I’ll be honest, China was an intimidating destination for me.
I had been traveling on my own for a long time, but China as a girl alone just seemed like a whole new level. It was like the picture I had in my head of China looked extremely foreign and intimidating.
The visa process alone was enough to make me second guess it.
I spent morning after morning in Vietnam, waiting in line at the embassy. It was like Breakfast at Tiffany's only less glamorous and not romantic. They took my bank account info, itinerary, and flight booking into account. I followed all protocol and even dressed in my best backpacker finery to try to sway their vote.
The only good part was I did meet a celebrity in line, that was cool.
It was three mornings of waiting in a depressing office to hear if I'd be admitted. One of those days included a taxi to the black market to trade some Vietnamese Dong for American Dollars. And that isn't even an innuendo!
Finally, I had my visa glued in my passport and I was on my way.
First things first, there's no Facebook or Google. Obviously, it's not the end of the world but as a traveler, you probably use these sites non-stop, so be prepared. If you need directions or to let your family know you’re okay, then plan to send emails or something beforehand.
You also can’t simply Google all the info you need on arrival so bring some preparation. This is a great article about what apps you can use as a substitute.
Next, it can be a little tough to navigate train stations.
While Japan and Thailand will almost always have English subtitles, China does not. You can ask locals for help, but be aware that outside of major cities, you may have trouble finding anyone who speaks English. Inside of major cities, it’s usually best to ask a younger person since they are more likely to speak some English.
Lastly, don’t forget that you can’t communicate with letters unless you know the Mandarin alphabet. It’s best to take a business card from your hostel with the address in case you need a cab ride or have someone write it for you so you can show it to drivers.
After that, it’s really not too bad to navigate. It’s just a little more complicated than other countries. If you prepare, you’ll be fine.
I flew into Beijing, which is a great place to start.
According to the World Population Review, China is actually considered safer than the United States in terms of ongoing International and domestic conflict, societal safety and security, and militarization. Violent crimes are not as likely as they are at home and in many other countries.
However, you are visiting a country that has very different political and cultural structures than ours, so you need to be sensitive to that.
Traveling China as a girl alone isn't particularly risky because women and men don't have as big of a power differential there as they do in other countries.
However, all single travelers should use common sense and take precautions because lone travels can be vulnerable. But most likely, you won't run into much more than typicalChina travel nuisances.
The flight to China seemed to go on forever. Of all the long flights, this one was a little extra boring. If you still have seven hours after two movies and a nap, it's a long damn flight.
I landed late at night took a cab to my hostel and fell asleep.
Bright and early in the morning, I quickly found that I was ridiculously excited to be there and it was not nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be.
I booked a tour to the Great Wall and was on my way before the day even really started.
China is not as different as we make it out to be.
Soon, I was off to see the Great Wallwhich I wrote about here.
It’s seriously, just as amazing as you ever thought it could be. I went to the Jinshinlang section which was not at all crowded and was one of my favorite travel days of all time.
I also went out with a group from my hostel in Beijing and ate Peking duck and went bar hopping in the Hutongs. It's incredible really, two days in Beijing and you can see all that. It just barely scratches the surface of all that there is.
My hostel was walking distance to the Forbidden City.
This is worth a stop. The Forbidden City is incredible. I dedicated most of the morning to it and spent the rest of the day at the park which tops the hill overlooking it.
It costs around $17 for admission and is best to get there early if you want to enjoy it before it gets crowded.
I was surprised here because Chinese tourists kept stopping me to take pictures. Since I am a girl who travels alone, I’m not exactly the type of character you think is going to steal your camera so I get asked to take photos for people a lot. But no, this time, they wanted to take pictures with me.
I thought that was something that only happened in India but apparently, it's in China too.
The next day, I was already on a high-speed train to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors. The train travel in China is an experience in itself. I really enjoyed it but you also need to be prepared for it before you go. It’s different from other countries and difficult to navigate but I have some good tips here. Spending 5 hours on a train, driving through China totally opened my eyes to how fast this country is developing and how big the environmental issues here actually are.
Seeing the Terracotta Warriors was impressive. The site spans 3 enormous pits, each of which are enclosed to protect the excavation. You go to see them and the grounds surrounding, led by an English-speaking tour guide.
My last stop in China was to see my friend Mylie in Shanghai. Mylie is one of my favorite people so seeing the city with her was definitely a highlight for me. I got to stay with her family as well and get a better feel for what life in China is actually like.
Shanghai is an incredible city. But you have to realize, most cities in China are mind-boggling compared to cities at home. They are just so enormous by comparison and are changing so fast that it opened my mind to a totally different concept of what it means to be a developing nation. China is decades behind in rural areas and forging ahead in the cities.
All in all, visiting China as a girl alone was a totally eye-opening experience for me. I was surprised by it in a lot of ways. I also really enjoyed it. I thought it would be much more stressful to travel through than it was.
The people are also completely endearing and so different culturally. It is not usual t have your weight commented on at dinner or your salary brought up as a topic of discussion.
It’s also fine to push back if people push you on the subway, no one gets offended. You are expected to be pushy when negotiating and waiting in lines. If you get that straight, it’s going to be fun.
What it’s like traveling China, well, it’s awesome. It’s different. It’s fun and exciting.
And for the true travelers of the world, if you want to see the world, you have to see China.
Would I go to China again as a girl alone? Absolutely.