Surviving The Great Wall: Essential Travel Tips For Every Travelista

So you have left home to see the world and naturally you’re doing it in style. Just as every twenty something travelista should. It’s the mark of a free thinking independent woman really – being someone who knows how to stand on their own two feet, has a beautifully educated mind and has seen so many of the wonders this world has to offer. You have partied in Mauritius island-style, snorkeled through marine parks whilst hopping off privately owned yachts in the Seychelles and brought in the new year at glamorous black and white themed parties in London. And you have done it all in style. 

 Years later, you somehow find yourself standing on The Great Wall , one of China’s greatest historical splendors. It takes your breath away, both literally and figuratively. Nope. Glitzy heels and pretty bikini’s aren’t going to cut it here. This time you’ve got to get down and dirty because, hell yes, you want to live to tell this tale!

 After spending a day, hiking to the Tenth Tower of the North Side of the Great Wall of China at the popular Badaling section (and another two days recovering from aches and pains), I have decided to compile a list of essential travel tips that every travelista needs to survive one of China’s greatest architectural divides. Be sure to read these before your attempt to hike this majestic wonder of the world.

1. DRESS COMFORTABLY

As much as we like to look glamorous most, if not all of the time, hiking up the Great Wall calls for comfortable shoes. The truth is, this is is going to be a long and tiring walk and the last thing you want is to be bothered with uncomfortable shoes. Invest in a decent pair of durable hiking boots that will keep your feet cushioned all through the day. It’s also a good idea to dress in layers so you can adjust yourself to the changing weather conditions as the day progresses. Pants and long sleeves will cushion your injuries if you fall while scarves and windproof jackets will block out excessive winds. Use a good backpack so you can stuff any extras inside but remember to pack light. This way both your hands will be free to maintain your balance and help you grip the railings.

2. TAKE A PAIR OF GLOVES

Gloves will help if you are visiting on a cold windy day but more importantly, it will also help with climbing the wall. Many parts of the wall at Badaling have had hand railings fitted to make it easier to climb. While these are a big help, they have also rusted over time with changing weather conditions. A pair of decent gloves will tighten your grip and prevent any blisters, unwanted cuts and bruises.

3. HAVE A DECENT BREAKFAST

You’ll need your energy for the hike so be sure to have a good low GI energy breakfast. Keep it simple. You don’t want to feel like you have just scoffed down a lazy Sunday brunch. Pack lots of water and don’t forget to drink it often. Also make sure to pack a decent lunch and some energy filled snacks like fruit and peanuts.

4. PACK A FIRST AID KIT IN CASE OF EMERGENCIES

A travelista should always have a little emergency kit on her at all times. This is especially important if you’re hiking along treacherous routes that are unfamiliar to you. Anything can happen and it’s always a good idea to be prepared. Strip bandages, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointments, gauze pads, painkillers and any personal medication items are a must.

5. WEAR SUNSCREEN AND PACK A GOOD PAIR OF SUNGLASSES

Always wear sunscreen even if it looks like an overcast day. It is especially important to pack a decent pair of sunglasses as this will block out the glare of the sun, especially when you wander along the more dangerous parts of the wall.

6. DON’T RUN OR WALK TOO FAST ALONG THE WALL

Like any woman who seeks adventure and thrills, you will want to cover as much ground as you can but sometimes, rushing along your journey is not always the smartest thing to do. The wall can get extremely busy, especially on national holidays with everyone wanting to wander around and take pictures. People will push passed you so be sure to keep your distance as the wall gets pretty steep. Many parts of the wall are still broken too with loose stones and steep steps, so falling can be quite easy.

7. CAREFULLY READ AND FOLLOW ALL DISPLAYED WARNING SIGNS

At more public sections of the great wall you will see many warning signs. Pay attention to them. Keep away from the edges of the wall as these parts are usually loose and easier to crumble. It is also easy to drop your belongings. Never play with electronic devices if a storm is looming and always walk slowly and carefully. If you find yourself on the wall during an unexpected thunderstorm, seek shelter inside a watch tower until it safe to make your way back.

8. USE THE BATHROOM BEFORE YOU START YOUR CLIMB

As any travelista knows, a clean bathroom is like a gift from the Gods during travelling. Sure we may check into five star hotels and spoil ourselves with expensive spa treatments but when visiting historical monuments, decent clean toilets are a rare find. Use the toilets in your hotel room or if you must, in the parking lot below before you begin your journey.

9. BE REALISTIC ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL EXPECTATIONS

The Great Wall really does go on forever. Never push yourself further than your body can go. Stretch occasionally and be sure to stop and rest whilst you admire the view before resuming your hike. Always have your travel insurance and medical documents with you in case of an emergency.

10. WATCH THE WEATHER REPORT AND CHECK THE AIR QUALITY INDEX

The air quality in China can get pretty bad. On days like these, it’s best to stay indoors or if you decide to venture outside, a good quality filtered face mask should be worn which can make breathing as you hike quite difficult. Keeping an eye on weather reports and air quality indexes will help you select the best day for your hike and guide you to dressing appropriately. The best time to visit the Great Wall is usually in spring or summer but the end of winter is not a bad choice either. The middle of winter may find you battling snow or even worse – ice – which makes hiking along the wall very, very dangerous.

11. AVOID WEEKENDS OR PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

China is pretty overpopulated so visiting tourist attractions on public holidays can be down-right frustrating to say the least. You’ll spend way too much of your time waiting at the train station and once there, you won’t be able to take any nice pictures or even just marvel in the splendor of it all. It will also be much more dangerous as you will be passively fighting with others for foot space over some of the steeper areas.

12. CHOOSE THE SECTION OF THE WALL THAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU

Depending on how daring or adventurous you are, there are different parts of the wall to suit everyone’s taste. The Great Wall consists of 8 major sections around Beijing, seven of which are legally open. These are Juyongguan, Badaling, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Gubeikou, certain parts of Huanghuacheng and Simatai. Jiankou is not open to tourists because it is a far more dangerous route as this part of wall has not been restored as yet. If you do decide to visit here, you will be hiking at your own risk.

 Now that you have some basic travelista tips in your back pocket, it’s time to venture out and climb the Great Wall! Let me know how you get along! Happy climbing!

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Hi World! I'm Shal - an environmental microbiologist, writer, teacher and artist from Durban, South Africa. I've spent the last two years traveling and teaching Chemistry and English to young kids in Asia. Life of Shal was founded as a way to share travel experiences, tips and other worldly magic with you! Join me on my journey!

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