Some years ago now, I crossed the border from Kazakhstan into Xinjiang in China’s far northwest, and found myself stuck in Urumchi with the equivalent of US$50 and no onward tickets. It wasn’t a problem; saving my cash for food, I ‘hitch-hiked’ on China’s trains by boarding them at small-town stations and then jumping off before the ticket collectors reached my carriage. At Jiayuguan in Gansu, I spent a windy night on top of the Great Wall. When I got to Xian, a green-coated PLA soldier had a spare ticket to Beijing and insisted I go with him — we spent the journey drinking Tsingtao beer and communicating in sign language, and he wouldn’t accept a penny for the ticket. In Beijing, I slept in a bike shed and got to see early-morning tai chi for the first time. And further train-hiking got me to Hong Kong on the south coast — all the way across one of the world’s largest countries for less than the price of a typical hotel room.

This is just to point out that travel need not be expensive. If the spirit of adventure is present, you can see foreign countries as well as — if not better than — package tourists.

But few adventurers have gone as far as Tom Carter. Despite a lack of funds, he decided he wanted to see China