Independent Travel Tips: China

China is one of the tougher countries for independent travel, but with a bit of effort (and some travel tips!), it’s very possible to travel around this giant country without a tour. While you may struggle a bit to get around, and the language barrier may prove tough, the end result will be worth it.



Travelling in China is more expensive than you might think. Hostels and meals can be pretty cheap, but transport and entrance fees can be surprisingly pricey. Click here to see our budget for a month in China.
Wifi is available in most hostels, but many websites are blocked in China (such as Facebook and Twitter). Google is also blocked, so use a different search engine, such as Bing. If you need all-access Internet while you’re in China, subscribe to a VPN, which masks your location. We used ExpressVPN, which cost £10/ $15 for unlimited use for a month. Free VPNs are available, though they have a low download limit.



A great deal of patience is essential. Navigating your way around takes time and comes with a lot of confusion. No matter what you’re doing, add in extra time for delays. This is especially true for eating- too many times we left it until we were starving before finding a place to eat, and once the inevitable delays cropped up, I got hangry, fast.


Waygo is a lifesaver. It’s an app that scans Chinese writing and translates it into English. Without it, there’s no way we would have figured out menus and many other things. It’s usually reliable, unless the script is decorative or handwritten.


We also used iTranslate app, which translates what you type in English into Chinese. Though, apart from presaved phrases, it requires an Internet connection.



Be wary of scams, especially in cities and at the Great Wall. Take everything you’re told with a pinch of salt, especially when the person telling you has something to gain (for example, a taxi driver telling you the bus is out of service is possibly telling porkies).


While internal flights are commonly used to get around this massive country, trains are often a lot cheaper and are perfectly comfortable. A second class hard sleeper ticket will get you a bunk with clean sheets in a shared carriage.


Hot water is available everywhere, so if, like us, you can’t get by without your coffee, carry a plastic cup and a jar of coffee in your rucksack. Pots of instant noodles are commonly sold in shops and on trains, which you can fill from the hot water taps.


Tofu from a street stall

Tofu from a street stall


Vegetarian food is available, as long as you know how to find it. Read some veggie tips here.


It’s possible to visit Shenzhen by getting a five-day permit on arrival from Hong Kong (without getting a Chinese visa). The rules differ according to nationality, so check before you go. There’s very little information about this online (try here for the most up to date info).


Visas for China are notoriously tricky to get. Click here for a handy how-to guide.


2 comments on “Independent Travel Tips: China”

  1. SLioy says:

    Ailish, can you expound on that last sentence about an additional visa for Shenzhen? When I used to spend a lot of time there it wasn’t anything different from the rest of the mainland, google does offer much help, and I’m headed there in a few weeks!

    1. ailishcasey says:

      There’s very little information available, I know! It was only something that was mentioned briefly to us. I think that if you have a Chinese visa then that includes entry to Shenzhen, but if you’re coming from Hong Kong just to Shenzhen you can get an entry permit without getting a Chinese visa (this includes most nationalities, but excludes U.S., and U.K. citizens must pay a lot more). We passed through Shenzhen without stopping on our way to Hong Kong. (I’ve changed “additional” to “separate” in the post to clarify things a bit). Here’s the clearest information I could find, though it does assume the visitor is coming from HK:

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