The Focal Point: Lost in Beijing

adventure, explore, travel

Written by Shaun Swartz

Welcome back to “The Focal Point” – the international travel blog in which we share the images and stories from our adventures abroad that leave us inspired to plan our next journey. Have an image or story you want to share? Send it to us and don’t be shy! Send it via email (, Instagram DM (@GoBeyondStudentTravel), hire a sky-writer to write it in the clouds, maybe even send us a small tub of cottage cheese with a greeting card…well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. So without further ado, this week’s story comes to us from the skinny streets of Beijing – Enjoy!

It wasn’t fully my intention to get us lost in the narrow, winding streets of Beijing’s hutong district,

but I must admit that I harbor an unusually obstinate habit of wandering aimlessly and without regard for consultation of a map from time to time. I like a well-laid plan as much as the next guy, but I’m a firm believer in setting out to explore new locations with no particular destination in mind, as opening oneself to the possibilities of an unplanned itinerary permits the unexpected conversation with a local shop owner to lead you down a path of experiences not printed in even the most comprehensive of travel guides.

Prior to the arrival of our first group of students in China this past summer, my incredibly capable and geographically-minded colleague, Keeley Rideout, and I decided to ride the train into the heart of Beijing with no particular destination in mind. Having both traveled extensively, we flung inhibition to the wind as we searched smoggy streets for steamed pork buns and iced taro tea. For hours we stuffed and sipped with no regard for time and destination, experiencing our Beijing adventure the way we felt it should be experienced – on foot and off the cuff.

adventure - explore - travel

The sun had long since set and, true to form, we were wildly lost. A steady drizzle had transformed into the kind of downpour that finds you wondering whether or not your bones are, in fact, porous enough to absorb rainwater, so with no manner of orienting ourselves, we accepted our fate to wander through dimly lit alleyways in search of shelter. Closed restaurants and empty buildings around every corner, it wasn’t until a man came speeding up to us in his tuk-tuk and threw open the door without a word that we found respite and enough directional orientation to make sense of the city.

We never made our way to the restaurant that a city-hardened expat had half-heartedly suggested on the train a few hours prior- and to be honest I don’t believe we even looked – yet in the process, we found so much more. After all, the best adventures are the ones you can’t plan for, and doesn’t the old adage state, “the adventure doesn’t begin until something goes awry”?

That’s my story at least – and I’m sticking to it.

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