parents. That was the time I decided to try travelling independently with my parents. I was planning the whole trip. Travelling with parents is difficult if you’re not with a tour group. They had a lot of complaints. I didn’t really enjoy that trip. But after that, I decided to travel independently. I found it was so much fun. But after going to Thailand by myself, I felt really guilty, so I paid for a trip for my parents to go to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore with a group. The trip was 11 days. They were so happy – it was their first time out of the country.

When we travel, and our parents travel, it’s different. My dad likes to get out of the bus, take a photo, and get back on the bus. That’s totally different from how younger people travel. We like to take time to see everything, not just take a photo and leave. Also, tour groups will send you to shopping places, which I don’t really like.


Was it easy to get a visa for the countries you have visited?

Yes, super easy. For Japan, it’s meant to be difficult, but my Japanese friend got me a business visa, which is cheaper than a tourist visa and not so many regulations. Once I had the Japanese visa, it was a lot easier to get a visa to any developed country. Another thing is I have an apartment in Beijing, so they know I won’t run away. Third, I’ve been working for media in Beijing, and people in the embassies knew the magazines. It’s difficult if you’re young and don’t have property.


Has it gotten easier to get a visa in the years you’ve been travelling?

I believe it’s getting easier for everything. The U.S. was a one-year multiple entry, and you can stay for six months each time. One of the reasons I went back to the States was to take advantage of the visa.


What were some of your best travel experiences outside of China?

California. That was something so different from Asian countries. Driving from LA to San Diego. San Diego is a beautiful city, and driving there takes you along a highway next to the Pacific Ocean. It’s an amazing experience, something surprisingly good, something we don’t have in Asia, something very memorable. I know it’s touristy, but Universal Studios, to see how Hollywood movies are made, was something very new and different for me. I also really liked the climate. It was not humid, with blue skies and puffy clouds. That was also a great part of the trip.

For Japan, of course the food is great. My favourite was Hokkaido. That’s the best Japanese food I’ve had. And people are so nice. The cities are so different – every city you go is different. There’s one city, the “glass city,” where all the local art is made from glass. There’s a hot spring city. The whole street is all hot spring hotels, and every hotel has a different natural hot spring. The hotel stay includes breakfast and dinner – many, many courses. And there’s a place you can go hiking.

I also liked Thailand. I remember the north part of Thailand, Chiang Mai. It’s a great city. The weather is nicer than Bangkok. The city is cleaner and more relaxing; Bangkok is crazy. I did a lot of things in Thailand I had never done before, like white water rafting. I had so much fun. I also rode an elephant. I did hiking. Another amazing thing: I took a cooking class. Thailand is so convenient to travel. Everything is so cheap.


Are there any places you would not want to return to?

I wouldn’t go back to Korea unless I was meeting a friend. Seoul is just like any other city, just for shopping, not much culture.

I wouldn’t go to Hong Kong for travelling or Macau. I’ve been there so many times. I don’t really love Hong Kong, because it’s so crowded, and people are not so nice. I would only go for shopping or to visit friends. Everything’s so fast. If I go on vacation, I want to relax.


Is shopping an important part of your international travel?

I love shopping in the States. Whenever I go to the States, I’ll bring empty suitcases. I will also wear old clothes so I can throw them away and buy new ones there. Last time I bought two suitcases full, mostly clothes and shoes and makeup. Shopping in the States is so easy. I can buy a lot in one shop, and comparing to clothing in shopping malls in China, it’s cheap and good quality. But I didn’t go there just for shopping.


How much of your shopping was for you, and how much was gifts?

90% is for myself. I plan that I’m going to buy a lot. So even if my friends want things, it’s a small part of the list. Last trip I bought an expensive Louis Vuitton purse for my friend, but she paid me back for it. I only buy cosmetics for friends as gifts, or food. On my first trip, I bought a lot of presents for all my friends. But I travel so much and my friends don’t travel, so it doesn’t make sense to always buy them presents.

My friends will give me their shopping lists, so I help them to buy stuff to help them save money. More and more Chinese people don’t shop in China. We buy clothes locally, but not makeup or cosmetics or purses. None of my friends buys that in China. Even if they don’t travel, they’ll get someone who does to buy it for them. Especially purses or wallets, most people would get in the States or Europe, because it’s cheaper than Hong Kong.


Where would you like to visit next and why?

Europe is the next destination for sure. My top four countries are: Spain, Greece, Italy and France. I love food, and all four of these cuisines. I’ve only had them in Beijing, so I want to try authentic food in the countries themselves. And I know a lot of Spanish people in Beijing, and I also have a friend in Barcelona. And Greece is because we’ve always heard about the ocean, the romantic ocean. And I like the blue and white colour of Greece. It sounds romantic. In Italy I want to visit all the museums. I think it will have a lot of culture. Out of my list, France is not the number one, but I still want to visit. I’ve heard good things and bad things so I want to see what it’s like. I’ve heard it’s great and romantic, but I’ve also heard it’s dirty and people are arrogant and don’t like to speak English.

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