Solo Travel Tips For China

Solo Travel Tips For China

Living in China can be difficult, especially if you are not accustomed to the culture or know what to expect, more so if you’re a solo traveller. I have been here for close to two years now and I can safely say that I’ve learnt a trick or two… and I’d like to share them with you!  So if you’re an adventurer and are thinking of exploring this part of the world by your lonesome, here are some solo travel tips for China.

  1. Only drink bottled water. Make sure that the cap cracks when you open it. This way you know it is the original, clean water in the bottle and not something that has been refilled.
  1. Wear decent footwear that will enable you to walk comfortably. Before coming to china, I used to love wearing the prettiest of sandals and pumps. I’d pick them out carefully so that the colours and little details matched the summer dresses I used to wear. Now, he truth is, I pretty much wear the same pair of sneakers all the time. They’re sturdy. They’re comfortable and they sure as hell keep my feet protected. The honest truth is that the streets here are pretty dirty. There’s a whole lot of ugliness lying around and unless you’re visiting upbeat modern Shanghai, you’ll pretty much want some sturdy shoes that will keep your pretty toes well protected.
Climbing The Great Wall, Badaling
  1. Everybody loves tradition and culture… and a good adventuress loves experiencing this tradition and culture in every city she gets to visit. But you’ve got to watch out for those unlikely scams that are often disguised through counterfeit money, tea houses or art shows. As a rule of thumb regardless of the city you’re in, don’t agree to go anywhere if someone randomly approaches you on the street.
  1. For most travelers in China, the language barrier is the biggest problem. Not many people outside the bigger cities of Beijing and Shanghai speak English, which can make it hard to travel around especially if you’re by yourself. More so, if you’re a female. It’s a good idea to have a translation app (like Pleco or Baidu Translate) downloaded or a pocket phrase book with you at all times. More importantly, write down some emergency phrases and stash these away in a separate compartment of your backpack. You never know when your phone battery will die. In China, it’s also a good idea to have these phrases written with local mandarin symbols and not just the pinyin.
  1. Be sure to look out for the registered taxis in China and avoid illegal taxis at all costs. This can be hard, as the colours of taxis change from city to city so it’s best to do some research online. As a rule of thumb, always make sure there is a meter in the taxi and it starts with the base fee. Always ask for a taxi receipt when you leave as that will increase your chances of retrieving something if you’ve accidentally left it in the taxi.
  1. Still on taxis: There are some taxi drivers who refuse to pick up foreigners or rather who may refuse to take you to a certain location because it’s too far, or out of the route they want to go. Either way, a taxi is not allowed to do this. If you’re confident with your translation app and don’t want to stand for any nonsense then just get in as the taxi pulls up. Don’t show them your destination name through the window or give them the opportunity to turn you away.
Solo Travel Tips for Women, Life of Shal, The Great Wall
  1. Always carry the name and address of your hotel / hostel / apartment building with you. Also be sure that these are written with Chinese characters too. The same applies when visiting major tourist attractions. This will make it easier not just for you but for the taxi driver as well.
  1. Be aware of visa requirements and plan your trip in advance. Many travellers make the mistake of getting a single entry visa for China, and then plan side trips to Hong Kong, Vietnam and Cambodia. These areas, as well as many others do not fall within The People’s Republic of China. This means you will need a multiple entry visa for China as well as a visa to enter these other areas depending on your nationality.
  1. It’s always a good idea to carry a map with you – electronic and hard copy. China is a huge place and it will be very hard to navigate without one.
Solo Travel Tips
  1. There is only one time zone in China, despite its vast size. This means that whether you travel far distances or not, the time is always the same and your difference in hours to home will always the same.
  1. Follow the crowd when crossing the street. It may seem like a ridiculous thing to say, but for most westerners, Chinese traffic lights just don’t make sense. Apart from that, many local drivers don’t stick to the traffic signals or rules of the road. Put your camera down, cell phone away and concentrate.
The Great Wall, Simatai, Life of Shal
  1. Always carry major currencies, like US dollars or Euro’s with you when entering China and be sure to change some of these at the airport. Then find a bigger branch of a more popular bank and change the rest of your money there to get a better deal. Be wary of foreigner restrictions though. Many banks only allow foreigners to change a certain amount of dollars or euros a day. This means that your cash flow will be limited. It also means that you should think days ahead if you have excess yuan and want to change these back before you leave.
  1. Also, unless you’re in the bigger cities like Beijing and Shanghai, you won’t be able to use your credit or debit cards for basic payments at restaurants or supermarkets. Always carry cash with you.
Solo Travel Tips
  1. Avoid rush hour travelling. Whilst taxis are a more comfortable means to get around, China has a massive population which means stand-still traffic on the roads in some cases. You can be sitting in traffic for close to three hours during public and national holidays. The subway is one of the most effective means of transport in some cities but it can and will get packed to capacity. Believe it or not, there are people whose job it is to push people in on the subway. You will be pushed and you will have at least five people standing in your personal space. Plan your day trips so that you avoid rush hour traffic. (If you haven’t yet seen my vlog on the Beijing subway, watch it here).
  1. There is a great deal of internet censorship in China – which means many popular sites are blocked. If you can’t live without social media or around the world news updates from BBC or CNN, you may want to get a VPN before you arrive. Basically, it will seem as though you are using the internet from a different country which means you will have access to all your favorite sites. Prices, plans and connection stability varies from one VPN service provider to the next, so be sure to do your research.

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I'm Shalinee - a Geminian scientist who loves to travel, write, draw and eat chocolate. I've visited over twenty countries, published a Environmental Science encyclopaedia and somewhere along the way started a science communication company to help students and corporates translate that hard-to-read data generated in a lab. Other than that, I'm just searching for the magic still hidden in the world.

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