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Travel Tips

China – Travel Hacks

From our travels across the great land of China, here is our short list of key tips that may assist you on a visit:

  • Get a SIM card from China Unicom or China Mobile (500MB will cost ab $10/month)
  • Translate your hotel address into Chinese before hopping in a cab (major attractions will post taxi card with the translation online, if not just search on yahoo – since google does not work – or ask a local to write it for you)
  • Get a reliable VPN before you arrive, china blocks 2,600 sites and counting including some of your favorites – Google, YouTube, Facebook, WordPress, etc.
  • Download the subway app for every major city you plan to visit.  Best one we found is put out by mxapps. If you don’t have service, just take a picture of the subway map in the station or bring a physical copy with you.
  • Book your speed train in advance at your hotel or a travel agency in the city, the station can be a nightmare and there’s no point in putting yourself through the stress.  There are also a few websites that will assist you with train bookings for a nominal fee – Travel China Guide and China Highlights
  • Use the local booking site – Ctrip to see more options and get better pricing on hotels
  • Check local airlines after checking skyscanner to be sure you are getting the best deal on domestic flights
  • Use the fruit stands on the street and in the alleyways, they have good produce and much cheaper than any expat market
  • Bring extra water with you when going to any tourist site, as it will cost $0.35 per bottle in most hostels/markets and $3.00 or more per bottle at the sites (and also in most hotels there is a markup)
  • China is a cash economy for the most part so plan ahead and be sure you have cash in hand for most things you want to do
  • Know that most cities in China shut down around 11pm (lights out – and subways stop running), but each city is different, so just check on day 1 when you arrive.
Travel Tips

Booking Accommodations in China – Travel Hack

The three main sites that I typically swear by when booking accommodations are:


Now of course there are so many others out there working in the same space, but these have been my lifelines for quite some time as I’ve tried nearly every site in my years of traveling.

This most recent trip across China however was an eye opener for me.  I realized that if you can figure out what the locals use, you can find not only better deals, but entirely different accommodation options.  After a few weeks in Shanghai I stumbled upon This is the site that is used by all locals in China when booking accommodations for their vacations within the country.  Luckily China is really big on tourism and caters to English speaking folk…they released an English version of the site, just for stealthy travelers like us!

The English version of the site is and there is also an awesome mobile app that allows you to book from your phone.  I got a sim card in China through China Unicom and literally booked my accommodations on Ctrip the day before or even an hour before we arrived in the city, on the train, in the cab, or walking – on the app.  It made life so easy and I found some of the best deals EVER.  I am typically very loyal to the brands and sites I know, but honestly, not a single one of them holds a candle to what Ctrip can provide you while traveling in China.

If you are planning to make the trip to China – please read our other posts on useful apps, travel hacks, and suggested “know before you go” information.

Culture, Travel Tips

China – Know Before You Go

I understand Asia isn’t for everyone.  China can be loud, unorganized, overpopulated and is of course not 1st world by any stretch of the imagination.

So what’s the draw? And how do you learn to appreciate it?

There are many draws! We’ve compiled the shortlist here:

  1. Asia is cheap. And I mean really cheap, for those traveling from the US and most European regions. You can literally get a 4-5 star hotel for $25-$50 USD per night for 2 ppl anywhere in China. Hostels are $3-$10 USD per bed in a dorm or $30 for a private room. Street food is $1-$3 USD.
  2. The scenery, temples, and ancient structures are breathtaking. Literally. Some of the most amazing creations you’ve ever seen – many existing in precarious locations (a top mountains, carved into caves, underground, etc.) Nearly every direction you turn your head, you’ll be impressed or intrigued by something.
  3. The landscape is varied and at least 5 locations in China make the list of top 25 most unbelievable in the world. The Avatar mountains (Tianzi), Great Wall, Mt Huashan, rice terraces near Guilin, and the Rainbow Mountains. In addition to all this you have the ganzee river, desert, and vibrant cities to top it all off.
  4. Nearly anything is possible by way of product creation and manufacturing. There are of course barriers to entry, but it may be worth the work/effort of partnering with someone in China if you have any product design or import/export ideas. This is the place and the opportunities in this realm are more plentiful than anywhere in the world. Specifically Shenzhen is the place to be, just outside of Hong Kong. Get hooked up with a broker and they will present options for every sort of manufacturing imaginable.
  5. Chinese locals want to help you and are very happy when you make the effort to communicate. Charades are great in addition to sounds, calculators, pictures and translator apps. Just be patient and speak slowly, they really do want to help, but remember you are in their country – try at their language, it’s fun!  You will experience the kind nature of the locals this way and exchange plenty of smiles and laughs 🙂 To read about our two favorite apps – we have a separate post here.
  6. Vegetable and fruit markets are plentiful. It is like a full time farmers market all over every town and city – great quality produce at unbelievable prices. Two full bags of vegetables will cost you $3. Buy a 4L jug of water for $1 and wash them down before making a few meals out of them! It is a great way to stay healthy and support the local economy.
  7. Immense diversity is the name of the game in China. Since this is where apparel and products for the world are created, it’s one massive melting pot of trends and styles. Take time to notice all the things that exist – it is mind blowing how many varieties are out there. Many an idea can be born in your mind here just through observing your surroundings and paying attention to all the details.
  8. Transportation is abundant and affordable. Cab, subway, train, bus – they are all in every city and cost next to nothing $0.25-$0.50 for inner city subway, $1.50- $5 for most inner city can rides, $3-$5 for most 2-4 hour bus rides, $3-$15 for long distance train rides.
  9. China is the land of copycats, so there are really good local websites and apps for travel/booking. It is also extremely easy to get a SIM card for your phone if it’s unlocked. Service for 2 months here with 800MB per month, 60 local calling minutes and text cost $20. Reloading your phone with $$ is also possible at most convenient stores – family mart, 7 eleven and everyday.
  10. Advertising and utilization of lights/screens is the most extensive and advanced in the world. If you can illuminate something, they’ve done it already. Even the inner subway tubes are lined with LED screens that sport animated advertisements that you watch through the windows along the ride.
  11. They have no design boundaries or standards (in a good way). Many of the building designs you see here are extravagant and over the top. While I don’t know of the exact codes or regulations, it does seem like nearly anything goes. The wilder, the better 🙂 The construction sites here boast wild imagery of what is to come – they are all quite impressive/modern and not typical of the US styles.

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Adventure, Culture

Celebrity Status – ever wondered what it feels like?

Take a trip to any part of the world where you are the minority.

We’re talking an extreme minority. When you are the only westerner in a town, nearly every local becomes paparazzi and you are the target of their smartphone camera…

Of course I understand we are a sight they don’t expect or commonly encounter, but the constant picture taking is still something that takes adjusting to get used to.  David used to be a paid model for some big names like Coca Cola, so he likes being on film and has had not even a second thought on the subject.  For a normal person, like myself, it can certainly confuse you, make you uncomfortable at times and/or take you by surprise.

Are you always camera ready? Happy to be the center of attention? Then you are in luck, and will probably love this experience.

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