Richelle Gamlam is a travel blogger and serial expat who has spent the last five years living in China. She exclusively writes about Asia off the beaten path, exploring places, activities, and cultures most people miss. Her stories and misadventures are chronicled on her blog Adventures Around Asia.
1.)Where was the first place that you traveled that made you think WOW—travel is amazing (think history book come to life or …..)
My very first time traveling alone was to Seoul, South Korea on my way to study abroad in Beijing. I stayed with a Korean friend for a few days and then booked a hostel room for myself. I was so, incredibly nervous to do things on my own, but it ended up being an incredible experience. This trip was my very first time to Asia, and I got to see Seoul from the eyes of a local, while also exploring all on my own. I gained a ton of confidence and fell in love with the region. I had no idea that after visiting Seoul and studying abroad in China, that I’d be back to live in East Asia for another five years!
2.)If you had unlimited resources, where would you go and what would you do?
While I’d love to go to pricey destinations like Antarctica and experience a luxury safari and a bungalow in the Maldives, I think the first thing I’d do is allow myself to go on a no-stress digital detox trip. I’ve been obsessed with the idea of horse trekking in Mongolia for a few weeks, and I know I’d be so much more relaxed without having to worry about my next paycheck.
The funny thing is, I actually had a difficult time answering this question because almost everywhere I want to visit is actually achievable with the right mindset and a budget. I’ll actually be heading to Africa for a few months next year, which has been a huge dream of mine. My boyfriend Chris from Aussie on the Road works for a safari company, so we’ll definitely be able to plan a pretty decent budget safari while we’re there!
I was so afraid to travel completely solo for the first time. While I’d done some short-term solo trips before, my two-weeks circumventing Taiwan was my first major solo trip. The idea of navigating the island country by myself was so intimidating, but I knew I wanted to go. I ended up having a great time, and while I was a little lonely since the backpacker scene in Taiwan is very small, I did get the confidence to keep traveling solo. After that Taiwan trip, I went to Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, and more, all on my own.
4.)What apps do you use regularly that make your life easier?
Living in China, Wechat and Express VPN were my life! While on the road, I love using my Booking.com app to book and keep track of my accommodation, and Skyscanner to purchase flights. I also couldn’t live without Google Translate, Google Maps, and Spotify!
5.)What place do you wish more people have seen?
China! After living in China for over five years, I’ve been working tirelessly to get more people to visit, especially China’s off-the-beaten-path destinations. There’s so much more to China than just Beijing and Shanghai. I’m in love with Sichuan, Yunnan, Xi’an, Guilin, Tibet, and Xinjiang. I know the size, language barrier, and culture can be a bit intimidating, but I’ve been working hard for the last five years to get more people to fall in love with China like I did.
6.)Best advice you have been given and by whom?
I’m a big fan of Marie Forleo, and her Q&A Tuesdays. About two years ago, I was pretty upset with how my life was going. I had just moved to Beijing for a new job working as a college counselor, however, I wanted to be working for myself as a professional blogger. I was angry at my choice to get a Master’s degree, which at the time I graduated, I realized was kind of unnecessary for me. I felt stuck, with $20,000 USD of debt. I was tired of living in China, and I just wanted to be going on press trips, networking, and growing my business.
One day I watched a Marie Forleo video and she said something that really stood out to me: “every time you feel down, frustrated or stuck, just take a deep breath and tell yourself: ‘I chose this.’”
A lot of times we want to blame our frustrations on outside forces, but in reality, we’re much more in control than it seems. I chose to get my Master’s degree. I chose to take the job in Beijing. I could’ve started working for myself with $20k in debt and almost no income, but I chose to stay put and be responsible.
It was such incredible advice, and really turned things around for me.
7.)When were you surprised by the kindness of strangers on a trip?
There have been so many times that strangers have really helped me in a desperate situation while traveling. There was the time I couldn’t get a taxi in Hong Kong, and I missed my train. A woman spotted me crying and brought me to an agent who put me on the next train for FREE, which is apparently a thing in China and Hong Kong.
There was the time that my phone decided to unload the map I was following to find my hostel in Taiwan. It was almost midnight and I was completely lost. No restaurants or cafes were open. I desperately rushed into a 7-11, and met a couple who walked me five blocks to my hostel.
On my most recent trip hiking the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route in rural Japan, I met the kindest people. There was the guide who invited me back to his home and fed me persimmons and sandwiches, even though he didn’t speak a word of English. The locals who would rush out of their homes to wish me good luck. The guide who bought me expensive heat packs for my ankle when I sprained it on a mountain. All of the people who served as translators when I was helplessly lost.
Sure there are bad people out there, but for the most part, travel really teaches you the kindness of others.
8.)What inspired you to travel for extended periods of time or live in a new country?
After studying abroad in China for seven months, I was so excited to come home. But after a few weeks, the novelty wore off and I found myself yearning to surround myself with new cultures and ideas. I became an exchange student orientation leader, involved myself in the Mandarin department, and planned a Lunar New Year Party for the Asian international students.
I knew I needed to spend more time abroad so I took a job teaching English in the Chinese countryside. From there, opportunities kept falling in my lap. First, an affordable Mater’s degree, then a fun job with a great salary to help me pay it off.
After five years of living in China, I have so many places to see and explore, so I’ve been working for myself on the road. To be honest, the longer you stay away from home, the harder it is to find a spot to fit back into. Living abroad changes you, and I’m perfectly happy with my nomadic lifestyle (for now). I honestly can’t imagine getting an apartment and a full-time job in the US right now.
I think if I do settle down, it will probably be in Taiwan, my all-time favorite country.
you can’t see the world by sitting still.
10.) My favorite travel or business book is…
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman. I literally could not put this book down!
I’ve been reading a lot of female travel novels, but I avoided this one based on the title. I figured it would be a silly Chinese misadventure backpacker novel. Wow, was I so wrong!
In this memoir, Susan heads to China in the 1980’s when the PRC has been open to tourists for “just about 10 minutes.” I loved seeing how much China has changed in such a short time, and the story of Susan and Claire’s adventure is absolutely crazy. I think I literally inhaled this book.
If you want a few more travel novel suggestions, I’m a huge fan of: Love with a Chance of Drowning and The Worriers Guide to the End of the World, both by Torre DeRoche, Kosher Chinese by Michael Levy, Lost on Planet China by Maarten Troost, and Wild by Cheryl Strayed.
11.) How about hotels? What’s your favorite or one you’d recommend?
My all-time favorite hotel is the Orchid in Beijing. Just a few blocks from my old apartment, this hotel’s Mediterranean restaurant Toast is incredible. Not only that, but the tiny boutique hotel is hidden in a hutong alleyway. You have the opportunity to stay in a refurbished hutong courtyard or a tiny hidden alleyway apartment.
My boyfriend booked a surprise stay for us on my birthday, and I convinced my parents to stay here during their time in Beijing. The staff are lovely, the location is perfect, and you’ll get to stay right in the middle of Beijing’s hutongs, just steps away from the Drum and Bell Tower.
Lastly, can you please recommend a resource for up-and-coming travel writers; this could be a course you know, a book, conference etc.
I’ve tried a ton of blogging courses, and my all-time favorite is the Travel Blog Summit by bloggers Tommo and Megsy. I loved the first summit so much, I actually pre-purchased tickets to the next summit immediately after the first one. However, in that amount of time, I ended up growing my blog enough to become a speaker on getting started with email marketing!
While the summit is only once a year, you can purchase the summit as a course right now. If you really want to monetize your blog, I highly suggest it!
Richelle Gamlam is a Seattle native who taught English to 1,000 high school students in rural China. She is now traveling Asia off the beaten path, writing along the way.
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