Have you ever dreamed of traveling solo through China?
Some people may try to convince you that it’s too dangerous to travel solo in China. But in fact, the opposite is true.
China has a very low crime rate, the public transport is great, and even though you’ll struggle to communicate with the locals outside of the main cities, that issue will apply whether you’re alone or with someone else.
In fact, solo travel in China can be amazing. Trust me, I’ve done it!
It will allow you to immerse yourself in a way you just can’t manage when you’re with other people. It will force you to engage with people and with the country. And it will encourage you to have a truly adventurous and unique trip based on what you most enjoy to do.
That being said, traveling by yourself in China can be difficult. That’s why I’ve created this list of top tips for solo travel in China.
1. Expect a safe place
China is a safe country all around, with a low crime rate. But you’re even safer when you’re a tourist in China.
The Chinese government is very concerned about their public image on the world stage, so any criminals harming tourists are given hefty sentences. And to most of them, it really isn’t worth the risk.
You should still take the same precautions when traveling in China that you would take anywhere else. But you’re at very low risk of physical attacks of all kinds.
In fact, while you’re there, you’ll probably feel safer than you did back home.
I know that when I was in China, I was shocked at the fact that I could walk home at 3 am after a night out with friends.
Not only was I perfectly safe, but I felt safe too, in a way I hadn’t experienced when doing the same in Australia, where I’m from.
2. Get a visa
You may need to get a visa when you travel to China. It depends on where you’re going, how long you’re staying, and what country you’re from.
For really quick trips (i.e. less than six days), you could be eligible for what’s called Visa Free Transit. But if you’re not, you’ll need to compile some documentation and pay a visa fee – again, this depends on where you’re from.
You can check the Chinese visa page for more information and help.
3. Be prepared for culture shock
Unless you’ve traveled extensively in Asia, or even if you have, you’ll experience culture shock when you get to China. I know I did.
For the first few weeks (or months) I felt as if I was wandering around with my mouth wide open at just how different it was to my home.
But that’s half the fun, isn’t it? Everything’s different in China, from the food to the sights, smells, and ways of doing things. And this can bring on feelings like disorientation, anxiety, irritability and even fear and depression.
It can be particularly bad for solo travelers, who don’t have someone with them to discuss and debrief after a shock.
So, go easy on yourself. Take breaks when you need to. And with a bit of time, you’ll find yourself adjusting to the way they do things in China.
Some travelers like to learn a lot about the country before they get there, so the culture shock isn’t as intense. If that’s you, check out some of the best China blogs before you go, or even a China documentary on Netflix.
4. Don’t expect the locals to speak English
Traveling throughout China is very different to being a tourist in the major cities like Shanghai or Beijing.
Outside of the big cities and the main tourist areas, you’ll find that the locals speak very little English, let alone other European languages.
This can be a huge barrier for any kind of traveler, but here are some tips to overcome it:
- Don’t be embarrassed to use body language to communicate (but counting with your hands is different in China, so be careful)
- Always have your hotel/destination names on your phone in Chinese so you can get back to your base
- Also have any dietary restrictions written down in Chinese on your phone
- Download a translation app on your phone (choose one like Pleco that doesn’t need internet access).
If you’re addicted to Google (for translation, maps, etc), make sure you get a VPN before you arrive in China. Otherwise, your access will be blocked by The Great Firewall of China.
5. Stay in hostels
As long as you’re reasonably careful, then hostels are a great choice for solo travelers.
They’re generally safe and will give you the chance to meet other travelers so you can have company when and if you want it.
Most hostels in China have dorm and private rooms. So, if you don’t mind sleeping in a room with lots of strangers, you can take a dorm room and travel really cheaply.
And if you need more privacy, you can have your own room and still enjoy access to the shared facilities for friend-making time.
I recommend using Hostelworld as it specializes in budget accommodation and has a huge range of hostels in China.
6. Beware of scammers
You’ll find scammers in almost every country and as a solo traveler, you’ll be an easy target. Most scammers set up shop in the popular tourist cities like Shanghai and Beijing, but you need to be careful everywhere.
Here are some tips for staying safe from scammers:
- Beware of anyone who comes up to you and speaks good English (Chinese people are usually pretty shy)
- Don’t exchange your money on the street – do it at a Chinese bank
- Check any change you get for counterfeit ¥50 or ¥100 bills
- Don’t go for a drink (even tea) with a friendly local who approaches you on the street, as they may leave you with a huge bill
- Try to use proper bank ATMs
- Be careful and cautious when giving money to people begging
- Always ask the price of your meal/snack/drink before consuming them.
You can read more about the most common scams in China here.
7. Be careful what you buy
If you’re from most Western countries, then you can be reasonably certain that the items in the shops are authentic. However, China is famous for its knockoffs, and these can appear in some unexpected places.
For example, don’t just assume that a bottle of your favorite perfume actually is the brand that the bottle says. Always check the bottle carefully, just in case it’s a knockoff.
And remember that fake goods may get confiscated at the airport, so this is an important thing to do when you buy branded products.
8. Be prepared for the toilets
If you’re only traveling in the major tourist areas on a tour, then you probably won’t have major problems with the toilets. But if you’re traveling independently or outside of the tourist areas then things will be different.
Most of the toilets you find in China will be squat toilets, which means you will have to get used to them pretty fast.
You should also carry toilet paper with you at all times, because most toilets won’t have any. And remember that the used toilet paper goes in the trash can, not in the toilet.
9. Learn to haggle
One of the bad things about traveling alone is the fact that you have to do everything yourself. And that applies to haggling too.
Haggling is common in China outside of chain stores and high-end boutiques, so be prepared to argue the price you want.
And don’t worry if you don’t speak the language, the shopkeeper will have a calculator that you can use to exchange prices.
It would be worth getting familiar with counting money in Chinese so you’re not short-changed.
10. Wear sturdy shoes
When you get to China, you’ll see lots of young women wandering around in very high heels. Don’t try this yourself unless you’re as sure-footed as an acrobat in heels.
China’s roads, pavements, and everything else are often uneven, covered with rocks and other debris, or made of a slippery type of rock or tile. So, unless you like tripping over, avoid shoes that are hard to walk in.
I remember taking a big fall in the middle of a street in Shanghai, where roadwork was going on in the middle of a busy intersection. I went straight down on my hands and knees, ripping up my hands and my nice jeans.
Not to mention, there were plenty of locals around, all of them staring curiously at the scene. Try to avoid doing that yourself if you can!
The guide on what to pack for China covers shoes as well as every other item you’ll need in your suitcase or backpack.
11. Stay on the path
China is a fairly safe place to travel as a solo traveler, much safer than other parts of the world. However, it’s still important that you stay on the beaten path unless you’re super-adventurous, fluent in Mandarin or not very risk averse.
Some parts of China, most notably the western and remote regions, are so isolated that you might have trouble getting into and out of them. For example, you need a special permit to visit Tibet and even then you’ll be in a tour group.
Venturing off on your own in a place like this could get you into a lot of trouble. Plus, you don’t want to get stranded in the middle of nowhere in such a huge country, with no one around who speaks English and not a single embassy in sight.
So, stick to the beaten path, at least for your first trip to China. And why would you want to stray from it anyway when the beaten path is so exciting, filled with delicious food, beautiful nature spots, and amazing cities?
12. Ask for help
This may surprise you a little, but the locals will be incredibly helpful when you’re in China despite their shyness. That’s been my experience, anyway.
They won’t usually come up to you and ask if you need help, which is where the surprise comes in, but if you ask for help then they’ll often be extremely helpful and friendly.
They’ll work hard to understand what you need, help you read your maps, and giggle as they practice their English on you.
In fact, some of the most heartwarming interactions you’ll have while you’re in China will probably be when you ask the locals for help.
Just remember that tipping is not customary in China, so please don’t pull out your wallet when you do receive help.
Are you ready for solo travel in China?
Traveling solo in China can be an amazingly rewarding experience.
It will test you, teach you, frustrate you, and enthrall you, and you’ll return home a different person than you were when you left.
Just make sure you keep these tips in mind when you’re planning a trip to China, and traveling across the country. And don’t forget your China VPN!
Want to keep reading? Then check out my article, “Is China safe?” for more helpful advice about traveling around this crazy country.
Main image credit: Vonnahmed1 on Shutterstock.