15 China Travel Tips For First-timers
China is becoming an increasingly visible country on the global stage and many Westerners are visiting this country in droves. Whether it’s for business or pleasure, these tips may come in handy for your trip in China.
The number of international visitors in China has been growing exponentially for reasons of every flavor. Whether it’s for business, pleasure, or to get a taste of what the future might be like, China is most certainly a lovely place that will have an effect on you.
Right now there are roughly 30 million international visitors stepping off planes, trains, and automobiles and into this country.
To ensure my fellow travelers make the best of their voyage to China, I compiled these tips just for you.
1. Learn a little –or a lot of the language
China is working hard to meet its visitors in the middle by teaching their young how to speak and write in English. However, there are most certainly going to be moments every single day where you will be faced with the cold steel walls of the almighty language barrier –and this is intensified even greater as soon as you leave major metropolitan areas and venture into the more rural areas.
Knowing some Mandarin is an absolute must when visiting China, especially if you want to get closer to having an authentic experience and farther from one that is full of blunders. Make sure that you can communicate in both emergency situations as well as common day-to-day scenarios. Playing charades every morning before you have your cup of coffee is more draining than you might imagine.
There are a number of ways you can overcome the language barrier – and don’t worry about looking too much like a tourist. Trust me, the locals will appreciate your effort. Pull out the phrase book, your language translation mobile app, or even the tried-and-true dictionary to string sentences together.
Looking for a good and reliable English-to-Chinese phrase book or dictionary? You might want to take a look at these suggestions.
If, however, you prefer to use smartphone apps over dictionaries and phrase books, make it a point to download Pleco, which is as far as I’m concerned the ultimate Chinese language application for travel junkies.
2. Communication problems? Look for a high school student
The array of Chinese variations and Mandarin dialects across this Asian country can make communication very difficult even for native speakers of Mandarin. Thankfully, though, there are plenty of young Chinese who are willing to lend a helping hand. In China, citizens who are below 25 years old are likely to speak both English and standard Mandarin.
3. Use China’s public transport
Planning on visiting more than one city or destination in China? Then, ditch the airplanes and taxi cabs, and hop on trains, bikes and buses instead. Of course, flying and taxi cabs can make your trips a bit easier, faster and more convenient. But frankly, I don’t see any fun in it. And besides, China’s public transportation is far cheaper, and is constantly improving every year.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions
Afraid of getting lost in China? Don’t worry, as the Chinese in general are supremely honest, helpful and friendly, especially to foreign tourists who can’t understand Mandarin or any kind of Chinese variation. If you ever lose your way in China, there will always be a kind local who’ll help put you back on track.
5. China is a safe place to spend your vacation
China is nowhere as terrifying and horrible as many guidebooks and news channels would say. Sure, the air in China is polluted and the traffic is in utter disorder, but it is still one of the world’s safe countries for solo travelers, families and female travelers.
6. Don’t cram everything into your trip
A lot of people visiting China, or anywhere for that matter, will try to cram as much into their journey as they can. My advice; don’t do that. Focus on the itinerary and make sure that you have quality over quantity. I have been visiting China for 30 years and to this day, I have still only scratched the surface.
If you try to do too much on your trips to China, you will wind up getting burnt out, exhausted, and maybe even sick.
7. Where to begin
When you visit China for the first time, if you have time, I strongly recommend visiting Beijing and giving it a thorough look. Beijing has a plethora of sights that will leave you in awe, such as The Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Tiananmen Square. They also have a really impressive spread of ancient hutong alleys and absolutely breathtaking parks like the Temple of Heaven Park.
So, like I said –that’s only Beijing! Don’t try to cram everything in or you will run yourself ragged.
8. Try to hit China’s striking natural beauties
If you have some time to spare, try to hit some of Mother Nature’s majestic masterpieces in China, such as Mount Huangshan and Karakul Lake.
9. Discover the hidden treasures of China via travel guides
There are a lot of travel guides that can help you discover some of China’s unheralded gems and hidden wonders. Here are a few travel guides that I’d recommend when visiting China.
10. Mind the weather
The weather in China is most often quite pleasant –sunny days, beautiful sunrises and sunsets. For the most part, it has an agreeable, although warm temperature. But as with any journey, I strongly suggest being mindful of the local weather reports.
China has the potential to possess intense heat, strong wind storms that will blow you over, and well –wait, this sounds like anywhere else these days, doesn’t it? Even though they know how to manipulate the weather as they did when they geo-engineered it for the Olympics to clear up pollution, no country can avoid the booming weather changes of life on earth today.
11. Bring your own roll of tissue paper
Tissue paper rolls are a rarity in China’s functional public toilets. That’s why it is essential for anyone traveling to China to get into the habit of carrying tissue paper rolls and sanitary napkins.
12. Chinese really talk loud
Chinese, in general, converse in a very passionate and loud manner, and most first-time foreigner tourists would misread it as a heated argument.
13. Invest in a good camera bag and polarizing filter
Fond of taking cool photographs? Then, make sure to invest in a polarizing filter and top-notch camera bag, before you embark on an unforgettable journey to the “Middle Kingdom”. Since China is pretty dusty, and can be hard on your photo gear, a good and well-sealed bag would surely come in handy for photography aficionados. Likewise, having a polarizing filter will cut through the frequent smog in China.
14. Buy a VPN
If you are planning on having a lengthy vacation in China, consider buying a Virtual Private Network. While China has bearable internet speeds, you unfortunately won’t have access to Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, and other social media sites. In addition, many blog services, blogs and Google services are blocked in China.
But with a VPN, you’ll have unlimited access to all your favorite websites, internet services and blog. Did I mention that VPNs are fairly cheap in China? The only drawback of using a VPN is its moderately slow network speed.
15. Bring a pollution mask
Sadly, most of China’s top tourist attractions fall in places where the air is terribly polluted. To experience these wondrous attractions without encountering a great deal of smog, I strongly suggest that you bring a comfortable and reliable face mask.
Traveling to China? Then, make sure to grab a copy of this Beijing travel itinerary, to make your trip planning experience simple and easy!
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips & Tricks
Shop for Travel Essentials
Book your flight
Find cheap flights using SkyScanner. This search engine is are our favorite, making sure you get the best deal for tickets all over the world. They are great at aggregating flights from multiple providers.
Don't forget travel insurance
Protects yourself against illness, injury, theft, and even cancellations with travel insurance. You're buying comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. We never recommend traveling without it. We’ve been using World Nomads, a great company, with great service and highly recommend them.
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out our resource page for the absolute best companies to use when you travel! We list our favorite companies that save people the most money when they travel and we think it will help you too!
Disclosure: Some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we earn a commission if you make a purchase. We only recommend products and companies we use and the income keeps the community supported.