China is a beautiful, unique and fascinating country with centuries of colorful history and rich culture. However, it can be quite a challenging place to visit, mostly due to the difficult language barriers and its rapid pace of change. Many first-time travelers are often intimidated by China’s size, reputation and culture shock they tend to experience. Thankfully, simply being prepared, informed and open-minded can make your trip to China incredibly enjoyable and rewarding. Here are some simple hacks that will help you prepare for your vacation to China:
Prepare your visa in advance
The most important thing to know before traveling to China is that they don’t offer visas on arrival, which means you need to organize your visa well before you set off. When applying for a tourist visa, keep in mind that you will have to provide a letter of invitation from a Chinese resident or a detailed itinerary and evidence of your travel plans, including flight details and hotel reservations, so make sure you book those first. Whether you apply for a visa through post or in-person in a Chinese consulate, the process can be lengthy and complicated, but it pays to take care of it in advance, and avoid any unpleasantries while you travel.
Find the best accommodation
If you need some flexibility with your schedule, considering the visa requirements, make use of websites that don’t require a deposit or an upfront payment to book accommodations, such as Booking or Chinese site C-Trip. Allowing you to choose between hotels, hostels and apartments, these websites will give you the option of booking now and paying later, or even offer free cancellation, giving you enough leeway to adjust your itinerary once your visa is approved.
Do some research beforehand
Chinese culture and lifestyle are incomparably different to those you are used to in the West, which is why it pays to research the traditions and etiquettes that are practiced in the region you are traveling to. Apart from learning more about Chinese history and heritage, doing a bit of research in advance will also allow you to familiarize yourself with the Chinese people, as well as their customs, helping you avoid a culture shock once you arrive. It might also be a good idea to read through some Chinese online publications, such as the great Week in China magazine, in order to find the latest news, current events and even interesting happenings in the area you are planning to visit.
Get a good travel insurance policy
Never travel halfway across the world without a comprehensive travel insurance policy. Even though China is quite a safe country for tourists, it is notorious for long transport delays, and its hospitals are not the best place to spend any extended time in if something unexpected happens on your vacation. That is why it’s always best to choose a good travel insurance policy before you depart, one that offers comprehensive coverage, good customer service and great value, and a company that is sure to get you back home safely, no matter what ends up happening during your travels.
Make sure to have enough cash
Although most businesses nowadays accept widely-used credit and debit cards as payment, especially in large cities, upscale restaurants and hotel chains, cash is still required in the countryside and villages, as well as smaller local businesses. That is why it might be best to buy some local currency before you arrive in China, at least enough to get you to your accommodation, if possible in your country. If not, avoid exchanging money at the airport, as the fees and rates are often quite high, and simply use your personal card to get money from an ATM or even exchange money at your hotel, as both of these options tend to be more reasonable and affordable.
Make use of your smartphone
Technology has revolutionized the way we travel, making it incomparably easier to explore large cities and foreign countries without a single care, which is why it’s smart to make good use of it when you visit China. Apart from downloading offline maps that will help you navigate your destination, you can also download free subway maps for the biggest cities that will allow you to commute more easily. What’s more, there are also many translation apps available that will give you the option of simultaneous translation as you speak into the phone, allowing you to communicate with the locals. However, if you plan on using popular websites such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, make sure to get a VPN beforehand, as these sites are blocked in China.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to travel to China with an open mind. It’s a unique country with a rich history and an eclectic society that’s full of surprises and unexpected experiences. So, don’t be afraid to seek opportunities to interact with the locals and learn more about the wonderful country of China.