‘Peking Express’ is a travel adventure reality show where teams in two compete against others to race from one checkpoint to another usually (but not limited to) hitchhiking. As a travel adventure show, the checkpoints are located across different regions and in many series, the races take place across multiple countries.

As a show focused around long-term travel situations that test the participants and help them grow as a result, I learned many lessons from watching it. In this article, I share the 10 most valuable lessons I learned from Peking Express so that you can benefit from the life wisdom such a show provides.

1. The power of asking

Although there are many aspects to the show, the trademark you notice from the get go with Peking Express is the participants asking locals if they can hitchhike. A lot.

The core of Peking Express is racing from checkpoint to checkpoint across a country as fast as possible. As the contenders receive only a paltry sum of money during the challenge (for example 1 Euro per day), they can’t use other forms of paid transport.

With few exceptions, this means they have to rely on the goodwill of others to take them closer to their destination in their vehicles.

The only way you access the goodwill of others is if you ask in the first place.

It’s no surprise that most of the time when you ask large favours of complete strangers, you’ll be rejected. There’s no point sugar-coating the truth, most requests made to strangers are turned down.

But as I wrote in ‘The Power Of Asking: How Successful People Get What They Want’: “You miss 100% of the yeses you never ask for.”

It’s obvious that the participants in Peking Express have to ask a lot before someone agrees to help them on their journey. A unedited version of the show that showed most of the rejections would be too long for TV.

But all it takes is one yes to achieve progress on the next stage of their adventure.

Regardless of their personality type, all participants spend time asking a lot of strangers requests throughout the show. Their hands are forced—if they’re too timid, they’ll lose and be sent back home, their adventure stopped in its tracks.

While necessity is the mother of invention, in our own lives, we don’t need to wait until our hands are forced. We can make requests of others in the same way. The worst we can get is a ‘no’ but there’ll be other ‘yeses’ around the corner, as long as we persist.

2. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve when your limits are pushed

As a gameshow, Peking Express needs to challenge its participants. A stroll around a continent is a documentary not an adventure show.

Regardless of whether they have prior experience with long-term backpacking or not, all participants face huge obstacles on their path to continuing their adventure and avoiding elimination.

In one episode, the pairs have to carry a heavy, open container of water together up a snowy mountain in South Korea. The container has handles on each side so the only way to lug it up the terrain is in tandem. This is while there are hundreds of other tourists crowding the area, ice underfoot baiting them to slip and paths that meander to nowhere. The pair with the least amount of water at the end of the journey is eliminated.

The physical and emotional hardship is palpable. Some people collapse from exhaustion. Some break down and cry. Others get into a spat with their partners along the way.

But by the end of the day, every pair makes it through the several hour challenge and the joy is written all over their faces. All of them made it through a strenuous feat and came out stronger as a result.

There’s a saying that you don’t know who someone really is until they’re challenged. Most of us operate fine in regular situations. It’s the ones that push our buttons that really show us what we’re made of.

Most of us think we know our limits but we often don’t. How can you know your extremities if by definition you rarely reach them? It’s the scenarios that push us there that show how we can grow out of our comfort zone.

Whether through long-term travel or another means, find a way to transgress your limits without giving up. It’ll amaze you.

Peking Express Limits

3. Hitchhiking can be fine (if done right)

I’ll confess, I’ve always been skeptical of hitchhiking and I know I’m not the only one.

Yet watching Peking Express, it’s apparent that hitchhiking carries its own charm.

There’s something soothing about watching a fellow human being help a complete stranger out based on nothing more than their sense of empathy and a kindred spirit. Unadorned but special.

Participants are aware of their effect on those kind (or patient) enough to help them. While you have drives that are obsessed about speeding to the next checkpoint, you also have rides where stories and impromptu language lessons entertain all.

In a sense, the local drivers aren’t only the ones providing an adventure, they’re also part of an adventure themselves.

In some episodes, it’s clear that the interactions the locals have with the participants in the show are the first time they’ve talked to a foreigner in their lives. Worthwhile experiences.

This isn’t to say that hitchhiking is plain sailing. The risks that create skepticism are clear. Standing on the side of sometimes dangerous roads to hail down a car. Wondering whether hitchhiking is legal in the part of the world you’re travelling in. Then the most obvious: considering whether the car you’re getting into is safe or not.

The good news is that there are those who understand these concerns and have used the power of collective intelligence to mitigate them.

Hitchwiki is a collaborative information site seeking to make the process of hitchhiking efficient and safe for travellers across the world. One of its perks is write-ups on the best places to hitchhike in a specific region so that you know where you’re most likely to find a ride and how safe it is there.

Then there are other tried and trusted tips for hitchhiking. Hitchhiking is much safer if done in pairs or groups. If your instinct tells you not to get in any car, don’t get in, no matter what the driver says. Write a clear sign that indicates where you want to go and accept that drivers may not be able to drop you off exactly there but can take you some of the way.

Hitchhiking is an embodiment of paying it forward. Remember the time someone helped you out with a free ride and be generous to others in the same way.

Peking Express Hitchhiking

4. You appreciate something more when you put effort into obtaining it

Imagine two scenarios. In the first, you win a car as a prize. Chance falls your way and presents you a nice motor without any effort. In the second, you get the same car but this time with your own money. Years of hard graft and saving pay off and you’re finally able to afford the car of your dreams.

Which scenario do you think will provide more lasting enjoyment? Which do you think will give you a more fulfilling high?

In the first scenario, no matter how nice the car is, it becomes just another possession. The happiness you think it’ll provide will evaporate rather quickly. No effort was put in to create a meaningful attachment to it.

In the second scenario, all the time and effort you’ve spent to at last obtain an item you yearned for so long provides an enriching feeling. You’ll treat the car like your baby for the rest of your days. The car won’t be another disposable object, it has a special meaning for you beyond its material value.

To a viewer, this lesson is plain to see in Peking Express. We observe the difficulties the participants endure throughout an episode and the relief and exhilaration once they succeed. The positive emotions at the end wouldn’t make worthwhile TV if there hadn’t been a challenging effort required in the first place to make them so intense.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the greatest club football manager of all time abides by a clan motto: “Dulcius Ex Asperis” which translates as “Sweeter after difficulty”. There’s truth to this Latin phrase—in life, the struggles we encounter are what make things worthwhile.

Remember this when you come across your next challenge. See the adversity you face as something that will make the achievement feel even better when you obtain it.

5. Vagabonding creates a type of personal growth like no other

Vagabonding is a frequent theme here at Abroad Lifestyles and for good reason—few things transform you as a person as much as vagabonding does.

Peking Express is one of the few professionally-produced depictions of vagabonding. Minds and bodies are challenged over the course of a period of long-term travel.

Participants learn that there’s an art and science to achieving success on this gameshow. The quicker they understand this, the more likely they’ll be to continue their adventure and reap the rewards.

‘Rewards’ doesn’t just point to financial winnings. In the process, participants learn the necessity of teamwork, become more resourceful, break out of their ‘shells’, and broaden their conceptions of what’s possible in this big, wide world we live in.

It’s hard not to watch shows like Peking Express and not get the itch to vagabond yourself. If you make the opportunity to, seize it and all the moments during travelling for all they’re worth. You’ll come back an evolved person.

Peking Express Vagabonding

6. The core of what makes us human is the same wherever you go in the world

The difference between an adventure show like Peking Express and other reality shows is that the act of vagabonding it displays shows human nature at its rawest.

Both because the participants are stripped down to their bare essentials with almost no money and only themselves and a partner to rely on. But also because the people they encounter are locals from all walks of life who demonstrate what life in their particular country is all about.

Much like participants in the show have no money for transport, they also have no money for lodging at the end of the day. This means they often go around town asking for a free place to spend the night.

The result is seeing them share a room with a local or surf a couch at a family household for the night. We see that whatever the country, whatever the race and whatever the language, humans are fundamentally the same in all walks of life.

In a world where war, conflict and strife are showcased through mass media on a daily basis, it’s easy to forget this. The differences between humans are shoved in our face more than the similarities.

If we go to the edges of human competence we find differences among people, but the overwhelming mass of competence is shared. Despite ‘variations’, we should understand that we have way more similarities among each other that we share in common than we have differences.

This reassuring fact should help place our focus on conviviality and kinship with all others no matter their origins rather than exclusion based on difference.

Those who undertake long-term travel or relocate to a different culture understand this first hand. But we don’t necessarily need to experience this to learn this lesson. Treat others as you want to be treated as they’re fundamentally like you.

Peking Express Core

7. Resourcefulness and simplicity are our default states—everything else is superfluous

The people who take part in Peking Express often come away saying it’s one of the best things they’ve ever done in their lives.

Apart from the awards to the pair that wins the daily challenge, the journey is not one replete with luxuries, middle-class norms or daily provisions taken for granted.

With so much stripped away, why is it the best thing they’ve done in their lives?

What matters in life is the journey and experience not the possessions we own.

We’ve spoken about how the mass of human nature and competence is shared. At the heart of those shared aspects is resourcefulness and simplicity.

We thrive from being in the zone and overcoming challenges. We’re hardwired to work with the grain of how we evolved, not deny it with unnecessary complexity.

That’s what gives us a sense of meaningful purpose. That’s what gives us true happiness. That’s what makes us human.

Peking Express Simplicity

8. The best stories we get from travelling are the ones with other people

After a period of time spent nomading across different countries, I was asked by a friend what was the best thing about it.

The speed of my response surprised him. “The people I met.” I uttered without hesitation.

I’d done an awful lot during my journeys. I’d swam in immaculate sinkholes with waterfalls in the Yucatán Peninsula, came out of a dangerous solo hike alive in Europe, and even learned rapid Spanish enough to get by without English in Mexico.

Yet the best moments were in the presence of others I’d met.

The cenote swimming holes wouldn’t be the same if others I spontaneously met on the day hadn’t captured photos and vids on their cameras. The dangerous hike became a source of bonding as I recounted the story to a local I had a beer with on the same evening. Learning Spanish (or any language for that matter) is only worthwhile if you use it to communicate and connect with others.

Peking Express exemplifies this. There’s nothing stopping the gameshow making it a solo affair.

But the producers choose not too—it’s very much about the partnership. The real beauty is how the individuals come through their adventurous ordeals together plus the stories that are created by virtue of how they interact with the locals.

As covered above, the series documents travellers’ reliance on the generosity of others. Without other strangers and the teamwork of their partners, they literally wouldn’t be able to eat, sleep and travel.

You’ll meet all kinds of weird and wonderful people on your journeys and they’ll all have something to teach you about human nature and therefore yourself along the way. Cherish this.

Peking Express Stories People

9. Gamification turns your travels into learning, growth and play

In a nutshell, Peking Express is a travel game.

Contestants are presented with challenges where they have to team up and win the favour of unknown people to achieve success on route towards a destination.

Sound familiar?

That’s because it parallels much of real life. The adventure of Peking Express turns the process of getting from A to B into a microcosm of actuality.

We can make our travels a generic touristy affair of checking off the sites and lulling around to show that ‘we were there’ to others back home.

Or we can make it into a game.

Gamification embodies ‘ludo’—the sense of childlike wonder and fun we get from play.

As we get older this gets squeezed out of us. But there’s nothing immature about gamifying your travels.

It can be as simple as setting a goal to achieve during your trip. Or it can be as multi-faceted as a 30 day challenge covering aims for all areas of life.

Understand that gamification helps you frame travel as part of your growth as a person instead of just hoping that it happens.

Find ways to make your travels play.

10. Connecting with others helps you through thick and thin

I’ve already mentioned how Peking Express is about partnerships not solo feats.

The reason is the creators want to display the importance of bonding in a partnership during periods of hardship and challenge.

The dynamic between the paired individuals is central to the ethos of the show. Some pairs are best friends. Others are married couples. Further still, a few might be separated couples who want to show that they can still work together.

Whatever their connection, for most partnerships, their resolve with each other will be tested at some point in the show. It’s not uncommon to see a partnership at each others throats during a task or one of the members disappointed with the other half.

Yet the most successful pairings are the ones who trust each other despite the shortcomings and fallouts and never give up together.

Then there’s the connection with strangers. Without the ability to connect with unknown people, the journey would be nigh on impossible.

At the heart of this is understanding we can’t get to where we want to be alone. No person is an island.

We are fundamentally social creatures. We thrive as the apex predator on Earth due to our social nous, not our muscle size.

Connecting with others is the key to thriving. Along with collective intelligence, our connections also provide an emotional backbone when times get tough.

Cherish the relationships you have with others. They may save your backside someday.

Peking Express Connecting


Peking Express might be an adventure travel gameshow but it’s full of home truths and life wisdom.

We can learn a lot from the lessons contained within. Some of the lessons deal with the practicalities of long-term travel and vagabonding. But most aren’t restricted to travel—we can apply them wherever we are.

Some of the most valuable lessons from Peking Express deal with our interactions with others. Even if we’re travelling solo, it’s often our interactions with others, be they locals or other backpackers that can make our trip that much more rewarding.

How we learn from our interactions when travelling shapes our future when we’re not. Remember that local or fellow traveller that helped you when abroad and pay it forward wherever you settle.

Know the show and agree or disagree with one or more of the lessons? Or you’ve watched a similar show and can relate to what you’ve read? Subscribe to Abroad Lifestyles or send me a message, I’d love to hear from you.