China Travel Hacks: A Comprehensive First Time Travel Guide

Do you have burning questions for your imminent trip to China? No worries, you will find answers to a lot of them right here.

Part 1: Commonly Asked Questions

English in Different Cities

In the bustling metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Guangzhou, English-speaking locals abound, making communication a breeze. However, venturing into the heart of remote areas unveils a broader language gap. Fret not! Equip yourself with the indispensable ally, Google Translate, ensuring that no linguistic obstacle stands in your way. Beneath the surface, Chinese hospitality remains a universal language, with locals extending a helping hand despite any verbal barriers. Embrace this translator’s aid as your key to a seamlessly enriching journey.

Essential Apps for Seamless Travel

VPNs: Breaking Through Digital Barriers

Unlocking websites like Gmail and Facebook in China is a cinch with the right VPN. Here’s a simple guide:

1. Pick Your Hero: Choose a VPN like ExpressVPN or NordVPN. These are like magic keys that open up blocked websites.

2. Load Up Before You Go: Install your chosen VPN on your phone and computer before you land in China. It’s like packing your digital backpack.

3. Meet Shadow Rocket: If you’re using Shadow Rocket, get it set up before you arrive in China. Think of it like making sure your phone has the right map before going on a trip.

4. Test the Waters: Check if your VPN is working. It’s like testing if your Wi-Fi is good – just to be sure you’re all set.

5. Keep it Updated: Keep your VPN updated, like you update your phone apps. This way, you’ll always have the latest tricks to outsmart any online roadblocks.

6. Stay Safe Online: Remember, your VPN is like a superhero shield for your internet. Keep it turned on, especially when you’re doing important stuff online.

Translation Apps

  • Download the Google Translate app before you touchdown in China. It’s like having a personal translator in your pocket.
  • Use the camera feature to instantly translate menus, signs, or anything written in Chinese. It’s a game-changer for decoding the unknown.
  • Practice a few basic phrases in Chinese. Locals appreciate the effort, and it makes your travel smoother than a well-oiled machine.


  • Think of WeChat as China’s superhero app, combining WhatsApp, Venmo, and then some.
  • Download WeChat before you hit Chinese soil. It’s your social lifeline and digital wallet all rolled into one.
  • Link your international credit card to WeChat. This turns your phone into a magic wand for payments at supermarkets, street vendors, and ticket counters.

WeChat Pay

  • Explore WeChat’s “Wallet” feature. It’s like having a digital purse, allowing you to pay for everything from a cup of tea to your latest shopping spree.
  • The “Scan” function is your secret weapon. Scan QR codes to add new friends, make payments, or unlock exclusive deals.
  • Use WeChat to communicate with locals. It’s not just for emojis; you can voice message, video call, and even share your location.

Mapping Your Way: Baidu and Gaode

When it comes to navigating the labyrinthine streets of China, Baidu and Gaode maps are your digital compasses. Let’s make this journey as smooth as silk:

  • Download Baidu or Gaode maps before you set foot in China. These apps are like treasure maps guiding you through the vibrant tapestry of the country.
  • While both maps speak the language of China, don’t let that intimidate you. Type in place names using pinyin – the Romanized version of Chinese characters – and watch the magic unfold. It’s like decoding a secret map with a few taps on your screen.
See also  One day Beijing itinerary recommendations


  • If you’re planning to conquer China’s metros, Gaode Map is your go-to guide. Even better, the English version is tailor-made for foreign tourists. It’s like having a local friend whispering the subway secrets in your ear.
  • While Gaode Map covers metros like a pro, it’s a good idea to have a backup. Download the English version of a metro-specific app for major cities. It’s your fail-safe in case the intricate dance of subway lines gets a bit too complex.
  • Use these maps to discover hidden gems, local eateries, and off-the-beaten-path attractions. They’re your virtual tour guides, ensuring you uncover more than just the tourist hotspots.
  • Even though Gaode Map is predominantly in Chinese, rest assured, the English version simplifies your journey. From finding your way to translating street names, it’s the bilingual buddy you need.

In Case of Emergency:

  • Familiarize yourself with essential locations using the maps. Locate hospitals, police stations, and your nearest embassy. It’s like having an emergency kit for your travels.

Travel Service Apps: Trip, Ctrip, and Qunar

Trip (English version)

  • Begin by downloading Trip, the app designed for non-Chinese readers. It’s your universal toolkit for booking hotels, train tickets, and flights. Think of it as your personal travel genie catering to non-Chinese speakers.
  • It’s tailored for international travelers. Booking a hotel, securing train tickets, or catching a flight becomes as simple as a few taps.

Qunar and Ctrip:

  • For Mandarin speakers, Qunar and Ctrip are your travel companions of choice. These apps boast an extensive array of choices, offering a more localized and comprehensive experience.
  • Dive into Qunar and Ctrip for a deeper dive into accommodation options and transportation choices. Whether it’s hotels, trains, or flights, these platforms are your one-stop shops for a plethora of choices.


  • When booking hotels through these apps, always tick the box that says “适用外宾” (foreign visitors accepted). This ensures that your chosen accommodation is qualified to host international guests, eliminating last-minute hiccups.
  • While Trip caters to the global audience with its English interface, Qunar and Ctrip are predominantly in Mandarin.
  • Use these apps not only for booking but also for exploring local attractions, finding hidden gems, and planning your itinerary. They’re not just travel agents; they’re your digital tour guides through the wonders of China.

Budget-Friendly Accommodations

China’s hotels cater to all budgets. In major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, a standard room ranges from $30 to $40. Smaller cities offer even more economical options, averaging around $20. My personal budget of $15 often secures cozy stays. While not all hotels accept foreign guests, star hotels, budget chains, and hostels are reliable options.

Part 2: Personal Tips for First-Time Visitors

Effortless Transportation in China

Efficient, affordable, and expansive, China’s public transportation system ranks among the world’s best. Train stations dot major cities, while buses cover smaller locales. Taxis, informal rickshaws, and shared private transport are readily available. For long-distance travel, consider flights; often cheaper and faster than trains.

Culinary Adventures: Vegan, Vegetarian, and Halal Delights

Whether you’re a vegan virtuoso, a vegetarian connoisseur, or navigating the halal highway, China’s food culture harmonizes with every palate.

See also  The Great Wall of China

Picture this: a culinary adventure where plant-based wonders, vegetable-infused delights, and halal delicacies share the spotlight. China doesn’t just cater to dietary needs; it elevates them to an art form. With each bite, you embark on a journey that transcends taste, delving into the heart of local cuisines that unveil the diverse tapestry of this culinary wonderland.

Now, let’s talk tips for your gastronomic escapade. When the hunger pangs strike, avoid the tourist traps and follow the locals. Venture into the bustling street markets, where sizzling woks and aromatic spices beckon. Want to avoid the long queues? Plan your meals slightly off the usual dining hours – a savvy move to savor without the wait.

Camera-Friendly China: Capturing Moments

Feel the freedom to capture China’s breathtaking sights, but keep in mind that some areas are a bit camera-shy. Be respectful, especially in places marked as sensitive – those red flags are there for a reason.

Drones are like your airborne buddies, but before sending them soaring, they need an official invite. In China, that means registration. Don’t worry; it’s not as daunting as it sounds. Local assistance is your backstage pass to ensuring your drone is officially cleared for takeoff.

Beijing, with its iconic skyline, and major events, are like the VIP sections for your drone. However, they might have a bit of a velvet rope policy. Check local regulations, and if there are restrictions, it’s like knowing the VIP list – you avoid any awkward encounters.

When in doubt, chat up the locals. They know the ropes, the nooks, and crannies of filming dos and don’ts. Whether it’s finding the perfect spot or navigating bureaucratic mazes, their friendly advice can turn your filming escapade into a blockbuster.

Don’t forget the basics. Pack extra batteries for your camera and, of course, a power bank. Trust me; you don’t want your camera calling it quits mid-shot. Plus, having a local SIM card can be a lifesaver for last-minute updates on filming regulations.

Tips for a Smooth Cultural Exchange

The Chinese Stare: A Friendly Gaze

Foreign visitors often attract curious glances. Don’t be alarmed; it’s born out of curiosity. Seek assistance from locals, including police, hotel staff, and pedestrians. The language barrier is no deterrent when it comes to Chinese hospitality.

Beware of Tourist Scammers

Popular tourist spots may harbor scams. Avoid overpriced goods and services; double-check with trustworthy sources like train station staff or local shop owners. Stay informed to prevent financial pitfalls.

Embrace Chinese Hospitality

In China, hospitality isn’t just a gesture; it’s a tradition etched into the cultural fabric. Prepare to be swept off your feet by the genuine warmth of the locals. Embracing Chinese hospitality isn’t merely an option; it’s an invitation to create lasting connections and unforgettable experiences.

Strategic Travel Timing

Timing is everything, especially when plotting your epic adventure in the vast landscapes of China. Buckle up for some seasoned advice on when to set sail and when to drop anchor for a smoother, more enjoyable journey.

1. National Holiday: May and October Madness:

  • Picture this: May and October, China’s national holiday season. It’s a travel fiesta, but here’s the plot twist – increased traffic and inflated prices. To dodge the chaos, consider adjusting your compass away from these peak times. Trust me; your wallet and sanity will thank you.
See also  Why I like China

2. May’s First-Week Mayhem:

  • The first week of May turns up the travel dial a few notches. More people, more traffic, and yes, even more inflated prices. If you’re not a fan of bumper-to-bumper travel, steer clear during this peak week. A savvy move? Plan your visit for a quieter, wallet-friendly experience.

3. Spring Festival: Closed Signs and Crowded Streets:

  • Ah, the Spring Festival, a time when China is in a celebratory mood. But hold on, here’s the insider scoop – many establishments close their doors during this festive period. If you’re seeking vibrant markets and bustling streets, you might be greeted by closed signs instead. Consider timing your visit around this festival for a more lively experience.

4. Optimal Visiting Windows:

  • Now, let’s talk about the sweet spots. Aim for those months when the tourist frenzy takes a breather. Consider exploring during the shoulder seasons, like late spring or early autumn. Not only will you dodge the crowds, but you’ll also relish more wallet-friendly deals and a chance to savor China at a leisurely pace.

5. Local Insights: The Art of Asking Locals:

  • Your best travel companion? The locals. They’re the ones with the insider knowledge. Chat up the hotel staff, strike up a conversation with the friendly vendor, and seek their wisdom on the ideal times to explore. Their tips can be your secret weapon for a hassle-free, delight-filled adventure.

6. Off-the-Beaten-Path Escapes: Hidden Gems Beyond the Crowds:

  • Think beyond the obvious. Explore lesser-known destinations, where the charm lies in tranquility, not throngs of tourists. These off-the-beaten-path escapes offer a more intimate experience, letting you connect with the heart of China without the hustle and bustle stealing the spotlight.


1. When is China’s national holiday, and should I avoid traveling during that time?

  • China’s national holiday falls in May and October. It’s a travel hotspot with increased traffic and higher prices. Consider planning around these periods for a smoother journey.

2. Why should I steer clear of the first week of May when visiting China?

  • May’s first week witnesses heightened travel activity, leading to crowded streets and inflated prices. Avoid the chaos by opting for less hectic times for a more enjoyable experience.

3. What challenges might I face during China’s Spring Festival, and how can I plan around them?

  • The Spring Festival brings celebrations but also closures of many establishments. Plan your visit wisely to avoid encountering closed signs and make the most of the festive atmosphere.

4. Are there optimal months for a more relaxed and budget-friendly visit to China?

  • Yes, targeting the shoulder seasons like late spring or early autumn ensures a less crowded experience and more economical deals. Consider these windows for an ideal exploration.

5. How can seeking local insights enhance my travel experience in China?

  • Engaging with locals provides invaluable tips on the best times to explore, helping you navigate around crowded periods and discover hidden gems off the beaten path.

Did you know that …

When you purchase something through our links we earn a small fee. However, you still pay the same. Win-win!

Find Hotels

Find a Rental Car
via Discover Cars

Find Cheap Flights
via CheapAir

Book Tours & Attractions
via GetYourGuide

Get Travel Insurance
via SafetyWing

City Pass/Discounts
via Sightseeing Pass