P1120105Solo travel in China while not speaking any Chinese? Perfectly possible! I say it as a person who has already done 3 two-week trips around the country (and is planning to do more!). How did I manage that, and, most importantly, how can YOU do the same if that's a challenge you want to undertake? Read on to find out.

First of all, being true to myself, I did very careful travel planning (you may have read about how strongly I believe in meticulous preparation here). I suggest you take that step too, using all the available Internet resources in English.
Be sure to look for expat communities of your destination region. You can even email them to get some precious info you wouldn't have learned through any other source!
It's a good idea to write down the Chinese names of the places you are going to. Don't worry, you are not necessarily going to read them out loud, scaring the locals, or making them laugh! You'll just have that to rely on if the person you ask for directions happens to speak Chinese only... A pleading smile and some gesturing around will get you back on your way.
Talk to the English speaking staff of the hotel you are staying in. A word to the wise though: take care not to believe everything they tell you! They might claim, for example, that the place you want to visit is unreachable by public transportation. Obviously, 99% of the time it just can't be true, not with the number of people living in China, and they only say that to earn their commission by making you use a car or a taxi.
If the public transport option seems too troublesome and complicated, you may join a Chinese speaking tour group instead, where, in most cases, a few fellow tourists will have a working knowledge of English. If you're particularly unlucky, and no one is willing or able to translate anything, just stay with the group, and let your eyes guide you! On the plus side, you will probably have paid less, as English speaking tours are more expensive.
Take cheap local tours with shopping included. They still cover the main sights, and shopping does not take up too much time. Pricewise, it’s a very reasonable option which I'm glad I used to see the Great Wall in Beijing.
Hire local English speaking guides for the most difficult parts of the trip. They advertise themselves on the Internet, so go ask them questions about their services to make your choice. I did it twice, and I must say I really enjoyed it! The young man you see in the picture is my private tour guide Haba Jefei.

Hopefully, you'll find some of the tips above handy while planning and taking your own trip through China. Just in case, see some more tips on solo travel in China here. May that not discourage you from learning Mandarin though, if that's your heart's desire ;) Zhù nǐ hǎo yùn!*

* Good luck!

  • Published by Anita on December 1, 2015
Wow solo travel in a country with a language you do not speak. That is impressive. I have always had my husband with me.
Wow solo travel in a country where u will face language barrier is quite adventurous. But your post is alluring m
That is cool that you have gone a few times for long periods. I am sure you picked up a bit of the language as well.
Arzo Travels
I have been thinking about tarvelling solo in CHina, but I felt like I am not ready for it and decided to settle for Malaysia instead. Just heard that China might be a bit more tricky bec. of the language :/
Tiny Traveller
Great idea about contacting the expat communities to get to the bottom of the sneaky commission hunters and other mysteries :P
Travel Pockets
Thanks for the tips! China is definitely on my list of places to go!
You'd be surprised how easy it is to travel in the big cities in China without knowing Chinese. A lot of people know English well enough to help you out and many of the signs have been translated (albeit badly) into English.
I would love to do this someday. Thanks for the tips!
Karen Wanderlustingk
I haven't been to China yet, but it's high on my list. Your tips about getting in touch with the expat/local community is a great tip that can be generalized anywhere. :) The tip about preparing the name ahead of time was necessary when I was traveling in rural Hungary as well.
Anita S
Anne said :
China is still on my bucket list, but since there is way too much on there I seriously have no idea when I'll be able to actually go there. Did you go to the same place three times in China or did you visit different regions and cities?
Anne, my first trip was Shanghai-Suzhou-Hong Kong-Guilin-Lee river- Yangshou- Longji Rice Terraces, Shanghai. The second with my travel mate Shanghai, including visiting Expo-Kunming-Shangrila-Tiger Leaping gorge-Lijiang-Dali-Kunming-Shanghai, the third trip was Chongqing-Chengdu- Jiuzhaigou-Xian- Mt. Huashan-Beijing.

Cruise Writer
Not knowing the Chinese characters would be my biggest challenge. I would have to take photos of signs to find my way back!
Rosi C.
Cool to know. thanks for insight, I will be in hong kong in 3 weeks :-)
China is still on my bucket list, but since there is way too much on there I seriously have no idea when I'll be able to actually go there. Did you go to the same place three times in China or did you visit different regions and cities?

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