How to Survive Traveling in China


Traveling in unknown places can be intimidating. You might hear stories of pickpockets, different scams played on tourists, or taxi driver rip-offs. But the more you do your research on where you’re going, the less you need to worry. Being prepared for all situations will help you enjoy your trip, even if something doesn’t go according to plan. In my years of traveling experience, I’ve learned that no trip goes exactly how you planned it—so be flexible, have copies of all important documents, and enjoy the surprises life has in store! Because what adventures don’t have a little bit of unknown excitement?

If I had one word of advice for travelers wanting to visit China or for expats wanting to explore their new home… it’s to bring CASH! This might be sound strange to those familiar with China. Today, with China’s technological advances, everything is paid online through a multipurpose app called, “WeChat.” WeChat is a texting/video-call app that is connected to your bank account. You can use it to transfer money to friends, pay for your phone bill, buy groceries at any store, and even buy fruit from the friendly old man on the corner of your street. It also works as a social media app. WeChat has everything. It is super convenient to only need your phone with you when you go anywhere. For this reason, most people don’t bring any cash with them when they go out. Some places in China don’t even accept cash anymore. But the problem with WeChat is that it only works with an internet connection. If you have a Chinese phone plan or a sim card with data, this might not seem like a big deal. However, Chinese phone plans don’t work for the entire country, normally just in one province. And phones—my phone especially—tend to freeze up and stop working at the worst possible times.

I had just come back from a weekend in Nanjing, exhausted and ready to sleep in my own bed again. I waited in the taxi line in the train station in Zhengzhou, needing a taxi to take me to Xinzheng. I looked into taking a Didi (China’s Uber), but for some reason my phone wasn’t working. This made me nervous because I had planned on using WeChat to pay the taxi driver. I figured my phone would start working by the time I needed to pay the driver. I was able to get a taxi an hour later. It was dark by this time, and my phone still wasn’t working. The driver listed off an amount that I knew was more money than I had in my wallet. I said the price was okay, but inwardly I was panicking. The driver ended up stopping on the freeway to demand money from me. He didn’t think I had enough money to pay him; he must’ve noticed my anxiety. With my little Chinese, and many stops on the side of the road him demanding money again, I convinced him to drive me to my location. I told him I had a friend waiting for me who would pay him. I tried to explain that my phone wasn’t working, but he didn’t seem to understand.

I was having a panic attack in the back seat, having no idea how I’d pay the large fee for the two-hour taxi drive. My phone had completely crashed by this point. I was unable to message anyone I knew about the situation or even use my translator. It was late at night by this point. I was worried that he was going to throw me out on the side of the road. Thankfully, he drove me home to Sias. He gave me his phone and said I needed to call my friend. Of course, with my phone frozen, I didn’t know anyone’s phone numbers (side-tip: always have paper copies of addresses and phone numbers of friends or hotels). Once more I convinced him to get out of the taxi with me to walk to meet my friend. I was hoping by this point to run into someone I knew who could pay the bill for me.

My phone unfroze when I stepped on campus though, and I was able to pay the very angry taxi driver. This is not the only time my phone had issues. At the store, my phone likes to stop working as I am at the cash register. It has been these recurring situations I find myself in that has given me my number one tip for traveling in China. Bring cash. Always have enough money for food and for taxi rides on you just in case your phone decides to not work.

I always have cash on me now whenever I exit my apartment. It has saved me so many times! No matter who tells you to rely on your phone, technology can fail. It will save you worry and stress to have tangible back-up plans. If you’re worried about pickpockets, (which I’ve never encountered) then keep the cash in different places, maybe some in a purse/backpack and some in a money belt. Do you have any traveling nightmare stories? What advice did you gain from them?

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