Tips for Traveling to China
China is a land full of mystery and unique charm. Be mindful of the “unique” as anyone traveling to China is in for quite a culture shock. You’ll need to prepare for the realities of life in this beautiful exotic country to ensure that your trip is full of joy and happy memories. The country is much safer than what the tabloid press will have you believe, but there are some things you need to know in advance to avoid minor problems which could otherwise end up spoiling your visit.
You Are Your Main Protector
China might be a police state, but it’s definitely not one in which you can count on the police for everyday protection or quick problem resolution. The good news is that incidents of violent crime are rather few and a tourist is much safer in China than in many other countries.
The main dangers that you could encounter are pickpockets and scams. Sadly, if you do become a victim of either the best you might hope for is to claim compensation from your travel insurance provider. But to do this, you will need to report the crime and file a ton of paperwork. Dealing with the bureaucracy of the Chinese police is a nightmare, so avoiding it should be a priority.
This means that you need to become your own main protector and take all possible anti-theft precautions. This includes using anti-theft bags, keeping your valuables deep in secure pockets, and always keeping an eye on any expensive items you carry by hand. Have at least three copies of all your important travel documents and your ID. Don’t forget to keep them in three separate places so that if you are robbed you still have at least one set of paperwork to hand. You’ll need these documents in order to file a crime report.
As for scams, research what the most common of them are and stay alert. The best tip is to avoid pushy people regardless of what they offer, be it a date or a drive. The Chinese are friendly and will smile at you a lot, but a person going out of their way to attract your attention and get you somewhere is a definite red flag.
Want a Ride? Use a Registered Taxi
Issues with taxis are one of the most common problems you will encounter whilst in China, so to be safe you will need to nip these in the bud. Use only registered taxis and always check that the driver turns on the meter when you get into the car.
People will stop and offer rides when you are trying to catch a cab, and if you feel lucky you might even go for the “black taxi” of China. But do it at your own risk and prepare to be charged way more than what you’ve negotiated in the beginning. Don’t forget, although China is safe and incidents are few, instances of tourists being taken in taxis to remote places to be robbed are common.
Have a VPN If You Want to Use the Internet
One of those “police state” tendencies manifests itself in the fact that China has pervasive Internet censorship and surveillance. The restrictions on the Internet are many and if you want to use services like Facebook or even read the latest CNN news, you’ll need to learn how to unblock any website and prepare the tools you’ll need to do it in advance.
In this particular case, the best “unblocking” tool is a VPN. You should download before arriving in China and have it in use at all times whilst there. You’ll need to use a VPN on both your laptop and your smartphone.
Prepare for Using Public Toilets (It’s an Experience)
China is the land of squat toilets that are often missing basic necessities like toilet paper and facilities for washing hands. The more rural the location, the more of an issue this will be. Therefore, carrying some toilet paper and hand sanitizer is a must.
Speaking of toilets, you should also have a range of stomach medication on hand, just in case the local cuisine doesn’t agree with you. If you want to stay as safe as possible in this regard, eat only the foods you know at mid-range restaurants or higher.
Develop Super-Senses When Crossing the Road
The most dangerous activity you’ll do in China is crossing the road, and it doesn’t matter whether you do it in the correct place or not. Even when the light turns green for you, looking around and staying alert is essential for survival.
Many Chinese people are bad drivers and road accidents are extremely common. To understand just how bad the situation is, you should know that about 600 people die in traffic accidents nationwide every day.
Considering that the vast majority of accidents are non-fatal, it is easy to see how dangerous the roads are. They are the most dangerous for pedestrians in busy cities, so you will need to keep both eyes on the road and look in every direction each time you step off the pavement. Try to use crossings whenever possible and move quickly whilst remaining careful. Mind the hybrids, which are silent and can “sneak up” on you.
When You Need Help, Ask the Youngsters
The language barrier is one of the greatest challenges to traveling around China. Even if you know some Mandarin, there are so many dialects that you might not be able to make yourself understood. People under the age of 25 usually know at least some English. Students are your best bet if you need to get some help or directions in China.
The police will be happy to help you as well, if you discount the bureaucratic paperwork circus involved in filing reports. But they rarely speak English, especially in rural areas. Therefore, you should have some basic phrases written down in Chinese or a translator app on hand when you go to the police for help.
You can learn a lot from traveling the world and you’ll definitely learn some interesting things from your trip to China. The most important of those lessons are to be aware of the different and sometimes totally alien culture as well as to stay alert and careful. Rely on yourself and aim to avoid trouble because getting involved with the local law enforcement will drag you into a bureaucratic quagmire that can easily ruin your experience. While in China you should be adventurous and explore, but remember to have your basic essentials on hand at all times.