With 22 provinces, 1.4 billion residents, and nearly 300 languages and dialects, China can be just a bit overwhelming for first-time visitors. That said, we’ve compiled some advice that will help you prepare for your adventure in China!
Because China is so massive, navigating the linguistics of any particular region can be tricky. With over 297 living languages in the country, figuring out how to communicate is nearly impossible without some technological help (that is, if you don’t speak fluent Mandarin). So, download a language app to make the process a bit easier — both Pleco or Learn Chinese Mandarin are good bets. And, if you can, learn a few key phrases in Mandarin before you buy your ticket!
An Eye on the Air
It’s no secret that many of China’s larger cities are prone to fairly serious air pollution. Residents in cities like Beijing and Baoding often wear white surgical masks across their mouths to prevent the inhalation of smog on particularly polluted days. To check the air quality on any given day in any of China’s regions, download the Airpocalypse app.
You’ll notice fairly quickly that many websites and social media apps will be blocked by China’s “Great Firewall.” To combat this, either prepare for disconnect and let family and friends know that you won’t be updating your Facebook or responding to Messenger, or invest in a VPN that will help you bypass the restrictions and browse your favorite apps at your leisure.
Outline an Itinerary
To say that China is large would be a gross understatement. It’s massive, and trying to compress activities in several different regions into a single trip is a recipe for an overwhelming vacation. Instead of trying to hopscotch around the country, focus on a few cities or provinces that are near each other and ensure that you have enough time to not only complete, but also enjoy the activities you have planned. Always leave yourself plenty of time to explore!
Make your Move
You’ll notice that queuing is nearly nonexistent in some Chinese cities, and that pedestrians will walk purposefully on the street, even if it means you get nudged out of the way. Take no offense; this is typical of highly congested Chinese cities. Be assertive, own your space, and try to move with the flow of foot-traffic. We believe in you.
Because China is so large, it’s important to check seasonal weather patterns before planning your trip. You’ll likely want to visit during peak season, when weather patterns vary greatly between cities and districts, even those a few hours apart. To be safe, do some research regarding the climate — the weather may be much colder, hotter, rainier, or more humid than you initially expect. And remember to pack plenty of layers if you’re planning to travel extensively!
Street Food Scene
While exploring China, don’t discount the street food scene — it’s often where the best, and most affordable, meals are found. Chinese cuisine is complex and varied, so no matter where you travel, you’re sure to find something that suits your taste buds. If you have any dietary restrictions, be sure to travel with an allergy card that details the foods you cannot eat, a picture of said foods, and their Chinese translations.
Header image by Tim W.