© 2019 by Patrick Reed.

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I wanted to share a tip list I created a while back for people traveling to China, just some basic tips and best practices that I’ve come up with in the course of my travels there. I’m sure a lot of this will be applicable to other regions as well.  

 

Happy Reading! (Note: I did put amazon affiliate links in some of the equipment below. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. No extra cost to you if you use them.)

 

Equipment

  1. Don’t bring or use any USB drives – The best way to avoid viruses and data theft (which is common in China) is to limit the ways you can be exposed to them. When you don’t bring can’t be stolen, so leave it behind.  

  2. Phone plans with international data packages can be obtained from various providers, but I’ve been using Google Fi for the last few years – Google’s cell phone plan. It does not charge extra for international data! Cell service is about average in the major cities I’ve been to (Beijing / Shanghai / Changsha) and hit or miss in the smaller towns. Admittedly, my Verizon work phone did have better coverage, but in the major areas I have no complaints with Google Fi vs Verizon. Data was really slow for downloads and uploads regardless of the carrier anyway – Gotta love the great firewall.  

  3. Get a VPN for your laptop (or just don’t bring a laptop if you can avoid it).  

  4. If you do bring a smartphone download the google translate app and then download the Chinese language pack for offline use – it has an option to do real time translation via your phones camera. It’s not 100% accurate, but it gets you close enough to where you can guess what you are looking at. I’ve found most of the important signs are in English anyway (or have pictures).  

  5. Learn to love WeChat – it’s WhatsApp for China. The English version is really only good for instant messaging Chinese locals, but the Chinese version is pretty impressive with what it can do – pay bills, call for taxi’s, but train/plant tickets, order food…  

  6. GPS (or anything displaying GPS coordinates) is not allowed in China, so don’t try bringing a portable one. If you have a smartphone that will still work for nav though, so don’t worry.  

  7. Say goodbye to Google. Baidu is the main search engine over there. It’s not too bad, but it’s no Google.  

  8. I’ve not had a problem going anywhere with my camera. I just make sure to put it in my bag before I go through any security checkpoints, but everywhere else I went there was no issue. 

  9. I would recommend an anti-pollution mask. I definitely noticed a difference in the trip I used it vs the trip I did not. You can download app’s that will tell you the local weather quality (hint - it’s bad all the time). I did not wear it 100% of the time (did not wear it to sleep or while in the hotel) but I’d absolutely wear mine while I was in taxi’s and out in all the traffic or just walking around. This is the one I use: 

  10. Bring a small travel umbrella, it rains a lot over there. I prefer umbrellas to raincoats mostly due to the breath-ability, but it’s also a portable source of shade in the summer. One thing to remember is that umbrellas are not allowed on airplanes as a carry on, so make sure to put it with your checked bags before flying anywhere in country. This is the one I use.  

  11.  Don’t forget a power converter and adapters. I would recommend this one.

 

 

Air Travel

  1. The airplane luggage weight limits are different going to cities within China vs flying into China from the U.S. For example, China Easter Airlines limits checked bags for economy class passengers to 44 lbs, respectively. That’s 6lbs less than the 50lbs checked bag limit for the Delta international flights, which is really inconvenient when you need to shuffle your stuff between bags to fly within China without getting hit for extra baggage fee’s. You can try playing the I’m an American and I didn’t know card, I’ve found that worked about half the time. You still get an overhead compartment and under seat storage on internal flights. I would strongly recommend getting one of these scales (I use mine all the time). 

  2. Don’t use the free USB charging outlets at airports/hotels, they will steal your data. Bring a portable battery pack instead. But be mindful that China has limits on the size of lithium battery packs they will allow you to bring on planes, currently it’s 160 Watt-hours.  

  3. It’s a really long flight from Detroit to China. Get an aisle seat and walk around a few times during the flight. If you can splurge on a comfort plus seat that’s even better.  

  4. Most of the internal China flights use the old school paper ticket. If you book connecting flights through one carrier (i.e. Delta) the flights will show up on your Delta app but you will still need to personally sign in at the counter, pick your seat, and get your paper ticket.  

  5. The time it takes to get through security in the Chinese airports is ridiculous. There are multiple levels and it is a serious headache. Leave a large buffer when you are going to an airport for your return flight (and for the local flights as well). There are multiple levels of security and there have been times when it took a couple of hours to get through them all. You will also lose a lot of time in the morning rush hour just getting to the airport so definitely leave a very large buffer. There is typically only one flight a day to get home from China so it’s worth getting up and getting to the airport early so you don’t miss it! 

 

Food

  1. Visit the Beef and Liberty while you are in Shanghai, it’s a really good burger place.  

  2. Try the pepper burger. It’s very good, no matter what some people say…  

  3. After you visit the Beef and Liberty, go to Efes. It’s a Turkish restaurant in the financial district. Best Turkish food outside of Turkey! 

  4. Bring your own silverware if you can’t use chopsticks. I’ve got a titanium spork that I usually carry in case of emergencies. 

  5. Learn to use chopsticks. It’s fun.  

  6. Bring hand sanitizer and use it. Often.  

  7. Drink bottled water only, even in the hotels. Much as I hate the waste disposable bottles generate the tap water is really not good for you there, so drink bottled water. Don’t trust the large paper cup dispensing fountains either, since that’s really just rebottled tap water. Even in the nicer hotels the welcome literature cautions against drinking their water. So bottled water only please.  

  8. Don’t be put off by the English translation on the names for some of the food. ‘Connected to the same blood and flesh’ turned out to be chicken (I think).  

  9. There are bones in everything, or everything authentic at least. Use caution when chewing your food. I suspect their food preparation involves taking whatever meat they are using and throwing it (bones and all) into a food processor. Seriously tiny bones in almost all the meat, you get better and better at spitting them out but it’s still annoying. 

Money

  1. I usually bring some US dollars with me and exchange them in China. I’ve found some ATM’s work with my card, but not all of them. Plus, I like to try and avoid using my cards as much as possible when traveling in China (again to avoid theft) so it’s nice to have cash.  

  2. Don’t change money at the airport if you can avoid it. Most hotels will offer currency exchange at much better rates. If you do need to change currency at the airport then just change enough to be able to get a cab to the hotel.  

  3. Visa and AmEx were fine to use in the larger towns and at the big international hotel chains, but they don’t work everywhere. So make sure to have some backup cash. In the Western part of China (Dunhuang / Turpan) I ended up paying cash for my hotels since American credit cards are not exactly standard items there. Do your research on the areas you will be visiting and be prepared. Remember cash is king.  

  4. Most businesses and currency exchanges don’t accept damaged or dirty bills when exchanging money. Anything with a slight stain or tear they will probably refuse.  

 

Taxi’s

  1. Taxi’s in smaller towns (Changsha) are fairly cheap, taxi’s in Shanghai are not. Depending on where you travel you can expect a pretty big swing in price.  

  2. Arranging taxi’s will probably be the most difficult part or the trip. I would recommend printing out the names of your hotels in Chinese to help with cabbie translation. Or if you stay at IHG hotels their app offers a local language option for displaying the hotel address that you can show to people to get directions (I don’t know why more companies don’t do that, I stay at IHG as much as possible just for that reason). Or you can call the hotel directly and they can assist. This is also where WeChat can come in handy, if you can find a taxi driver in your area that speaks English you can add him or her to your WeChat contacts and then just communicate directly to them when you need a ride.  

Health

  1. Check with your doctor to make sure you are up to date on all your vaccinations.  

  2. Bring hand sanitizer and use it.  

  3. Remember to use bottled water only. It’s not a bad idea to bring antidiarrheal medicine as well.  

  4. Pit toilets are still common in China, and not all of them will have toilet paper. If you are going into more remote regions bring some of those packs of travel tissues to use for TP. Don’t get caught empty handed…  

 

Places I’ve been and their highlights

  1. Beijing - There is way too much to see in Beijing for just one day. But if you only have a day (like I did) then top of the list has to be The Great Wall of China. You can check out my post for one day in Beijing here.  

  2. Shanghai – Easily my favorite Chinese city and just like Beijing there is too much to see and do in one day. A must visit location would be The Bund, and particularly the Oriental Pearl Tower, which is a revolving tower on the water, it plays music and lights up. Great view and lots of souvenir shops at the top, also a bunch of Coke and Disney memorabilia nearby. You can check out my write up on Shanghai and its sights here.  

  3. Changsha – Because of my work, I’ve spent more time here than anywhere else in China. Sadly, while it’s a decent place to stay, it’s not that interesting of a city. Top of the list would be Mt. Yuelu. You can check out my write up on Changsha here.  

  4. Western China (Dunhuang and Turpan) – Don’t go to Turpan. It’s a very heavily policed part of China and not particularly friendly to foreigners (or even to the locals for that matter). Dunhuang is a bit of a different story, fascinating history behind that city. My top place to visit would be the market and you have to check out the “The Legend of Dunhuang” show in the evening. You can view my post about this region here.   

Getting in and out

  1. You will need a Visa to get in. I went through www.itseasy.com/ and just like the name says, it was super easy. You can follow the guides on their website.  

  2. Don’t lose the exit part of the entrance form, you will need it to leave the country. 

  3. They do want to know what hotels you are staying at while you are in the country, does not seem to be super enforced though expect in the Western parts of China.  

Patrick Reed
Travel Photography