Travelling to Asia can be overwhelming for Europeans and North Americans. The people look different, the food looks and tastes weird, and the languages don’t sound or look like anything familiar to you. These are just a few things that can make your first visit to Asia a challenge. Take China for example, Asia’s largest country after Russia. A jet lag after a flight of more than a dozen hours and possibly a different climate don’t make it easy to adapt to a new country. It can be downright intimidating to find yourself at an airport where nothing seems familiar at all.
If you’re really freaked out, there are plenty of package tour options to Beijing and China. If you want to travel independently, it’s definitely doable. However it’s essential to prepare yourself before you go and to remember the following tips for when you are actually there. Below are some tips to help you. Also remember, your mental preparationn is just as important as any other kind of preparation.
When visiting China, tourists will most likely arrive in Beijing, which is why we will focus on that particular city. Before you step on that flight to China you should have booked a hotel for at least the first few nights. This will help you acclimatize and get at least semi-used to your new environment. Trying to sleep off a jet lag as soon as possible will definitely help. A tip to help you actually find that hotel is to write down you hotel’s name and address in both English and Chinese. If you get lost and want to ask directions, having something written down in the local language will be of great value. Learn some basic Chinese phrases before you go.
The staff in your Beijing hotel will very likely speak at least basic English. They could later act as translators when you want to go see something or find a place to eat. They could point you in the right direction and maybe even write down some words in Chinese. If you don’t like spicy foods for example, have them write that on a piece of paper, which you can then show in a restaurant. It is also suggested to try and learn some Chinese words yourself. People always appreciate it when you try to speak the local language, even if you make mistakes. Knowing how to say thank you, hello, yes, no, please are pretty much essential. Carrying a small pocket phrasebook is always useful as well.
Taking care of these little things will improve you experience tremendously. Of course, also make sure you are properly vaccinated and/or carry necessary medicines (see the CDC information for authoritative advice). Something else that is absolutely good to know is that Chinese bathrooms usually do not have toilet paper. Carrying napkins or a toilet roll is definitely recommended if you don’t want to face an unpleasant surprise in a random Chinese bathroom. Concerning electronics, do not forget to take an international travel adapter with you. China uses different plugs than European countries. Some US plugs will work, but this is not guaranteed. Take one (or more) just in case.
Once you have your bearings, you can start exploring less touristy aspects of China, like the Beijing music scene, or other things specific to your particular interests.
Besides those tips, it is of course always a good idea to keep an eye on your belongings. You should do that everywhere – including your hometown – but especially in a massively crowded city like Beijing.