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There are a lot of reasons not to travel independently in China: avoiding the stress of culture shock, avoiding petty crimes, scams, or being overcharged, avoiding wasting your money and your precious time on your trip in Asia. There are a lot of reasons to travel China with a tour company, and we've narrowed down the top 10.
Independent travel can be a hassle especially for first timers because Chinese is one of the most difficult languages in the world, and very different from European languages, especially the Chinese characters.
In many places there is no English signage (or it's ambiguously translated), and most Chinese don't speak enough English to help either. This is particularly a problem when it comes to getting around the country to where you want to go.
Most ground transportation — trains, long-distance buses, and city transport — are designed for those who can read Chinese characters. Airports and flights generally have bilingual (English and Chinese) speakers and signage.
To avoid everything from getting on a wrong bus to missing your station on a bullet train line, enjoy the services of a tour company with a tour guide for your language and tour transport. You will travel around more quickly, comfortably, and enjoyably, and save a lot of headaches if you don't arrange your China tour on your own, unless, first of all, you're fluent in Chinese.
Many new to China might actually feel fear on their first visit when facing the bewildering Chinese cities and crowds on their own. Everything will probably seem disorientating and stressful.
One thing you don't want to experience in China is being surrounded by noisy pushy Chinese on tour. Independent travelers who are just following everyone else will inadvertently encounter this problem.
With the right tour company, you'll avoid the lines and crowds that will keep you from enjoying China's highlights. Our tour guides and tour planners know how to avoid the tour group crowds. A experienced local guide like ours may know how to get away from the crowds in tourist attractions. See How to Avoid the Seas of Tourists.
In China, there are the genuine attractions, and then there are places that are scams. Touts and even staff in hotels and at attractions might recommend a place to tourists because they get a commission for doing so. A good tour company can help you to get to where you want to go.
Tourist traps include everything from fake or second rate attractions to things that are not attractions at all, such as factories and over-priced tourist shops. Not every Great Wall tour goes to a first rate section, or spends very long there. Some are mostly commission-seeking side trips and shop stops.
A good tour company will stop you being cheated.
Passing fake money to tourists is a favorite trick because, if you're new to Chinese currency, you won't recognize counterfeits. A favorite crime of some taxi drivers and vendors is to take a foreigner's 100 RMB bill and give back a fake one whilst lying that the original one was fake. Having a private driver from a reputable company would avoid that worry.
Beware of people coming up and inviting you for a drink or for a meal. They might invite you to drink tea at a cafe that will try to scam you for a high bill. Such places might be dangerous. Having a good tour guide and a well-planned itinerary is a lot safer.
Having an experienced tour guide with you and an experienced tour company facilitating your travel provides you with a wealth of resources at a bargain compared to in the West, due to lower wages.
A good tour company can do things such as get lower-priced tickets, more favorable rates, and better hotel rooms, tickets, and treatment for their customers. Big name companies such as China Highlights have clout in China.
Good tour guides can do everything from language translation and language tutoring on the spot to helping travelers recognize fair value, and how to find good bargains for the things they want.
A native Chinese tour guide can help you understand the local people, their customs, and behaviors. You'll probably leave with a better understanding of China's language and culture if you travel with a good tour company.
People visiting China on their own tend to follow the same travel routes around China, or stick to what's in the guide books. If you just want to see the same highlights that everyone knows about, such as the Great Wall or Hong Kong, and are not bothered about exploring China more deeply, you may just about be able to achieve your goal on your own.
Independent China visitors don't go off the beaten paths partly because they don't know about other great places in China and partly because it's difficult for them to arrange travel to and in out-of-the-way places.
By going with a good tour company, you can have a more authentic experience of China, and go to places and experience things that most independent tourists don't experience.
While in China, you should take the opportunity to try the best authentic Chinese food. However, the prospect of finding a good restaurant and ordering puts many independent China visitors off, and they end up eating at e.g. McDonald's, or grabbing something simple.
Moreover, if you have particular tastes or food intolerances, eating well is made even more difficult.
A good tour company will help you discover the restaurants, the atmosphere and settings, and the dishes that will make your trip memorable for good times and delicious real Chinese food.
The final reason NOT to travel independently in China is that planning a China trip is not as easy as for a smaller, more Western, or more developed country. No longer one of the world's most closed countries, China is still one of the hardest destinations to plan a trip to, due to its size, complexity, and foreignness.
There are many places in China that are difficult to access and make sense of on your own, let alone arrange day-by-day into an efficient workable itinerary. China tour planning is a lot of hard work... and making the plan work may be even harder!
Independent travel may be more of an adventure, but, even with the best effort and experience in the world, you will probably still not plan and execute a tour as well as a China tour company, and that will probably lead to stress or disappointment.
With a tour company you will have the choice of expertly-designed, or at least tried-and-tested, itineraries.
With a private tour company like us, your expert travel advisor will help you find the places you'll like best and a travel plan that will suit you. They'll plan and facilitate your travel, activities, and arrangements according to your interests and style.
“Each day we were met in the lobby (at a prearranged time), driven to sites and dropped off at the entrance (not where buses drop off) and given interesting details about what we were experiencing. The guides would call the drivers, so they were there to pick us up and take us to the next place, with impeccable efficiency. In some places, we were able to avoid long lines. They knew the busy times and tried to take us places outside those times, if possible and were flexible with the amount of time spent at each site. The guides even helped with check-in at airports and train stations, when departing to the next city, which could have been difficult with the language barrier.”
— Victor and Mary Ann Cognato, China Highlights customers
Let us show you what a top China tour company can do for you: more enjoyment, more learning, more rich experiences... are to be had with an expertly tailored China tour.