In three other installments of this series, I talked about how to travel cheap when considering transportation, lodging, sight-seeing, and food. This time, I’m going to share a bunch of miscellaneous stuff I’ve picked up from the road that would benefit any solo traveler trying to stretch those RMB notes as long as possible.
**NOTE: If you have anything you’d like to add, comment and let me know! I’m always happy to learn more hacks. After all, I still have 4 provinces to explore!
- Save plastic baggies and wash them. (I learned this one from my mom, actually).
- Bring laundry detergent. Laundry service is not free in Chinese hostels. Be prepared to sink-wash things.
- BARGAIN BARGAIN BARGAIN. It’s expected of you to bargain. In a market? Cut the price in half and start there. In a tourist area? Be fierce. I have many tactics, but one that seems to work best is what I call my “Great Wall” Technique: choose a price you want to pay, and then don’t budge. If the vendor gets within 5-10RMB of your price, start saying “Aww, it’s just a couple RMB cheaper! Aren’t we friends?” Offer to buy more than one for a discount. Consider it, walk away, and see if the vendor has a change of heart when he/she sees you disappear. Think a driver is ripping you off? Bargain! Make sure he/she uses a meter if in a taxi. (Note: this does not work for high-end places…but really, if you’re reading this post, you’re probably not planning on going there anyway.)
- Bring your own thermos. Clean hot water is available everywhere (but not clean cold water, alas. That you have to buy.)
- Be kind. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but I can’t count how many times I’ve had cabbies or even hostel workers knock off a few RMB because they just thought I was nice. (Though this should not be your sole motivation for being nice).
- Don’t forget things. You’ll end up having to buy them on the road. My friend Maeva and I used to do a check every time we left the door: phone, wallet, passport, camera (now kind of lumps in with phone). Chargers are big culprits, too.
- Take napkins and toilet paper from anywhere you can get them. Chinese bathrooms do not offer toilet paper, and so you have to supply it yourself. KFC’s, McDonalds, and most fast food places are great for swiping napkins.
- ALWAYS take free hotel water bottles (no free cold water in China), but make sure they’re free first.
- ALWAYS accept free samples and other freebies. No joke, I once had a lunch made entirely out of grocery store samples.
- Bring gifts from your hometown (postcards are big ones) to share with people you like on the road. Never underestimate the power of kind gestures, especially when the travel/expat community in China is comparatively small to other countries. Locals, too, are extraordinarily sweet, but only if you’re sweet, too.
- If money is VERY tight, then don’t use the bowls and cups that come prepackaged on restaurant tables or the packets of napkins. They cost about 2-3 RMB. There are almost always bowls/utensils on the drying rack, which is free.
- If in possession of a SIM card, or if armed with capable Chinese, download apps like 滴滴打车 (di di da che) for cheaper taxi rides. (At the time of writing this, Uber was bought out by the latter company, so…that’s a pity.)
- Bring your own instant noodles/snacks for long train rides because food on trains will be pricey. Same goes for food/water on top of mountains and in scenic sites. (As for the mountains, this is largely because coolies have to carry heavy loads of supplies all the way up the mountain, so as much as I hate the extra prices, in that case it makes sense).
- In most big cities (definitely in Hangzhou) there are free public bikes. If you get a public bike card from any metro station, you’ll pay a refundable 200 RMB deposit, and then can take out a bike all day. Be sure to switch out your bike every hour at bike stations to avoid charges. ( 1 RMB after the first hour, and then it creeps up little by little. BUT if you think “Aw, that’s not so much” and decide to just keep it overnight, DON’T. A friend of mine did exactly this and had a massive, emptied-her-transit-card fee the following morning. 2-3 hour fees aren’t so bad, though).
- Check our tourist centers for free maps. I’m not sure about other places, but Hangzhou has a lot of free ENGLISH maps for tourists.
- Walk. If you’re in a tourist area and things aren’t so far apart, just walk it. Be warned, though, many directions you get from passersby might not have accurate distances. Sometimes “Oh, it’ll take about half an hour by foot” will actually mean 2 hours of walking. Download Chinese map apps: 百度地图 (bai du di tu) and 高德地图 (gao de di tu) since Google products are blocked in China (unless you have a VPN). That, or ask your hostel for good walking routes.
- Bring 2 books with you to participate in FREE hostel book swaps. (Only if you’re doing a longer trip, though).
- Be chatty. I don’t mean “talk incessantly” or “talk even if you hate people” but striking up conversations with hostel people or random people on the street often lead to the most interesting and unexpected parts of any travel experience. Use good judgment, but also be open.
- Turn your phone on airplane mode. (This one I learned from my former roommate, and yes, it’s not terribly related to cost, but is worth a mention). Many travelers don’t want to be distracted by text messages or social media while on the road, but also want to use their phones as cameras so can’t just turn them off. Easy: put your phone on airplane mode, so that Wifi, 4G, and your phone number are all temporarily disabled at your command.
Did I miss anything? Feel free to comment if you have anything to add!