15 Things to Know if Visiting China

The stresses of planning for any trip can be a lot. Considerations to hotel, flight, food, and transportation are all things to consider prior to leaving. Especially, in China where the required visa forces you to have your trip booked in advance. Often times we forgot of the little nuances and cultural changes once we get to our destination. Below are 15 things to know if visiting China if you’re planning a trip.

15. No One Speaks English 

I used to think there were two universal languages, a smile and English. That was until I visited China. English is rarely spoken by most people, in fact asking for help is almost pointless unless you have the translation in the Chinese language, thank you Google Translate. I thought this language barrier would make it hard place to visit, but pointing and asking for a “photo menu,” in most places gets you where you are trying to go, or eat. To help, I recommend you bring a map that has the places you are looking to go before adventuring out because all road names are in Chinese & if trying to limit the use of your phone the good old fashion map works great. I found, most hotels have English & Chinese version of their maps, which was a huge help. 

14. Cell Service and WiFi 

Before leaving for this trip I was happy to find out that I would have, with Sprint, free 2GB of cell speed and texting in China. Call costs were minimal costing $0.20/minute. Researching AT&T for my mom, we found that cell service with the company was about $10/day. Needless to say, the costs are quite minimal if needing to connect. 

If you are looking for free, Wifi was available at most common areas, but when hopping on was extremely slow. 

*Tip: Bring a charging stick, or port. It was rare to find any charging stations when visiting places. As a result, when you did find them they were always packed. 

13. Don’t Rely on Your Credit Card, Bring Proper Chinese Currency

It is rare that I bring cash with me at all. But, after reading some blogs before I left on this trip I discovered that American credit cards are rarely accepted in most places. In fact, the only places that accept them we had found were in the shopping areas the tour groups would take you; and trust me you’re paying a premium for it; the cost of the products in these areas are a lot more than you can pay in the markets. 

If looking to transfer monies at the airport, the cost typically to do so is a $10 service fee and the exchange rate difference. To get more, this requires you planning ahead and knowing how much you want to take with you in advance and getting the currency exchange with your local bank. Estimated time to get the monies back is 7-days, for it to be guaranteed in time. By me waiting until I got to the airport I ended up losing $70USD in fees and exchange rate, where my mom only had $10USD with Chase. 

The Chinese money can take you a lot further than anywhere I’ve visited. Normally, I would say bring $50USD/day for food, transportation, and misc. costs. But, food on average is 50RMB/meal ($7USD). I’d say 650RMB ($102USD)/week would be comfortable (food & transportation). 

*Helpful Tip: The common currency in China is WeChat & UnionPay (credit card). Both of these require a Chinese bank account be established with pre-paid funds in order to make purchases. 

12. Get Comfortable in Bartering, or Accept Losing Money 

I’ve never been too comfortable in trying to find what something is worth. Maybe because I have been so used to the American culture where everything is fixed, where the value has been pre-determined and where supply/demand seems to have worked. In China, you’ll find it an easy place to barter especially when choosing to walk away and the price you were getting comfortable in paying is slashed in half, and has you again question the value. 

My suggestion is before buying anything walk around and understand the varying prices, this also helps with buyers remorse. 

From my experience food should never be more than 40RMB (and that’s for a full meal including drink), and gift goods should be no more than 50RMB. In one instance my mom and I were haggling for cheap earrings, she started at 100RMB, by the time we were walking away for the 4th time she was down to 20RMB, and we finally negotiated at 15RMB (Yu Garden). Same place, different store we were interested in potentially getting a necklace that would have the English name with Chinese translation next to it and she started at 150RMB, and when walking away negotiated herself down to 20RMB. That’s right. You’ll know which places allow you to barter, because whenever you walk away they will lower their price and the places with fixed pricing usually have it listed in the door way (almost none of them). 

And, if looking for real jade. Ask for the Jade of pearl. The ones with lighter green are worth more, and on average are around 80RMB (for 1 inch by 1 inch), and can go up to 3300RMB. In the Yu Garden you’ll find the best in what you’re looking for, and because there are so many vendors they are willing to take a lot less so they have your business rather than their neighbor. I ended up getting a Jade of pearl Buddha for 15RMB. 

11. Don’t Bother Renting a Car if Beijing or Shanghai is Your Destination

Typically, I like the option to leave, and feel liberated by having a car. However, due to many affordable and abundant public transportation options, and the high traffic & aggressive drivers I’d say using public transit would be more relaxing. 

By far, the most cost effective way to travel is by bus. It is 2RMB ($0.03USD) for each bus transfer. This allows getting around to be extremely cheap! The most difficult part of taking the bus is figuring out which bus to take and what stop to get off at. This is where going to the nearest hotel and pointing using your map becomes quite handy. 

If you elected to use your cell service, you can always use Google maps to find where you’re going and just hop off when you know you’re nearing. 

*Mindful Tip: If using the bus you must have exact change. If needed, your hotel can provide you small change. 

**We found that costs for taxi cabs started at 20RMB, and based on the distance went up from there. To best estimate we found it is approx. 5RMB/5 mins.

10. Booking at Hotel Near the City Center Pays its Benefits

By now, most of you know that I love AirB&B and prefer a more authentic cultural stay, than to stay at hotels. This trip I chose to book a hotel because (1) the tours I booked would pick-up/drop off from your hotel, very convenient, and (2) I wanted to visit many of the tourist attractions which most in China are near the city center and within walking distance of the “first ring” of hotels. 

The best way to find your hotel for your stay can be using booking sites like Hotels.com, and sorting by distance and cost to the city centers. 

If visiting Beijing I would highly recommend the Novotel Beijing Peace Hotel it was $100/night + breakfast. Because we were staying more than 4 nights they upgraded us to a suite with no additional cost. And, the breakfast…FABULOUS. All you can eat food, they had a pastry section, cereal, fruit, egg, lunch/dinner food area, tea, and coffee areas. The hotel was about a 20 minute walk from the Time Square of Beijing, which was full of high-end stores, as well as from the outside market(s) with authentic Chinese foods and stores. 

If visiting Shanghai I would recommend the SSaw Boutique Hotel. Right when you walk in it smells like an Abercrombie store, that was a great start. The hotel was the cheapest hotel within a 15 min walking distance to Yu Garden (a must see if looking for the Chinese style buildings, food markets, and handmade gifts). The cost was $89/night. Upon entrance they welcomed us with tea, recommendations based on the weather (raining) and time (since it was a holiday). Additionally, they went as far as booking our massage for us, and provided us a map and directions to the nearest bus stop in order to get there. Unlike any other hotel I’ve stayed, they had an online app that helped lay out unbiased opinions of where to go and what to see including estimated costs, open/close times, and feedback from their guests who have tried the places. This was a treat as this leg of our trip was not as planned as Beijing.  

*FYI: The beds are not mattress-like, what you expect in the US and other places. They are more of a box-spring. At home I have a plush and soft bed, so this was quite different. After the first night, I realized this relieved a lot of back pain. 

*Mindful Tip: Be prepared to have them put a hold on your credit card for incidentals, similar to what they do in the states. They run your card and pull the amount, and when you check out, they run it again to provide a refund. The first hotel we stayed held 1200RMB ($189USD), and the other held 400RMB ($63USD).

9. To Be Early is to Be on Time, and to Be on Time is to Be Late- BYE!

We found that in the Chinese culture, being early is to be on time. Most of our tours had hotel pick-up at 6:30a, and almost always showed up 15 minutes earlier. Keep this is mind because it goes for the use of bus, trains, and scheduled appointments. And, if you show up exactly when you’re supposed to then you’re too late and they leave without you. My mom and I watched many trains and tour guides leave without their necessary people. Maybe we Americans should start doing this to get people to value each others’ time just a little bit more. 

8. Second Hand Smoking, Expect It

I am convinced that the Chinese don’t wear the masks due to the smog/air pollution, but rather because of all the people smoking. I have never been in a place where avoiding walking next to a smoker was nearly impossible. Beijing was full of smokers. I ended up buying perfume to spray my clothes at the end of each night. 

7. Get Pushy, or Get Behind 

I used to think the asian women at the grocery stores in the states (weird saying because I’m asian, but I consider myself Americanized) were rude because they pushed you without saying excuse me. Well now, I believe it to be culture. People here push their way through to get from point A to B. I don’t know if it’s because there are so many people, or if because the value of time is so important in their country and they don’t want to wait on someone who isn’t ready. 

When my mom and I went to the zoo, we thought we were waiting in line for the cotton candy to find out a women with her money ready pushed her way to the front and got service. 

Because of this, I recommend planning out meeting points throughout the trip in case you get lost in the shuffle. Especially since when the “walk” line turns green it’s a free for all on how you make it across the street, and if you aren’t forceful enough you will be bullied behind everyone. 

Also, just know that people in China stand closer together, and personal space may not be what you’d be used to. Again, I think this goes along with saving the time.

6. Where’s the Toilet & Toilet Paper?

You better start learning how to squat before you leave. In most places there are no toilets as we are used to seeing them. They are holes in the ground. You use them facing the door, and when you’re done usually they auto flush if they have a sensor, or it will auto flush when you open the door. Also, bring/buy toilet paper before you need to go. Most places don’t have the luxury of carrying the paper for you. 

When on a tour your guide will generally lead you to the nicer “10 star rated” toilets. But, most of the time you’re on your own. 

5. No Tissues, No Problem, They Spit  

I read a lot before I came to China that a lot of people spit. Come to find out when visiting it is because they don’t use tissues instead you’ll see them plug one side of their nose and blow. Sounds unsanitary for us, but you’ll notice it quite a lot. For peace of mind, you’ll find in midnight hours the streets are thoroughly washed. But, keep this in mind if you ever drop something if it’s worth picking it up. 

4. Book a Tour Guide 

In most English speaking places it is easy to create a self guided tour. But, in China finding anyone who speaks Chinese is difficult, so best understanding significant places, is truly best by planning ahead through various travel agencies and travel sites. If you need recommendations just ask me! 

In Beijing, we had two tours planned, (1) Great Wall of China, Ming Tombs, Jade Palace, and a Tea House and (2) Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Chinese Doctor & Foot Massage, a Silk Shop, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, and a Pearl Store. These tours gave us an overall understanding of culture, understanding of customs, and historical significance of places seen. 

These tours in Beijing are quite cheap compared to tours I’ve booked in other countries. For an 8 hour tour, including lunch and transportation we paid $40-$70 per person. 

In Shanghai, we elected not to take any guided tours. Instead, we elected to do a hop on/off bus, that had English speaking recordings that are sensored when passing certain buildings. My mom and I have historically found these quite fun to give a good lay of the land when we are unfamiliar of where to go. 

3. Authentic Chinese Food is Different than American Chinese Food

Many people before visiting China told me not to expect the food to what we are used to having in the US. In my opinion the food was comparable, just not filled with salts and heavy sauces. The sauces were quite light. 

On one of our tours we found that based on the region of China you visit, the food varies. In the north (Beijing) the foods are more salty and fried, in middle/east region (Shanghai) the foods are more spicy, and in the south region the foods are more filled with rice and organic veggies. All of which were palatable and tasty. But, not what we are used to tasting in a US Chinese restaurant.  

2. If You Plan on Visiting More than One Chinese City, Use a Train!

Prior to visiting we knew that we were going to visit three different places throughout China. Similar to the US there are methods of airplane from one part of the country to the next, but can be quite expensive. We found that taking the train was the most cost effective and time saving option. 

We took a train from Beijing to Shanghai, then from Shanghai to Guangzhou. From Beijing to Shanghai the train was about 4 hours and cost approximately $200USD, and from Shanghai to Guangzhou took about 8 hours and was about $300USD. 

1. Arrive to the Airport Early, I Recommend at Least 3 Hours

To have more peace of mind I recommend that before you go to your flight make sure you call your airline and retrieve the ticket numbers, and your airline carrier name. Most people at the airport only speak Chinese so figuring out that these are the two things you need before you arrive will save you an hour; or at least that’s how long it took my mom and I. 

My mom and I had booked our flight to/from using Delta, however, when arriving to the Guangzhou airport we found out that “Delta” did not exist. Instead the carrier name was China Eastern. Once we found this out we thought our hurtles were past us. Come to find out that the American flight confirmation is not enough, the ticket number is also needed; which isn’t known until seat assignments have been arranged. Calling your flight carrier to retrieve this information is easy, so long as you have cell service. 

*Helpful Tip: You can not check-in if you are within 45-minutes of your flight, you are too late. And, you can’t board if you’re within 15-minutes to your gate.

A-Z Travel Tidbits To Take!

A: ppreciate your surroundings! The only regret I’ve ever had is not living in the moment when I’ve been at a place; often times I have a laundry list of places I want to visit and lose purpose of the whole point I’m there… to enjoy & create memories!

B: ring layers when packing! Yes, it may 80 degrees when you get there, but what happens when Mother Nature decides instead it’s going to rain and you have nothing to wear, CA-CHING! Money is spent, and nothing is worse than spending your “fun money” on clothes because you didn’t bring those layers!

C: onvert your money before you leave! Often times the fees associated to converting money at the airport and in the country your visiting can be expensive. Checking conversion fees at various banks before leaving can spread your dollar.

D: o what is on your wish list, or IG likes! We’re all guilty for loving certain photos on social media, and then put it on a wish list, then when upon arrival find other things to occupy our time. Make it a point to do what you initially wanted to do! Live with no regrets!

E: njoy! Be spontaneous and try things you wouldn’t normally try, within reason. Life’s about creating memories and making the most of it!

F: ollow your gut…when your surroundings tell you something is off pay attention. Traveling somewhere foreign is often fun, but it also means that you can become a target. It’s nothing to fear, but when your gut is telling you something become more aware!

G: o some where new! Traveling somewhere you’ve been, or deciding between two tours/things to do… select the one that you’ve not done, or could do anywhere else. Take advantage of where you are, I mean… why not!

H: ave cash, and your debit card in case! Yes, credit cards are now the most common form of payment, but USD is the most universal currency. Even if just $100 bring some cash in case! There were a couple times I assumed credit cards would be best to avoid credit card theft, etc. & the places I was going didn’t accept card, but guess what… USD cash worked even in Spain! P.S. in France you need to pay to use the toilets and more for toilet paper, caa-ching!

I: nvest in good walking shoes. This sounds like common sense, but really. Don’t cheap out. Nothing is more annoying than your feet hurting, and wanting to avoid paid $$ for shoes when you’re already traveling on a budget.

J: ournal your favorite memories! I’ve found that sometimes just writing out at the end of each night what highlights I had helps me better recall the memories! Try it!

K: eep your passport/visa on you. Just for safe keeping it’s better you have your valuables on you, rather than housed in your hotel/Air B&B. Maybe it’s paranoia, but I always worry that I will be stuck stranded in a foreign country with no way home because I’ve misplaced my passport. I bought a spandex belt that has two holes to allow for items to be stowed, and it fit under my pants; in other words, won’t fall out, and I can tell I have it on me.

L: earn popular foreign terms. Learn how to say “which direction is,” “how much,” “please,” “thank you,” “exit,” “can I have,” “yes,” “no,” “what is your name,” “sorry I don’t understand”

M: ake sure to leave earlier than you think for your return flight! Generally, people come back from vacation in the knick of time for work. Make sure to leave plenty of time to get through the airport, security, and to the gate. To save some time, check to see what the normal security time takes at your airport, know which gate you’re at and look at where it’s located in the airport on your way there, and have your pockets cleaned and packed in your carry-on before you even touch foot in the airport.

N: ever try free food being offered. We all heard as kids not to take candy from a stranger, but when we grow up we willingly take everything that is free, AM-I-RIGHT?!

O: rganize what you need readily available before arriving at the airport. This tip comes from being the frantic and panicking one searching for my drivers license/electronic boarding pass when I finally made it to the from the security line. And, this tip comes from being the one annoyingly being behind the person doing what I had done. Just saying! What you need through security: drivers license/passport and boarding pass. If you’re traveling internally, you’ll also need your itinerary!

P: lan ahead. Don’t wait until the last minute to make your itinerary. The most common regret I’ve heard from people and their travels is when they returned back from their trip they saw a photo of a place they wish they would have seen while there. If you research top places in advance you can pack in the most, and not spend valuable time while there to figure out what’s next.

Q: uickly check if the country your visiting has tips included in the price before going out to eat. (I was going to put this under a different letter, but was struggling with Q words!) You’d be surprised how many countries include gratuity in the food price, not even broken out on the bill so you wouldn’t know. I make it a point to research this before you start eating out to save costs throughout the trip.

R: esearch your flights before booking. You’ll find leaving Tuesdays and returning Wednesdays often times is the right combination to find the cheapest flights. If you try this combo, and do it at least 60-days before your flight you have some flexibility to save a pretty penny.

S: hut off your phone! Live in the moment, be present. Often times we become comfortable with our little 2×4 screen that we forget to look up and see what’s in front of us! I’ve made it a point when traveling to keep my phone on airplane mode and live in the moment, get lost a little, and interact with those around me! It makes for a much more complete vacation/trip.

T: ake photos! I am sure you don’t need me telling you, but take the photos of the places you stop at that you like, the candid captures of people you’re with… those are the storytelling  memories you want to have. Don’t worry the scenic typical IG shot is nice too!

U: se hand sanitizer frequently. Did you know our bodies become more immune to bacteria based on exposure? So if going somewhere new I would suggest bringing that handy dandy $1 travel sized bottle!

V: antage point photos! Get them by taking a photo from a perspective that differs than the one every one else is going. This could mean getting the Eiffle Tower from inside an adjacent building rather than pointing the lens at the tower head-on

W: alk frequently. Use the opportunity while traveling to get in a good exercise by traveling from point A-B, not only is this healthy but it allows you to fully experience the smell, sound, and exhilaration of the new place.

X: erox your itinerary. It’s always good to have extra copies handy. Ensure you have your address written down in both the foreign language and in English! Do not put your room number on the itinerary, keep this in a separate location, I put my room key with the room number in my wallet or in a separate pocket. In case something gets stolen you don’t want someone able to find you!

Y: ou’re on your own for the next two… I’m not that clever! But hope the rest of these have been helpful!

Z:

A Whole Trip in a Carry On!

I have inherited the name “Dora the Explorer,” not because I roam where ever my heart takes me, but because I’ve mastered the skill in packing a 2-week trip in a single carry-on.

Yes, I know from people telling me… most peg me for a pre-madonna who would have not only carry-on(s), but several checked in bags. But, haven’t you heard to not judge a book for its cover! So, how do I pack 2-weeks in a carry on? Here are some cheats!

1. Pack Half of the Clothes You Think You Need

I remember when I first started packing clothes I wanted a variety of clothes and plenty of options. Here’s how to accomplish both:

  • Select clothes that you can mix-match, giving the illusion you have many outfits but you’re really wearing the same clothes in different assortments.
    • If you’re going on a 5-day trip; pack 3 shirts, 3 pants, mix match!
  • Don’t overpack for the unlikely, we all have wanted to pack the shorts & tanks even though where you’re going is only 40 degrees, because we are thinking “well it’s just a tank top” and then find ourselves with 10 tank tops and ended up using on 1 or 2. Am I right?
  • Stack What You Want & Cut it in Half; not kidding. You’ll find when you travel frequent you travel a lot more for the unknown that what’s necessary. Once you think you have everything you need, cut it in half. I bet you get to the number ratio in footnote 1. Just saying
  • Roll Your Clothes; roll your clothes, this allows more! If you’re bringing bigger shoes for carryon, I shove my delicates in the shoes. If you have case of stinky feet put your delicates in a zip lock before shoving them in the bad boy. Swim wear goes in the other shoe.

Here’s what I normally bring for a 5-day trip: 1 swimsuit, 3 shirts (tank tops included), 3 pants/shorts, 2 pairs of shoes (cheat below), 6 undies, 3 socks, and toiletries that will fit in a large-size zip lock bag! I’ll make the toiletries a separate blog, there’s enough madness I have learned through that.

2. Bring More by Wearing More 

If traveling to somewhere cold (even if you’re leaving from somewhere warm), wearing your heavier clothes through the airport will allow you to bring more!

  • Pick 2 Shoes & Wear the Heaviest; Yup! Pack a comfortable pair of shoes and one that you want to bring, wear the heaviest at the airport and lug around on your carry-on the lighter pair. YES, sandals count as a pair!
  • Bring 1 Jacket and Wear it to the Airport; There are certain travel (clothing) essentials you have to bring just in case and a jacket is one of them. Even if it’s 80 degrees outside bring a coat, but wear it through the airport. Plus, this has saved me when freezing in the airplane!
  • Ladies, Extensions… Some of you have asked me when I wear extensions have I worn them through airport security, yes. Do they go off in the scanner, most times. Is it embarrassing when they pull me aside, no. Most airports are equipped with technology that shows where the metal pieces are, and when they see it’s your head they just tap, tap, tap. Because you’re a woman, only women can touch you, so they usually know what’s up, or will give you the disappointment look of FAF (Fake as F*), but just smile! Confidence sometimes has to be bought and if clipping in fake hair gets you there, AYYEEEE you go! LOL

3.  Toiletries & Size Limits

I believe we are down to 3 oz. on what you can bring on the airplane…

  • Purchase the airport approved empty containers from CVS or Walgreens. I usually bring shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. If you need more than one 3 oz. then fill up two with what you already have at home!
  • Next time when you’re getting a haircut as if they have sample size of the shampoos/conditioners of the yummy smelling stuff they used on your hair. Sounds cheap, but seriously
  • Take with you the complimentary shampoo/conditioner a the hotels you stay even i you don’t use them on your immediate trip. You can bring them for next time!
  • Only take with you what you can fit in a large zip lock bag! It makes it easy to take out of carry on for airport security (although I keep mine in my carry on, having it in a zip lock still helps them quickly identify my things in the x-ray.

What I usually bring: tooth brush, travel size toothpaste ($1 at CVS), deodorant, 3 oz shampoo, 3 oz conditioner, 3 oz lotion, comb, mascara, eyeliner, mascara, and chap stick.

Be mindful that carryon requirements differ based on what airline you choose to fly with. This has also been a consideration before booking a trip, because airlines such as Spirit & WOW Air charge to breathe…

If you have additional tips/tricks post them in the comment section!