The Impossible Situation: Lodging
Last post I talked about how to trim the fat for transportation when traveling in China. However, there are other expenses other than the road that can add up, such as lodging.
Why it’s impossible
No matter what you tell yourself, after a long day of traveling, you do actually need a bed to crash into.
When I calculated travel costs, lodging came up as the second-highest spending culprit (right after Transportation, which I already covered). I anticipated the cost and made arrangements to volunteer in a village for a while (among other reasons, too). That being said, this one is unavoidable.
Why it’s not impossible
Let’s go through some of the options here. You can and should use the extensive hostel network in China (check out this website), as it’s a great place to meet travelers and get travel advice. I have done trips before where I’ve done as little as configure transportation, book a hostel, and arrive. Most hostels have information about places to go, and are great places to get travel buddies.
They are not as cheap as you can get in China, though.
Aside from doing home-stays or walking about and comparing hotel prices, you can almost always go to the nice hotel in the middle of town and ask for a room without windows or a computer. It’s usually not advertised, and few customers opt for it, but most nice hotels have them, and if you are with a travel partner, can be as cheap as 50 RMB/person, which is about what you might pay for a hostel bed.
There are other options, such as AirBnB and Couchsurfing. I have not tried AirBnB myself, but have done couchsurfing and have had (mostly) good experiences. (And as a single female traveler, I’m just saying that it’s very doable, so long as you use good judgment by reading references). If you are going to do CS, be sure that you bring gifts for your hosts and are willing to be chatty. Although it’s free to stay with the hosts, you should never treat it like a hotel (though this is more a polite gesture and is not a hard rule). If you are not feeling social or talkative, consider just paying for a hotel room.
You can also consider volunteering, if you are in no hurry and also want to give back to the community. There is a WWOOFing (Worldwide Workers on Organic Farms) China program, which I did while in Shanxi. I will say this: it is not the same as WWOOFing outside of China, in that I ended up not working on an organic farm at all (surprise!), but teaching English classes for kids (but mostly lying around a house full of weird baby pictures). I also found a volunteering opportunity through Couchsurfing, which gave me the chance to work in a hostel in Sanya, a beach town in Southern China, for several weeks. As you might expect, knowing Chinese helps, though if you don’t know Chinese, don’t let that stop you!
But what if you’re truly truly I-might-sleep-in-the-curb-broke?
The absolute bare-bottom tactic you can do is to just bring your own tent and supplies when you travel and be prepared to camp out on the road. There are campsites in China, though not all places welcome tents. I did meet a traveler who got lost and just slept on a bench for the night — do me a favor, dear reader, and find yourself anywhere other than a random bench! I think tents are good, though of course, having one means having to buy one along with the supplies before heading out. Think of it as a long-term investment.
The two biggest spending culprits have been tackled, but there are so many other ways to whittle down expenses in China. Stay tuned for Scenic Spots and Food. And, if you read this and have other suggestions, please comment and let me know! I’m always happy to learn more.