Budget Travel Around China

Updated: Oct 1, 2018

From food, to transportation and everything in between, these are the best tips on how to travel around the massive country of China on a tight budget.

China is a vast, culturally and environmentally diverse country to explore. You'll encounter an endless number of historical monuments and natural wonders that span across 8 climate zones. If you're looking to experience travelling in a country that's full of variety - then China is for you!

China is a great destination for budget travel. You will love how far your dollar goes, especially if you are a price-sensitive and value-oriented traveller like we are! With just a few dollars per day, you will be surprised with the hospitality offered at hostels, and the vast array of food and beer that you can purchase. Tours and transportation are surprisingly cheap as well, and bargaining for deals at souvenir shops has never been easier.


TIP: Try to stay as long as you can. There is way too much to see in China in a week, and even a month. If you really want to get a feel for the country then book as much time as you can. The most expensive part of your journey will be the flight to get there.

Avatar mountains / Heavenly Pillar in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

FLIGHT

The first thing you will notice when looking to fly to China, is the cost of the flight itself. No matter where you travel to and from, the flight will be one of the most expensive parts. From many North American cities, a flight to China will run you anywhere from $700-$1,250 USD depending on the season, but have no fear, there are ways you can cut back on the cost of this flight. The best advice I can give you about grabbing a low cost flight is to avoid national holidays. A quick Google search will let you know when national holidays are in China. Avoid flying during celebrations such as: New Year's Day, Chinese New Year (Spring Festival), Qingming Festival, May Day, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Day and National Day, if a cheap flight is what you're looking for. Keep in mind that during the Christmas holidays in the Western world, flights everywhere are going to increase in cost, simply because of demand.

Another tip to obtain a lower cost flight is to try and avoid booking during the peak tourist seasons. Now since China is so big, you'll notice that different regions have different peak times; this doesn't mean that you have to spend your entire trip in one region. It just means that the temperatures in one area may be more desirable than in another. The humidity in the southern regions - like Hong Kong and Guilin, can get quite uncomfortable from June until September while smog in northern areas such as Beijing can become unbearable during the winter months. Do your research, find out when the best time to go is and see if you can book at the tail-end of a peak season - just make sure that you don't end up in the middle of rural China during monsoon season, I can't see that being too fun.

TIP: Choosing to travel during off-peak seasons is also beneficial because you'll avoid the crowds of tourists, and bonus, hotels tend to be cheaper when there is lower occupancy.

FOOD


Food in China is incredibly cheap however, prices vary slightly depending on where you travel to. Everywhere you go you will be able to order an entire pot of rice for a very reasonable price. With veggies galore you can really keep on track with your clean eating spree.


If you don't already know this, China is the world's largest grower of rice and garlic. This explains why the Chinese love rice, and rice noodles so much. Garlic is found in most dishes, and is incredibly fragrant throughout the markets. Eating In If you are looking to save money and do what the locals do, then going to the grocery store and buying your food is the way to go. There are plenty of markets, vendors and grocery stores that offer most of the staples you can find at home. Most hotels and hostels have full kitchens available for visitors to prepare food, making it very convenient to stick to a well rounded plant-based diet too! You'll find an array of grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds to keep your tummy satisfied for the entire trip.


Markets and produce stalls in China operate similarly to farmer's markets in the Western world and you can find high quality fruits and vegetables at a good price. Just make sure that you shop around for the best price - many stalls at the beginning of a market have higher prices than vendors deeper into the market. Haggling and bargaining is always acceptable in China, so if something is an unreasonable price, don't shy away from talking the price down.


TIP: Think of some really easy to make dishes you can have on your trip. One of our favourites was the classic peanut butter and jam sandwich. All items can be easily found at the store of a stellar price. Dining Out Dining out in China is cheaper then you might think. It's easy to order a lot of food to split among your fellow travellers, and still end up with a tiny bill. The prices can range from $3-$7 depending on what you order and how much you overeat.


Oftentimes when you are in China, you will be able to get beer at a very similar price to water. This is great for anyone who wants a nice bottle of beer to relax after a long day.

TIP: Make sure that you pack a reusable water bottle, water purification tablets, and maybe a camelback too! Single-use plastic water bottles can seriously rack up your travel bill. If you bring a water bottle make sure that you fill it up any chance you get. Most of the water in rural areas will need to be treated before you consume it. If you don't have a half-decent supply to get you through, you'll have to spend money on it.

MAINLAND TRAVEL

Plane: Taking the quickest mode of transportation has it's benefits and drawbacks. While you get to arrive at your destination much sooner, you will miss a lot of the beautiful scenery along the way and you'll end up spending more money getting from city to city. Plus baggage checking is a hassle that might be best avoided.

High-speed Train: Hands-down the best way to see the country while getting to your destination in a reasonable amount of time. The trains are modern, elegant and clean. Plus you won't be too upset when you see the low price.

Overnight Train: This is an "interesting" experience and will most likely leave you with stories to tell when you get home. Most overnight trains are incredibly cheap compared to high-speed trains but you might sacrifice the luxury of personal space. A overnight train that we stayed in featured at least 20 blocks of 4 bunk beds. If you are backpacking, this doesn't leave you with a lot of space for your belongings. But if the aim is to travel for a long time without spending much money, you can justify a couple trips like this. Bonus points for this option doubling as a place to sleep at night. Long Distance Bus: For budget travellers, some remote destinations are only accessible by bus. These busses are one of the most economical ways to travel around the country.

City Bus: A bus may be one of your best when you try to get around a big city to explore. These are cheap and efficient. Metro/Subway: Most large cities have cheap and easily accessible underground metro systems. You can pay for single tickets or purchase a day pass at the main terminal if you plan on using the metro more than once in a day. The maps are easy to read, but make sure you take a photo of the map itself for future reference, you'll thank me later!

Bamboo rafts preparing for a cruise on the Li River

WHERE TO STAY

Hostel: Definitely the cheapest option, especially if you are travelling in a group. Many hostels will host day trips that you can take part of for a discounted price. Before booking, try to look out for hostels with breakfast included.


TIP: You'll likely find a bunch of food that is vegan friendly at these free breakfasts, but make sure you have at least something to tide you over just in case. We noticed that many hostels had your typical American breakfast with eggs, toast, meats, muffins and fresh fruits.

Hotel: These might be your best option if you are a couple and want a private room. Budget hotels will generally be nicer than hostels and will be a lot quieter as well. They will have amenities like wifi, hot showers, laundry and breakfast.


If it's in your budget, staying in a nicer hotel is still a pretty decent bargain, especially if you have someone splitting the cost with you. This all depends on your travel style and how much you are willing to pay for the extra comforts.

AirBnB: is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. This is a great option for a cheap place to sleep. You'll be able to find plenty of options in the bigger cities and even around the countryside for a range of prices. Many hosts will be friendly and might even tour you around for an extra few dollars. Keep your eyes open for deals on the AirBnB website and you may be able to get some discount nights.

SIGHTSEEING/ACTIVITIES

China offers a ton of free and low-cost attractions for tourists. Plan to check out some parks, temples, and botanical gardens. If you're staying in a hostel, you may get lucky and be able to join in on a walking tour of the area.

You will notice that there are a lot of wildlife sanctuaries, National Parks, and tourist attractions that are relatively cheap to visit. Do your research on specific activities and try to find the best deal before you go.


There is a lot to see and a lot to do while in this country and it can be very overwhelming to try and squeeze in everything on a tight budget. Try to pick one or two tours or paid adventures to embark in while on your journey, and then stick to the free stuff for the remainder of your trip. This way you won't run out of things to do but most importantly you won't run out of cash!


Want to read more about China travel? How to be Vegan in China China Packing List

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