So you're considering going solo in China? Actually, traveling alone is very doable in China as the country is relatively safe, and its main issues (such as language barriers and scams) are relevant whether or not you are alone. They are also easy to avoid with a little bit of preparation.
Here are the things that we think are most important to know before you decide to take on China by yourself, and what to keep in mind while you're there.
Culture shock in China is felt more acutely by solo travelers, particularly if you haven't been to a developing country before. If you have no one to talk to and process your experiences with, you may feel very isolated very quickly.
You will find behaviors, food, sights, sounds, smells, ways of doing things, etc. can be very different in China. This bombardment of the senses and mind can lead to emotions ranging from fear and anxiety to frustration and irritability, to disorientation and depression.
Culture shock often follows a period of enchantment, awe and wonder (the honeymoon period), but may happen the moment you step off the plane. It is followed by a sense of adjustment to and tolerance of new surroundings, if you stay in China long enough.
See more on How to Deal with Culture Shock in China Easily.
The language barrier is the biggest problem for most travelers in China. Not many people outside China's big cities speak English, never mind any other European languages.
This can make it hard to travel around especially if you are by yourself. If you have any food allergies make sure you have this written down in Chinese too.
It is also a good idea to download a translation app on your phone, this way you can translate anything you come across, as many translation apps (for example, Pleco), do not require Internet access.
Hostels in China are generally safe and a great way to meet other travelers.
The larger dorm rooms tend to have lots of people in at the same time, but if you still feel uncomfortable you can always ask the staff to change your room for you or find another place to stay, your safety comes first! Many hostels also provide single-sex dorms if you feel more comfortable staying there.
Take your valuables with you if staying in a dorm, or if your door or window looks vulnerable to thieves.
China's registered taxis are generally safe, but avoid illegal taxis. Cars with red lights in the windows are black taxis, and unregistered. Also make sure you take the taxi receipt every time you leave, as that will increase your chances of retrieving something if you've accidentally left it in the taxi.
Make sure you always carry the name card of your hostel or hotel, including an address in Chinese characters, so that you can show it to a taxi driver, and they can help you get home if you get lost. The same thing goes for when you are visiting tourist attractions: make sure you always carry around the name or address of the place in Chinese. Many people, including the taxi drivers taking you around, will really appreciate it so there is no confusion as to where you are going.
As a solo traveler you are an easier target for scammers. This is why it is extra important to keep an eye out on these popular scams especially in cities with China's most popular tourist destinations (see Beijing's Top 10 Scams).
Although it might seem distrusting, when people who speak good English come up to you at tourist destinations it is generally safer to politely tell them you don't want to talk to them, as you never know what their intentions are.
This advice counts for people traveling alone as well as people traveling in groups. Keep your money and valuables hidden away when you are traveling, so that when you open your wallet nobody can see how much money you are carrying around.
On top of that, make sure you carry your health insurance information on you, so that if something does happen the hospital staff will be able to find your documentation.
It is also advisable to have your medicine allergies and any illnesses such as diabetes translated and written down in your documentation. If you aren't keen on carrying your passport around, make sure you have copies of your passport photo page, your Chinese visa, and your entry stamp on you at all times.
When you are out in bars and clubs make sure you are always watching your drink and your valuables. iPhones cost nearly as much as the average person earns a month in China's big cities, never mind the smaller cities, so they are popular targets.
If large groups of people come up to you you while you are out, and are acting extremely friendly, keep in mind that they might be after your valuables rather than just wanting to chat.
We Can Guide as Much or Little as You Want
Are you thinking of traveling to China alone, but do you have no idea where to start? We can help you while you are planning your first trip. See our most popular first trip to China tours:
- The Golden Triangle — 8 days in Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai
- Classic Wonders — the above with scenic Guilin, in 11 days
- The Flavor of China — savor local sights and foods in Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Guilin, and Hong Kong — 12 days
If you do decide to come to China with us, we can also guide you as much or as little as you like. Want to be taken around the whole time? No problem, just let us know. Or would you rather we only take you to the more difficult to reach tourist destinations? That's also not a problem. All you have to do is contact us and tell us exactly what you are looking for.
- Are you a woman looking to travel to China alone or with fellow women? China is generally a safe place for this. Check out this article with tips for female travelers in China.
- Eating alone is all about convenience. We're prepared a list of the top travel-friendly Chinese snack foods, so you can eat conveniently, while exploring China.
- We have an entire database of articles to help you explore China, whether before your trip or during. For more travel tips in particular, check out the travel tips section of our articles.
- Check out our guidebook for more practical information.