Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Deans on a Plane

With the holidays approaching, many teachers are making their Chinese New Year travel plans. I don’t know how many of you have traveled to China, but traveling in China is very much like a certain Steve Martin and John Candy movie I watched as a kid. So, I thought I’d share with you today some modes of transportation that I have used here in China, and hopefully, provide a few travel tips.

1.) Airplane

Of course, we can’t talk about traveling to China without discussing plane travel. I mean, unless you want to find some other way across the ocean. Plane travel is definitely the way to go. I have been on quite a few international flights now: Air China, American Airlines, Canadian Air, Korean Air, and Delta. So far Delta and American Airlines are my favorite–especially if you can get Comfort Plus (with Delta) or Premium Economy (with American Airlines). We had comfortable seats, a good amount of space, and personal screens to watch movies or play games-and the food–in the premium economy sections at least–is pretty good!

(Still, I should add that when flying in China you may have to ride a shuttle with standing room only. We were shocked on our most recent trip to exit the plane in the parking lot and board a shuttle to the next terminal.)


2.) Trains

There are two types of trains here in China, sleeper trains and speed/bullet trains, and I have been on both types.

The Sleeper Train: Passengers on a sleeper train purchase tickets for a specific bed in a sleeper car, but don’t start imagining Harry Potter–this is SO far from reality. Each sleeper car has 6 beds; they are stacked 3 beds high on each side of the car. A bed comes with a sheet, a pillow, and a blanket, and I’ve never seen a sleeper car without all six beds full. If you have six people in your party, you should be fine, but if not, be prepared to share a car with strangers for quite awhile. Sleeper trains are slow. For example, a ride on a sleeper train from where we are to Shanghai is about 8 to 13 hours, depending on how many stops it makes. So you are going to get to know your neighbors VERY well. Oh…and smoking is allowed in between cars on the sleeper trains, so you want to wear a mask.


Sleeper trains aren’t all bad though. They are a great way to see the countryside if you want to stay awake for the entire ride. Most people use sleeper trains as a way to save money. They are much cheaper than flights or bullet trains; plus, if you sleep on the train, you could save money on hotel rooms. Just schedule a night train and arrive at your destination fully rested and ready to go the next day. So you can relax, take a nap, and enjoy the ride–and maybe even make some new friends along the way.

The Bullet Train: These trains will get you to your destination MUCH faster than a sleeper train–they cut the time in half! Plus, they are much, much cleaner. Smoking is not allowed, and staff clean the train at every stop. However, they are considerably more expensive than a sleeper train, and passengers do not get as much space.

(Yes, that is my child sleeping on top of our suitcase on the floor.)


On the bullet train, passengers are given assigned seats (according to your ticket number), and there isn’t much room to stretch your legs or walk around. Though the seats do recline, they are similar to air plane seats and are not very comfortable. So, if you take a bullet train be sure to bring a neck pillow.

3.) Taxi

There are SEVERAL different types of taxis in China, but from what I understand, the most popular in our area is the black cab, a DiDi, and a green taxi.

Black cabs are sleek, black vehicles, that are usually pretty clean cars. They are more for longer distances, however, like if you are going from one town to the next. They are a lot cheaper than taking a green cab or a DiDi for longer distances.

A green taxi is pretty much a regular taxi cab. You hail it from the street and hop in. However, they tend to charge a flat rate for trips made in town and only go by the mile on out of town trips–which can get pretty pricey. With green taxis, you get what you get. Some are clean and others are atrocious, but you are guaranteed to get to your destination.

Didi seems to be the choice taxi around here. They are very similar to Uber: they use an App to book them, and they are not clearly marked as taxi cabs. DiDi’s are convenient, clean, and a lot cheaper than a green taxi, but they can are more expensive for longer journeys–if the driver is even willing to take you.

4.) Subway

Thankfully, we only use subways in larger cities–ie. NOT where we live. However, thanks to my recent trip to Shanghai, I do know how to use one now.


They are super convenient but usually super crowded, so if you get a seat, hang on to it–unless, of course, someone needs it more than you do.


5.) Your own two feet

Sometimes the best way to get around is your own two feet. We walked 33 miles in 3 days during our Shanghai vacation, and we definitely got to see more of the city this way. When a student and I went to Nanjing, we walked 35 miles in two days! Of course, it doesn’t take long to get over tired. Just make sure you wear comfortable shoes and preferably ones that you don’t mind getting dirty.

Then, go ahead put one foot in front of the other; there is a whole world to see.

Meet the author

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Kayla Dean is an Arkansas native who moved to China with her husband and son in 2017. Kayla graduated from Arkansas State University in 2011 with her M.A. in English, and she currently teaches English Composition for Fort Hays State University at Sias. In her free time, Kayla enjoys singing, reading post-apocalyptic novels, writing some poetry or fiction of her own, and spending time with her growing family in the great outdoors.

*Author photo credit to FHSU*

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