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Solo 1st trip to China- Tour or Independent?

Sacramento, CA
3 posts
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Solo 1st trip to China- Tour or Independent?

Hi.

I'm planning to take a solo trip to China in the fall. I've traveled on my own in Europe but China seems like a whole different ball game. This trip is a really big step for me and it's important that it be "successful", that I can feel good about my decision to do it, after the fact.

I'm leaning toward a tour for the following reasons:

1. All arrangements will be taken care of (hopefully!)

2. Being part of a group so I won't feel/be totally out there on my own, all the time--both in terms of safety/security and the loneliness factor. I'm fairly shy and so am concerned I would have difficulty connecting with random folks not on my tour.

Leaning toward going independent because:

1. This is likely to be my one and only trip to China. I don't want to spend it with mobs of other tourists. With the exception of very expensive tours, most seem to visit the same places and do the same things. I'd like to get off the beaten path, at least a little.

I'm not quite sure which will be best for me and I'd really love to get advice, feedback, suggestions, encouragement etc. I need all the help I can get!

Thank you!

JM

1. Re: Solo 1st trip to China- Tour or Independent?

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Removed on: 25 March 2012, 13:45
London, England
Destination Expert
for Solo Travel
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2. Re: Solo 1st trip to China- Tour or Independent?

I'm all for adventure and solo travel but driving solo around China without speaking the language(es) strikes me as more difficult than a first trip needs to be.

Traffic in Chinese cities is insane and if you found yourself in difficulties, it could be very hard to get yourself out.

If you do speak at least one Chinese language, travlling solo by a combination of train and plane might work for you.

I don't usually like the idea of tours, but I did enjoy the GapAdventures one I took to the Gallapagos Islands and I think for a first trip to China it might be worth looking into one of their trips. The groups are small (12-16) and the age range is much larger than you would expect. I was a 50 something when I went and, although the oldest, most of the others were mid twenties to mid-thirties and a wonderfully international mix.

www.gadventures.com/trips/…

One advantage of a group like that would be that as it is a land only package, you could do some solo travelling after the end of the tour when you have a bit more of a feel for travelling in China. That would also be a way of seeing any place on your must-see list that the tour left off.

This might be useful for the solo part of your trip:

http://www.seat61.com/China.htm

Travelling in China in the autumn sounds like a great idea, especially if you can set aside enough time to get a good sense of the different parts of the country. (Or one part in depth)

I have no doubt you will have a wondeful trip.

kent
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for Kent, Solo Travel
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3. Re: Solo 1st trip to China- Tour or Independent?

Parisfoodie

China is a vast and exciting country, but due to distances alone, hiring a car for your journey may be totally impractical.

As Leagal has already said, there are many languages spoken in China

(about 400 I think) and without one of them, independant travel is ...challenging! .

There are also parts of China that you may be denied entry to, especially along the border to Tibet/Russia.

While I agree that visting destinations with hordes of other tourists is off putting, it's worth remembering that the internal Chinese tourism market far outstrips the visitor numbers of other nationals coming to China.... so be prepared for crowds!

As you still have some months yet before your trip, I'd suggest getting as much information from tour groups who specialise in visiting China.

Some may focus on a particular regoin or special interests. You don't have to book but can pick their brains! They can also provide you with up to date information about seasonal festivals, travel visa's and estimated time to travel within China by rail/internal flights etc.

One of the main advantages of going with an organised tour, is safety.

I don't mean that you'd be the victim of crime, just that some one else is financially bonded to ensure you arrive and leave on scheduled flights/internal flights with a reputable carrier, and your hotel reservations have been guarenteed.

You may also need to apply for your visa some months ahead of your trip.

Hopefully other solo travellers who've been to China more recently will post here to provide more up to date information and tips.

Canada
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4. Re: Solo 1st trip to China- Tour or Independent?

Hi Parisfoodie.

I had the same dilemma a few years ago and chose to go the tour route. There are a multitude of tour operators (major international ones like Globus and so on) as well as local Chinese operators. My "group tour" ended up just being me and 3 other people, so no need to fear big coach travel if you do your research. When I was doing my research calling various companies, I was told that because there are so many people in China, they can easily put together solo or small group tours and don't have to rely on big coaches.

I liked doing the tour because it gave me safety and comfort. I didn't have to worry about getting lost in China as I don't speak Chinese.

I would caution that when you look into tours, don't do the ones that take trains to go between cities. Just pay the few extra dollars to fly between cities, especially if you are finicky about having clean bathrooms.

GAdventures (formerly Gap Adventures), in my personal opinion, doesn't offer enough comfort/value at their "basic/standard" group tour level so I don't tend to go through them. For around the same or less as what GAdventures was charging, I got a local Chinese tour operator and stayed at 5 star hotels with all meals and activities thrown in.

While I had a couple of minor issues with my operator, I can tell you that I came back safe and sound so traveling solo in China is something that is absolutely doable! Again, as you research tour operators, you're welcome to look at my old posts (my first post will name the operator I used) and reviews. I'm not going to name them on this post because I don't want to give them free advertising as I wasn't 100% satisfied, but if you don't find other options, you're welcome to consider them.

Good luck.

Hong Kong, China
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for Hong Kong, Macau, Holiday Travel, Food and Travel
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5. Re: Solo 1st trip to China- Tour or Independent?

Come spend some time on the China and Beijing Travel Forums, local destination experts (DEs) like Jean_Pierre, can offer you their perspective and should be able to provide you with some advise and tour options.

China is different than Europe and other places where language barriers can be worked around. Culturally, the Chinese are much less likely to want to try to communicate with you and English just doesn't exist in much of the country. Chinese writing system is drastically different as well, making it quite difficult or impossible to try to figure out where you are going and/or what you are doing on your own.

This is one place where taking a tour, instead of independently traveling can make a lot of sense if you are not familiar with Chinese language and writing or a very seasoned and capable traveler.

Sydney, Australia
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6. Re: Solo 1st trip to China- Tour or Independent?

I went to China and did an Intrepid tour from Hong Kong to Beijing.

Intrepid have small group tours and they use public transport mainly. As we were going around I looked at buses etc we were getting and there was no way I could have negotiated that myself.

In a country that uses the same alphabet, even if you can't read it, you know what to look for. Chinese is a whole different ballgame.

I LOVED my trip and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone. Just don't land in Beijing when it's minus 12. Never been so cold in my life. But still loved it. The wall was AMAZING. Terracotta warriors unbelievable

. I plan to go back to China and see more one day.

Hong Kong, China
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for Hong Kong, Macau, Holiday Travel, Food and Travel
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7. Re: Solo 1st trip to China- Tour or Independent?

Lot of tour companies originate out of Hong Kong for China based tours. Probably the best we have in HK, for reputation and service is China Travel Services (CTS).

Sacramento, CA
3 posts
1 review
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8. Re: Solo 1st trip to China- Tour or Independent?

Thank you so much for the information! I appreciate the suggestions and think I'll definitely go the tour group route. I like the idea of doing a short, post tour bit, like in Hong Kong, on my own.

I'll definitely spend some time on the forums for info.on locations and tour group reviews. I'm sure once I really get into the research, I'll have many more questions, but I'll post those on the appropriate forum.

And of course, I'll let everyone know what happens!

Thanks again.

Hong Kong, China
Destination Expert
for Hong Kong, Macau, Holiday Travel, Food and Travel
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9. Re: Solo 1st trip to China- Tour or Independent?

If you do decide to visit Hong Kong, here are a few trip lists we've composed for visitors. They include most of our best attractions, along with reviews and photos.

Hong Kong Attractions

tripadvisor.com/GoListDetail-i23948-What_to_…

Best of Victoria Harbour

tripadvisor.com/GoListDetail-i27892-The_Best…

Mongkok Markets

tripadvisor.com/GoListDetail-i24685-Mongkok_…

Temples and Monasteries

tripadvisor.com/GoListDetail-i25656-Hong_Kon…

Macau Day Trip

tripadvisor.com/GoListDetail-i26979-Macau_Da…

Sha Tin Day Trip

tripadvisor.com/GoListDetail-i24058-A_Day_in…

Have a nice time during your China (HK?) tour.

Manila, Philippines
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10. Re: Solo 1st trip to China- Tour or Independent?

It is good that you chose to use a tour company for this trip. It is difficult to travel in China without knowing the local language. Most in the tourism/hospitality industry are not as fluent in other foreign languages as most tourists expect.