We can humbly say we have now seen a few countries in the world and are quite skilled in managing cultural differences and travel hiccups.
If you are like us and you are planning a trip to China on your own then don’t just skip this post.
There might be a few useful info even to the most experienced globetrotters.
China is an amazing country but definitively needs some pre-travel preparation, and not only to plan the best itinerary.
Discover our survival guide to China
Survival guide for your trip to China
Watch our vlog on Chinese villages: Episode 5
Have you watched the video?
It is exactly in those small villages that you will require more help and our survival guide will make the difference!
Now read the guide!
1) Get your visa documents right
Unless you are travelling in an organised group, you will need to present full documentation of your upcoming travel to the deputy office in your country to get a visa.
We can, of course, speak only as Italian passport holders, but as ours is one of the best passports to travel, you can safely consider this an initial direction (of course full details will only be available consulting requirements for your nationality.)
So… to get your access to the country for the standard single entry – 30 days’ visa (labelled as touristic) you will need to have a full itinerary on paper, that will include in and outwards tickets as well as hotel confirmations of where you are going to spend all the nights you will stay in China.
This might sound a bit too detailed but believe us, it was 100% required when we did ours in London. And make sure you have printed confirmation for each of the travellers as they are attached to separate requests (we did not think about that and ended up paying a fortune in photocopies!).
Of course, once you obtain the visa you can change plans as you wish so a service like Booking.com is perfect to hold and then cancel rooms if you want to keep your itinerary flexible.
2) Download a VPN service
Once you have your visa and you are ready to go, make sure you have written down in Chinese all the addresses you need for any cab or bus drivers.
Then pin them in a map you can read so you know where you will be and where you will need to go and… most importantly… you will need a VPN app to be able to access any social media platform you like, as well as Google and its maps.
For those telling us that they wouldn’t bother the digital detox, I would just advise considering their plans to find and give directions on a map entirely in Chinese. Because without a VPN this is just as far as you can get.
Also take into consideration that once in China no VPN services will be available, so changing your mind not there is not an option.
We went for VPN Express (Android or iOS and for desktop/router as well) and it worked just brilliantly (huge plus, it also worked with Netflix..). You can get VPN Express for 30 days for free by clicking on this link and have us as referrals.
3) Download WeChat
It also works as a digital wallet, but this will not be applicable to you unless you have a Chinese account and card.
4) Download a translations app that works offline (Google Translate)
It is certainly an excellent achievement to learn some Chinese and walk around with a good phrasebook like the Lonely Planet’s one.
BUT… this will be of no help when Chinese people will answer you outside of any of the options you will have available, not to say if you should find yourself in a situation not covered by the traveller’s scenarios.
It is a serious life saver, as there is no way to guessing some Chinese (or reading a restaurant’s menu!) unless you know it.
We have used the Google Translate app (Android or iOs) that enables you to download selected languages in offline for those time you will not have internet access.
5) Download Didi (the Chinese Uber)
It will require you to enter the pick up as well as the destination location in Chinese but will help you immensely as it will reduce the level of possible misunderstandings, ensure you understand and agree to the price, receive information about the driver and, last but not least, it will be a cheaper service than regular cabs.
6) Book train tickets in advance
China is indeed a huge country but, unless you are planning destinations extremely far from each other, you will be able to travel through your itinerary easily, quickly and cheaply with the train… the bullet one of course!
There are just two things to bear in mind:
– Bullet services are used massively and to get a seat you need to book a bit in advance
– The railway website is in Chinese only
For the latter, unless you get the help of a local, you would need to use the services of an agent.
The cheaper we found is DIY China, it is quick, easy, reliable and adds just a reasonable booking fee to your tickets.
You will get a travel voucher to exchange for actual tickets directly at the station.
Their website also includes extremely useful videos of train stations, to help you navigate to the ticket counter easily.
7) Contact a local person
This is more a final advice rather than a lifesaver but can really help you understand more the Chinese reality and open up ways where you can experience things you would never do as a foreigner.
First of all the food! Even with Google translate some of the dishes you will find on a menu will not make any sense to you, so having a trustful source that can guide you through the diversity is the best you can ask for!
8) Do not forget to have a lot of fun!
China offers so much diversity that it is all about finding what you wish to experience and head for it.