It’s no secret that I’m absolutely in love with China. My first time visiting the dragon country was in 2014, when I was one of the selected student to receive a scholarship to go to summer school in Beijing and Xi’an. Having studied Chinese language and culture for about 1 ½ years at the time, I was super stoked to get to experience this crazy country in person and get to use all the thing I’d learned with “real” Chinese people. But once I was there, it honestly took me a few days to actually start enjoying my first encounter withChina. Before going I simply assumed that because I had studied the language and the culture for more than a year, I would be prepared for when I would get to use all those things I had learned. But oh was I wrong. China is so unlike any other place in the world, and no matter how prepared you think you are, it will always take you by surprise. Nonetheless, I’ve gathered a few of my top tips for those of you who are considering visiting the crazy dragon country for the first time.
Have the right apps ready on your phone
Just because you don’t speak Mandarin, it doesn’t have to mean that you can’t travel on your own in China. All it takes is the right apps. Pleco was my favorite app when learning Chinese as well as when travelling through China. This offline dictionary allows you to translate both letters as well as Chinese characters by writing, drawing and taking photos, which is super convenient. Great for when you’re trying to tell your taxi driver that you need to get to the train station, when asking for directions, or when trying to order something at the restaurant. If you’re using a vpn for your phone, Google Translate is also a great help, both for translating signs but also for asking for directions, etc.
Have cash ready
Although credit cards are more common in China, I would always recommend that you bring cash with you. Both because you simply cannot use a foreign credit card anywhere else but in stores like Forever21 or Gucci, but also for safety reasons. So always carry cash with you! You can withdraw money from the Bank of China ATMs, I wouldn’t recommend any other banks as I have several friends who’ve experienced getting fake money.
Always carry the address of your hotel
And no, it’s not enough to have it written in letters. It has to be in Chinese characters, as this is the only alphabet that most Chinese people know. I’ve never met a Chinese taxi driver who knew English or our alphabet. It’s also a good idea to memorize the name of the street and hotel, but since there are many tones in the Chinese language, you might risk pronouncing the name incorrect and so end up at an entirely different place. So always carry your hotel’s address in Chinese characters!
And always carry tissues and hand sanitizer
This you need to remember for two reasons. First of all you will mostly likely have to go to a bathroom which consists of a squat toilet and no toilet paper. That’s when you need the tissues. I would obviously use hand sanitizer after that as there probably won’t be any soap either. But the main reason that I would bring hand sanitizers is because in a huge city like Beijing or any other Chinese city for that matter, diseases can spread so easily via public transportation, escalators, stores, doors, anything! You will most likely feel rather dirty after a day in China, so a hand sanitizer will be your saviour.
Now, the most important thing that I can advise you for your first trip to the dragon country is to be open-minded. Be open-minded towards a different culture, different traditions, different food, different everything! China is so different from pretty much anywhere on the planet and there is no doubt that your first, even your 100th encounter will be very overwhelming. But when you bring an open mind, chances are that it will be one of the best and maybe even life changing trips you’ve ever had, and you’ll want to come back again.
Feel free to leave more tips down below!