Planning Your China Trip

China is huge. You probably know that already. But only when you begin to plan a trip you do appreciate just how much there is to do. Not to mention how far apart the attractions are. Unless you have an entire year to spend here, you’re going to have to narrow down the options to form a realistic itinerary.

Thinking about where your interests lie is a good start. Do you want to spend more time in the cities, or are you more interested in nature? Do you want to relax, or are you looking for something more active? In a country this size, you can’t squeeze it all into one trip. So it’s best to ensure your time here is spent in the best way for you.

Also consider the time of year you wish to travel. Spring (March to May) and early Autumn (September to mid-October) are popular times to visit, as the weather is warm and dry. In the summer months of June, July and August, temperatures can be scorching. Summer is also the rainy season throughout China. Winter can be unbearably cold, especially in the north.

However, prices can plummet during the low seasons. So it’s worth considering travelling during off-peak times if you want to stretch your budget. For example, in November, temperatures can still be quite pleasant in the Sichuan province, though hotel prices and entrances fees are slashed significantly.

waterfall with sunbeams through trees

Waterfall at Jiuzhaigou.


Travelling in China independently can be very cheap. Hostels cost as little as US$5, and are usually spotless and well-maintained. A basic hotel will only set you back around $40 per night, and you can splurge on more high-end accommodation for under $100.

Other daily expenses, such as food and local transport, are surprisingly cheap. You can eat your fill in a local diner for just $2, and a local bus or metro journey costs just 50c.

The costs start to rise the further you travel around the country. Overnight trains can cost upwards of $70, and internal flights cost even more (see “Getting There & Around” for more information).

Visiting the sights and parks in China can also drive up costs. For example, to see the terracotta warriors at Xi’an, you’ll have to shell out $22, and visiting Jiuzhaigou costs a hefty $45.  Though of course, as an independent traveller, you are saving money compared to travelling on a tour!

two steamers with dumplings on table

Sampling some Chinese dumplings.


If you’re visiting China independently, you’ll have to arrange a visa yourself. This can be a massive headache, as the requirements seem to be constantly changing. And there can be frustratingly little information available online. However, if you arrange your visit to the embassy well in advance, and come prepared with all the paperwork you need, you should have no problem getting a visa.