Since I moved from the U.S. to China in 2015, I’ve traveled solo on many, many trips around China. These experiences have been some of the most exciting, surprising, and incredible trips of my life.
From trapezing around megacities like Guangzhou and Chongqing, hiking the famous Avatar Mountains, exploring the Xijiang Qianhu Miao Village in Guizhou, and trekking into Shangri-La: The Mystical Paradise in China, among many other trips, my solo expeditions have shaped my time in China and given me some incredible memories here, as well as helped me nurture my independence and self-reliance.
But traveling in China, while wondrous and full of awe, can also be overwhelming and challenging. There is a huge language barrier if you don’t speak Chinese, and you will encounter so many cultural traditions and customs that are different than your home country.
And then there is also the safety concern. One of the top questions I get from other travelers coming to China: Is China safe? And is China safe for female travelers? For anyone traveling to a new country, this is understandably a big question.
I want to reassure you that China isn’t dangerous at all, and that, armed with knowledge and preparation, you can have a fantastic trip traveling solo here! Here are some things to know before traveling solo to China, as well as tips for along the way.
- Yes, China Is Safe for Female Travelers
- Use Common Sense and Be Aware of Tourist Scams in China
- Do Your Research and Make A Plan
- Learn About Chinese Food and How To Order Food in China
- Understand China’s Public Transportation
- Nightlife & Dating Apps in China
- Why You Should Travel Solo in China
Yes, China Is Safe for Female Travelers
As a solo traveler, especially a solo female traveler, safety is of the utmost importance. We have to be extra cautious and vigilant when on our own, as no friends or partner is around to be an extra set of eyes.
But from my experience, China is very safe. As mentioned before, I’ve traveled solo on many trips around China, taking buses, trains, and taxis alone, staying in hotels by myself, and hiking and going to scenic destinations by myself.
And besides traveling, I’ve also lived by myself in my own apartment in 3 different cities: a small city in Hunan province, in Guangzhou, and in Beijing. I’ve walked home alone at various hours of the day, even at 3am coming home from a bar or KTV. I even feel safer here than I do in some cities of the US I’ve been to.
And it’s not just me. I’ve had many other foreign women and friends tell me they share these experiences of feeling safe traveling here. Of course, there are things to be aware of first before you come to China – let’s dive into why we think it might be unsafe, and how we can be prepared for traveling in China.
Preconceived Ideas and Stereotypes About China
Some of my family and friends back home have expressed concerns about me traveling in China alone, and even wondered if they would enjoy visiting here. We often have a very rigid and communistic view of China in the West, imagining soldiers marching everywhere, polluted cities, limited development, really weird food, and people wearing matching uniforms.
But in reality, China boasts some of the most technologically-advanced and transportation-friendly cities, and people in China live their daily lives the same as people anywhere do. They take buses, taxis, metro, and bicycles to school and work, go to malls and grocery stories, and get coffee at Starbucks or beer from a local bar. China has WIFI, movie theaters, bowling alleys, bars, coffee shops, and international brands and restaurants like McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, and outlets like H&M, NIKE, Adidas, and WAY more. In smaller cities and rural areas, of course, life will be less international. But I’ve had WIFI even on top of mountains when traveling – China really loves to be connected with their friends.
So China doesn’t quite look like the picture that Western media sometimes paints of China. It’s one of those classic Instagram vs Reality posts, where you have one idea but it’s actually quite different. This video, “What I Was Told China Would Be Like” was made by one of my friends Aleese, which I feel describes this well:
One of the best ways to learn more about China is to actually find expats living in China or individuals who have traveled here that share their personal stories. People will, of course, have different experiences, but it’s much more telling than a report written by someone not in China or who has never been here.
China Has Low Crime Rates
Another key point to mention is that China has low crime rates. While there are some petty crimes that can happen in tourist spots, it’s very safe overall for travelers. People aren’t allowed to carry guns. And unless you’re in embassy areas or high security scenic sites (like the Forbidden City or Tiananmen Square) you’re not likely to encounter soldiers. Local police (bao’an), of course, are strolling around, but these guys are usually very chill and not concerned with travelers. In fact, whenever I need directions when traveling often times the bao’an are the first people I ask, as they know the local region well.
And in a weirdly reassuring way, there are CCTV cameras, lights, and people everywhere. I’ve had friends who forgot their phones somewhere or had their bag stolen, and because of the footage police were able to get the phone and bag back. One friend couldn’t find where her motorbike was (after she parked it, someone moved it to a new parking area without her knowing) so she called the police and they helped her track it down.
But of course, be sensible, and don’t be the loud, crazy drunk foreigner starting fights at bars or parties.
Chinese People Are Friendly and Curious
To add to another safety point: I haven’t been harassed with catcalls or seen suspicious people following me either. If anything, people are really curious when they see a foreigner. They may call out “Waiguoren” or “Laowai” (which means foreigner) when they see you. They might point or stare. But they also might greet you with big smiles and waves and ask to take a photo with you. You also may even be asked to hold a baby! (If you aren’t comfortable with any of this, it’s okay to say no).
Use Common Sense and Be Aware of Tourist Scams in China
Whether you’re in a big city like Shanghai or Beijing, or you’re traveling in a small city, it’s important to take usual safety precautions you would take when traveling anywhere solo. Keep careful watch over your belongings and passport. Be aware of scams, and use your common sense and keep your wits about you.
Like other travel destinations, unfortunately you might be targeted for tourist scams or petty crimes, especially in bigger cities and tourist hotspots in China.
Taxi Scams in China
Beware of the taxi scams – always go to official taxi lines in airports or train stations to avoid being extremely overcharged or taken advantage of. Make sure they run the meter inside their taxi so you know what you’re being charged (if you don’t speak Chinese just tap on it – they know what they are supposed to do)
Tea Scams in China
When you’re around tourist destinations like the Forbidden City in Beijing or Nanjing Road in Shanghai, certain “guides” may approach you, follow you around and offer helpful advice. While they seem friendly at first, they may urge you to visit a special tea house or local shop afterwards. Most times it belongs to their friend, and they’ve arranged beforehand to bring customers there for a commission. They may offer you things that seem free, but then slap an expensive bill in front of you and stop you from leaving until you pay. I haven’t seen these in awhile (or maybe I just avoid them subconsciously now) but it’s still good to be aware of these kinds of scams.
Do Your Research and Make A Plan
China is a HUGE country with so many diverse places to see, so really do your research about where you would like to go and prepare in advance. There are so many resources and guides now for traveling around China. I’m a huge fan of going off the beaten track and exploring China’s lesser seen villages and mountains, but search online for detailed instructions to understand the trains, buses, and general travel processes. If you’re dipping your toe into China for the first time, check out 10 Tips For Your First Trip to China.
Also, make a plan of your itinerary and destinations! This will help you map out how much time is needed for traveling and getting around – China is so big, and sometimes tourist sites are far out of city centers so you will need to set aside more time than you think.
Here are a few of my guides and itineraries for traveling to certain places:
- 3 Day Chongqing Itinerary: Best Things To See in 72 Hours
- A Guide to Visiting Lijiang in the Yunnan Province
- 8 Day Hunan Itinerary: Zhangjiajie, Furong Ancient Town, & Fenghuang Phoenix Village
- A Guide To Visiting the Forbidden City
Copy / Screenshot your hotel address in Chinese & English
One of the best tips I could ever pass along: Have a copy or screenshot of all your hotel names and address, tourist destinations you’re looking for, and other useful information in English and in Chinese. If you’re at a hotel or hostel, grab a business card from the front desk with Chinese on it. This is useful for showing taxi drivers or people on the street if you are trying to get back home or you’re looking for something. Download metro apps, city maps, and other apps that will help you navigate the cities you’re going to (small cities may not have these on your English app store, but big cities definitely will).
Check out my blog post for tips for first time travelers to China: 10 Tips For Your First Trip to China.
Prepare for Language Barrier Challenges:
Traveling solo in China is safe, but no lie it can be challenging. Firstly, because of the language barrier. Chinese is a difficult language. Some people in bigger cities will speak English, but in smaller cities this is not very common at all. But hey, you’re in their country and chose to travel there, so be respectful! Arm yourself with a guide book, and download translation apps, metro apps, and bus apps. People are usually very friendly and helpful. I’ve stopped so many people on the street or inside shops to get help asking about directions, bus times, local sites, and more.
Hint: If you are in a small city looking for someone who can speak English, I usually approach a college-aged student. Many students in China have had to take English classes in high school.
China has great infrastructure and has made strides to have all tourist sites labeled in English (or at least pinyin you can read), but sometimes the signs don’t make sense or have hilarious mistranslations. It can be a fun game to spot the Chinglish signs you see!
Give Yourself Time to Adjust to Culture Shock
Chinese culture is so different. It’s loud and noisy, you will be bumped into a lot, and you might get easily frustrated with the communication barriers. Give yourself time to adjust, and take it slow to enjoy the experience more. I don’t recommend jam packing too much into one day – it may take time to buy tickets, try to communicate with people, and get from Place A to Place B.
Traveling in China is not at all like a relaxing holiday on a beach or a European getaway – you will use so much mental and social energy trying to navigate China. I don’t say this to frighten you away from traveling here, just to prepare you as much as you can be prepared in advance!
Learn About Chinese Food and How To Order Food in China
Chinese food is INCREDIBLE…if you know what and how to order. It can be difficult to walk into a restaurant with no English or photos on the menu and know what to order. And different regions in China have different types of cuisines, so even if you’re familiar with some dishes in one province, it doesn’t mean it will be the same in others. You have spicy Sichuan and Hunan foods, sweeter Shanghainese and Cantonese dishes, and more hearty foods in Northeast Dongbei and Beijing. I’ll share some of the most popular dishes to order below.
Chinese Dining Style
In China, many restaurants serve food “family style” around a round table. You order 1 dish per person + 1 extra dish as a rule (sometimes more depending on your host and how hungry you are!) There are also some etiquette rules about eating in China, such as never stick your chopsticks up in your rice, and the host or eldest person or guest of honor will be seating across from the door of the room. There are lots of rules to learn, but usually when people know you’re a foreigner they aren’t so particular about you following them.
But when you’re traveling solo, you won’t have to worry about these dining rules much. You’ll have no problem finding restaurants to eat in solo!
Popular Dishes To Order in China
Here are some of my favorite dishes with photos and translations that restaurants all over China will have (or have some variations of them). Read my full article here: 12 Popular Chinese Dishes & How To Order Them in China.
Food and Water Safety in China
Of course, it’s important to be really mindful of food and water safety when you are traveling. China tap water is usually NOT safe to drink, unless someone has put a filter on it (usually not). That’s why most Chinese people own kettles and will drink hot water (It’s also a running joke that hot water will cure every ailment). Here are a few things to note for food and water:
- Buy bottled water or drink hot water when you’re traveling in China. Most airports and train stations will actually have a hot water dispenser if you prefer to bring your own bottle everywhere (but unfortunately in summer this is quite a difficult thing to do! I don’t know how Chinese people drink hot water in summer).
- Street food is usually safe to eat – I’ve never been food poisoned in China. But double check items like meat to make sure they’ve been cooked all the way through, and don’t go to vendors where you see meat has been sitting outside for awhile.
- Fake alcohol in China: Some bars and clubs will have promotions or offer “foreigners drink free.” In Beijing we often see this around Gongti (Worker’s Stadium) in the clubs. Usually it is fake alcohol that will make you sick, so be careful!
Understand China’s Public Transportation
I absolutely love transportation in China. There are so many cheap and available options, from subways in big cities, to bike share apps, taxis and Didis, and the high speed train. But to navigate these in the best way, you need to know the right apps to use.
- Train: Ctrip: English app that helps you book train tickets in China
- Subways: Subway stations will have kiosks to buy tickets, and they will usually have English service options. Download a metro app for the city you are going to.
- Bike: Unfortunately, most bike apps require having a Chinese bank card linked through an app like WeChat or Alipay to unlock and use the bikes.
Read some more of the top apps used in China: 13 Top Apps and Sites You Need in China 2022
Note: Some apps may be difficult to sign up for and use if you don’t have a Chinese bank card. I recommend doing research to verify and see the most updated information.
My first year in China I didn’t use any apps for paying, and at most tourist sites (like here in Yangshuo) we could rent bikes with cash.
Nightlife & Dating Apps in China
If you’re traveling solo, you probably enjoy your own company and are used to it, but it’s nice to meet people along the way. People you meet on your travels will definitely enrich your experience!
As a woman, I am usually careful when going by myself to places with alcohol involved, but I have actually had some of my favorite days and nights with people I’ve met who invited me to eat and drink with them. I’ve also met other travelers through hostels and group travel trips that have been a blast as well. If you’re a solo traveler looking to explore the nightlife of China and meet new people, you have many options!
Bar and Clubs
Like anywhere in the world, China has a huge bar and club industry. Whether you’re in a big or small city, people are looking to let loose and relax. Bigger cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen have huge international options, featuring craft beer breweries, wineries, and giant clubs that headline huge names. Smaller cities may also have these – have a look online to find city specific recommendations.
But I must say, nothing beats a chill beer in a small town at an outdoor BBQ joint where the Chinese guys roll up their shirts in a ‘Beijing Bikini’ style. (This has been banned in some places, but the locals still do this!)
Chinese KTV (Karaoke)
KTV, or Chinese karaoke, is one of China’s ultimate night’s out. Unlike Western karaoke, it doesn’t take place in a public bar. Imagine a group of friends in a private room, giant TV, loud sound system, and a table covered in beer and fruit platters (they love fruit platters when drinking for some reason) and you’re ready to kick off. People will spend hours singing songs with their friends. It was fun to sing English songs my Chinese friends knew (they like pop hits like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, as well as classics such as “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion and Michael Jackson).
Below is a blurry KTV night with friends I made in Inner Mongolia and a KTV Halloween party when I was a teacher in Hengyang.
Here are 10 Popular Chinese Songs You Should Listen To if you want to impress your Chinese friends – some of these songs are a bit old now, but they are some of my favorites!
Dating in China & China Dating Apps
WHEW! To really encompass dating in China would take more than one small part of one blog post to dive into. China is such a diverse landscape, with not only local Chinese people, but also so many international people living and dating here. I’ve had some great experiences dating here, using apps or just meeting someone at a bar or activity. Like dating anywhere, use your discernment and don’t let anyone push your boundaries for what you’re not comfortable with. But it can be an eye opening experience or fun way to meet new people while traveling. Who doesn’t love a romantic travel story?
Dating Apps: International apps like Tinder and Bumble are used in China, mostly in bigger city with more international populations. If you want to dip your toe into local China dating, download Tantan.
Just note: most people don’t speak English on Tantan, and I’ve been very directly approached by Chinese men on these apps who assume I’m very “open” (basically, sexually open) because of stereotypes about Western, especially American, women. One guy told me he thought American girls were all like Gossip Girl: very rich, driving fancy cars, and having lots of sex. But it just goes to show stereotypes go both ways. We also have stereotypes about Chinese people from media. Read another woman’s story here.
But that’s not to say that it’s all bad, and not all guys are like that. Dating culture is also different in China, and follows more traditional rules and courting this doesn’t include hook-ups though, which happen here just like anywhere in the world). Traditional Chinese men also are expected to provide for their families and parents, so their family might be hesitant about them dating a foreign woman.
If you want to hear more about dating in China, I co-founded an organization called Date Night China, where we host a podcast, videos, and host events to share stories about dating and relationships in China. We bring on diverse guests to have in-depth and hilarious convos about the mishaps of dating in China, as well good tips and successful and positive experiences.
Again, just be mindful of your surroundings, and don’t say yes to anything you’re not comfortable with!
Why You Should Travel Solo in China
While there are some barriers and challenges when traveling in China, don’t let them scare you! If you’re up for an adventure, curious, and ready to say yes to new experiences, China is perfect for a solo traveler. While it can be confusing or difficult at times, it will be an enriching experience, and you’ll have some great stories to tell! Just make sure you do your own research to find out more about the giant and diverse country of China.
Also, there are so many aspects about life in China to know about, and everyone has their own personal experience. What else are you curious to know about China? Let me know in the comments below!