5 Tips You Need to Know for Solo Traveler to China
China is a large country with a long history that has become a more popular travel destination. Everyone has a preferred method of travel with some favoring guided tours planned in advance. Others enjoy traveling solo and want more freedom to see sights and experience things that might not be on a pre-planned tour. While both types of experiences have their positives and negatives each individual must pick which mode of travel is best for them.
Traveling by yourself comes with its own unique set of challenges. There are the variety of things that won’t be provided when you choose this style of travel. It is up to the traveler to figure out things for themselves without the aid of a tour guide or a larger group. This self-dependence can forge unique experiences that might not be available to other travelers. It is best to do some research ahead of time to figure out if traveling by yourself would be something possible.
Every country has a different set of rules required to receive a tourist visa for entry into China. The cost can vary and research should be done for the amount required to get a visa. Most western countries have a Chinese embassy or consulate to contact about the necessary details. It is reported that many westerners apply for and pick up their visa in their origin country before arriving in China. Getting to China is relatively easy with more countries having direct flights to various cities within China.
The capital, Beijing and the major metropolis of Shanghai are two popular entry points via international air arrivals. Some people will enter China overland, most commonly through Hong Kong. Connections to Hong Kong might be more convenient and cheaper than flying directly into mainland China. People who choose to enter China via Hong Kong should note that their visa arrangements must include this possibility as a different set of rules might be required for a multiple entry visas.
Trains are a popular way of moving about within China. Tickets can be purchased many places. It is reported that a train ticket can only be booked about two weeks in advance so preplanning your trip months in advance must take this into consideration. On national Chinese holidays, trains can be booked to capacity and make it difficult for travelers to secure tickets. Make sure to research popular holidays and plan around this eventuality. Depending on city distances from one another a traveler can also find buses for shorter journeys. If you choose to stay inside a major city there are all the normal modes of transport one could expect to find. Using the subways is a cheap and efficient way to get around urban areas. If planning on longer stays within a city check out getting a metro card. If not comfortable with this option taxis are available but will be more expensive and it would be a good idea to have your destination in a written format to show the driver if you don’t speak the language.
While you don’t have to be fluent in the local language to get things done having a few key phrases memorized will be helpful. Signs in major metro areas will primarily have an English translation with other languages being less well represented. There are many sources of translation and you can even consider having an application on your phone that can aid you in getting your point across. This is a good opportunity to try and make friends with a local that knows your language. They might not be totally fluent but you can communicate with them. It can be a great opportunity for the local resident to try out their language skills and meet someone from outside their country. Remember, that you should have really strong memory to remember the Chinese language, so you should always have your notebook for making some notes.
For a country with so many diverse places to visit and the possible language barriers, a guidebook should be considered. Depending on what you plan to see various guidebooks can more specialize in that particular area. But overall a guidebook will give you a general idea of times, places, and the cost of various items. Having a hardcopy guidebook should serve as a backup to any electronic formats you have on your phone or laptop. You never know if a place to charge your device will be available or if they will break while traveling. Having a book format will ensure that you still have the information to get around. Specific smartphone apps for China can be found that will give detailed insights or ideas on what to see. Any research you have compiled online should be kept on your device because you might not have access to the cloud.
China’s internet is firewalled off and commonly used websites or services by westerners might not be available in-country. If you want to try and access websites such as Facebook people report using a VPN is required but even these get blocked at various times. Don’t depend on this for your information and have a backup of anything really important.
China is considered by many to be a culinary powerhouse. Do seek out as many different things to try and have fun. You probably have had westernized Chinese dishes but now is a chance to taste the real thing. Get local recommendations of where to eat or drink from people you meet. If you just want to wander around looking for new places check out what locations are packed at meal times. Keep an open mind by deciding if the locals like it, you might too.
China is now a possible destination for a solo traveler. Having a sense of adventure and reaching out to locals when you can, will help you explore this large country. Using the ideas presented above to get a general idea of some things you should consider will help you make a more informed decision to travel there.