Next month, I will visit my thirtieth country. Pretty cool!
But can I tell you a secret? Despite how frequently I get to visit new places, travel often really intimidates me. We're talking sick-to-my-stomach anxiety over flights and language barriers and unknown situations. I was already a bit nervous about traveling to Thailand to see my friend Alli, but when she suggested I try to see the Great Wall during my 8 hour layover in Beijing, I thought, "Ha. Nope. A visit to Panda Express will do."
I put the idea out of my head. But after some of life's lines intersected perfectly, my sister was able to join me on my trip to Thailand and she insisted we try to see the Great Wall together on our way back to London. Many emails and bad dreams and TripAdvisor searches later, I found a tour company, said a prayer, and booked.
Six surreal days in Thailand ended with a red-eye flight to Beijing, where we disembarked the plane with those bleary eyes unique to airports at 4 am. Thanks to China's new 72-hour Visa Free policy, we breezed through passport control, struggled through an order at Starbucks, and met our driver Tony – the friendliest man in all of Beijing! (Voted on by me.)
Don't tell my mom, but both Mary and I fell asleep in the car (driven by a stranger I met on the internet) en route to the Wall. Wise choice, I know. But after an hour of driving and snoozing and watching the sun rise over Beijing, we arrived at one of the oldest sections of the Great Wall. With all of our organs and belongings in tact, thank you very much.
We scrambled up a dirt path and through a farmers' village, then began climbing the Wall itself. The air was frigid and the sky was clear and the hike was hard. And we were in China. WHAT!? After a couple hours of breathless climbing and numb-fingered shutter clicking (Tony was a big fan of the looking-thoughtfully-into-the-distance pose), we made our way back to the airport.
In a span of a few hours, we had touched one of humanity's most significant accomplishments. The knot in my stomach had finally untwisted and I was riding the high of overcoming fear.
I don't know if I will ever return to China, but I sure am thankful that we went. I'm also thankful for friends and sisters and a God who beckon me to bravery, even when that just means my own small kind of bravery.
I am already looking forward to the next opportunity where my "Ha, nope!" becomes "I'm so glad I did."