China Travel On Your Own

Traveling in China on your own can be a very rewarding experience and for some, the only way to experience what the real China is all about. It really boils down to your individual travel style and circumstances.

Kids at Beihai Park Beijing

Do-it-yourself China Travel is for you and your family if:

  • You are a real adventurer and want to satisfy your explorer instinct... you prefer to explore on your own rather than with a group

  • You don't feel intimidated about not knowing the language --you know there's always some one out there to lend you a hand

  • Your kids are "good little travelers" and can take things as they come...

  • You have the time to plan your itinerary, book hotels, trains, flights, etc. and also realize that things might not work exactly as expected, but that's all right, it's all part of the adventure!

  • You will be traveling for a longer period of time, not just a couple of weeks if planning to cover several different places. Planning your own excursions takes time. So does waiting for buses, taxis, trains, etc.

  • Although this can offer the least expensive way to travel, you can also go as luxurious as you wish. You choose whether you stay in a 5 star hotel or in a hostel, whether you fly or take a train, ride buses or hire a private car. It's really a matter of preference

  • This option also gives you the most flexibility. You can choose to prepare as much as possible ahead of time or just plan as you go along.

Traveling on your own in the bigger cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Xian is relatively easy as the infrastructure is there to cater to visitors. Once you go further away from the major centers it might be a bit more challenging and the level of English spoken there also decreases. But you also find that the people are warmer and eager to lend a hand. Just go with the flow and keep your cool! Everything works out in the end.

To get around, taxis are convenient and cheap. In Beijing and Shanghai, the subway systems are excellent and a good way to avoid the traffic jams.

If you are flexible in terms of time and itinerary, you can certainly get better deals specially in domestic transportation (flight and train tickets) when you book directly once you are in China. This option might not be recommendable if you are traveling with a relatively larger group or are trying to cover many different places in a relatively short period of time.

By all means avoid traveling during the main holiday periods in China, during Chinese New Year in January/February, at the beginning of May (the labor Day holidays) and end of September/beginning of October --the National Day holidays.

This is when all Chinese are traveling visiting family and friends and there will be no good deals in trains or planes, or any mode of transportation whatsoever if you can even get it!

Also, major tourist sights will be mega crowded during holiday times, with Chinese New Year holiday being an exception as many will be visiting relatives rather than sightseeing.

Crowds at the Great Wall during Holidays

What I mean by "avoid traveling during these periods" is exactly that, avoid having to take a plane or train or travel to another city, NOT avoid China altogether during these periods. Chinese Festivals, specially the Spring Festival, are a great time to be in China to experience the colorful celebrations, fireworks, customs, etc. it is just very difficult to get around during these periods!

China Independent Travel Planning Resources...

Lonely Planet Guide China

A good travel guide is a must. I recommend the Lonely Planet China Guides. If you travel a lot on your own, you are probably familiar with LP publications. Here you will find bus schedules, recommended routes, and lots of practical information such as where to buy kites, etc.

Make sure you have the latest edition, a two-year-old edition is obsolete. Things change rapidly in China.

Also, you must get your copy of the LP before you enter China, as this publication is banned here, something to do with the way they present Taiwan in their book. You might want to put a different cover on the paperback just in case your luggage gets searched.

There are also separate Beijing and Shanghai editions if you will be stopping here.

Most guides or sections of the books can be downloaded on PDF format, so you can "pick and mix" chapters according to your destinations.

Click here for more on the Lonely Planet China Guides

For Train Schedules try...

Another good resource to plan your itinerary is Here you find China train time-tables with a convenient Search option for major cities in China. This is not a booking agent and the itineraries, prices and timetables are for reference only. Use them as guidelines to plan your route and keep in mind that schedules and ticket prices change often and sometimes without much notice.

To Book China Domestic Flights check out...

Shanghai Airlines Plane

To check out fares or book China domestic flights, take a look at

They are the leading flight ticketing service in China and a major player in online travel in China.

If you want to book a couple of domestic flights ahead of time, or just check itineraries and flight schedules, their website is easy to use.

Prices are quoted in Renminbi, the local currency, you can pay with Credit Card and have an e-ticket issued.

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