Dreaming of the gorgeous skyline of Shanghai, the mountains that inspired Avatar in Zhangjiajie National Park, or just want to practice eating with chopsticks? China is the place to go! It is a country filled with history, unique culture, and don’t forget the incredible food! While all these things sound fantastic, China is a massive country, with heaps of people living and traveling in it. I want you to be able to focus on the adventure in front of you and less on the potential difficulties. Therefore, I have a few tips that I wished I knew before embarking on my own Chinese adventure. Here are my 10 tips on how to travel in China!

Chinese tourist visa


Tip 1: Obtain your tourist Visa ahead of time

Getting a tourist visa as an American can be a frustrating process. It takes much time and effort. Unfortunately, it is a requirement in order to visit China. For more information, check out my Chinese visa post, which discusses the process and gives a few helpful tips as well! Trust me, you don’t want to fly to Hong Kong and potentially get rejected.


Tip 2: Use a VPN

As you may know, China blocks google and much of social media via its Great Firewall of China… get it… like the Great Wall of China. Anywho, unless you are ready to give up Instagram, you are going to want to use a VPN (or virtual private network) while you are located in China. VPNs make your device think it is in another country when it is actually in China. For example, I chose to make my phone think it was in the States.

I recommend Express VPN. For $12.95 you can pay for a 1-month subscription. It is the most popular VPN for travelers to use in China. However, be sure to download a VPN before entering China as most VPN websites are blocked in China. 


Tip 3: Obtain a Chinese SIM card

China has a decent amount of WIFI available. However, I found that having a SIM card made traveling much easier. It gives you the option to “Google” any questions you have on the road. Audrey and I both purchased one first thing, right in the airport. The Snail Mobile SIM card costs us 100RMB for 12GBs of data. This SIM card works in all regions of China and lasted us the month. It was an easy process, and allowed us the freedom of the internet whenever we wanted!


Tip 4: Book train tickets as early as possible

Chinese Train Ticket

The easiest way to book flights, trains, or buses is via the Trip.com app. We used this for all of our train bookings. The nice thing about this app is it keeps all your bookings together in one place and is easy to use. Train tickets go quickly and if you don’t book early, you’ll end up with a standing ticket on a 13-hour overnight train ride…

No bueno

With regard to trains, tickets become available for purchase 30 days ahead of time. Once you have your tickets purchased, you’ll need to go to a train station to pick them up. It doesn’t matter which station you are at, just show the ticketing booth the confirmation code on your Trip.com app with your passport and they will print out your ticket. Easy as that! There are heaps more to know about trains in China and I will be writing another post on it soon!


Tip 5: Always bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer

As you might be aware, toilets in China are typically of the squat variety. When you are out and about exploring glorious cities and beautiful countryside, you’re going to need the bathroom at some point. Most likely, there ain’t going to be toilet paper, and there probably isn’t going to be soap either. Therefore, if you want to avoid the shake maneuver and you feel that rinsing with only water is not going to cut it, make sure to always bring hand sanitizer and toilet paper (or tissues).


Tip 6: Use Grab

Worried about getting scammed by taxis? Heard about taxi drivers overcharging tourists? Instead of hailing a taxi, trying using Grab. Grab is basically Uber but in China. The one small difference is that you’ll pay with cash. You’ll know what the fare is ahead of time, and you won’t have to worry about any communication problems. It is definitely the cheapest and easiest form of transportation other than the metro.


Tip 7: Adapt to the dining style in China

Dining service in China is much different than in the States. If you are expecting a waiter to come and ask if you’re ready to order, and then check back throughout your service to make sure everything is alright… well, that’s not going to happen. They don’t do the table service thing like they do in the States.

In China, when you have decided to order, wave about to flag down a waiter. They won’t bother coming over until you do.

Also, Chinese food is typically served “family style”, and therefore, everything is shared. Be prepared to use chopsticks, as a fork and knife is probably not even an option. Don’t worry, they take practice, but mastering chopsticks isn’t that bad! While the dining style may be different, the food is incredible, so sit back, relax and enjoy the food!


Tip 8: Use Maps, not Google Maps

If you’re like me, you live and breathe by Google Maps. Well, due to the Great Firewall of China discussed above, Google Maps in China is very incomplete.

**Side story**

While in Chengdu, we were trying to head to the Panda Research facility. Google Maps gave us a variety of confusing bus routes, all of which were going to take at least an hour and a half. At the bus station, when we tried to buy bus tickets, a lovely attendant explained there was a metro route. The metro route didn’t exist on Google Maps. However, I later tried Apple Maps, and realize the route was included.

**End of side story**

Maps ended up being extremely useful in navigating around Chinese cities. It even gives you the fare information for the route.


Tip 9: In China, you’re a tourist attraction

Tourist Photo - Xi'an

In many parts of China, the local people have never seen a Western person besides on TV. So do not be surprised when you are wandering around, you see many Chinese people taking pictures of you. Some do this blatantly without asking, and other will come up to you and ask. It makes you feel like a celebrity!

Be courteous, kind, and if you want my advice, go with it and enjoy!


YuanTip 10: Cash is King

The majority of China still uses cash in everyday transactions. Rarely can you use a credit card. The other option is WeChat. However, it requires a Chinese bank account, which as a tourist, you won’t be able to obtain.

Therefore, be prepared to either bring cash or use an ATM to obtain cash. If you are using an ATM, make sure to let your bank know that you’ll be traveling to China. Note: as of this post date, 1USD = 6.83RMB.


China may be different, but it is an incredible adventure

Embrace the differences in culture, cuisine, and people. If you do, you’ll end up learning incredible things and experiencing wonderful adventures. Get ready for it, because China is bound to be different from everywhere you have ever been to. I know it was for me.

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