Spanning over 9.5km² and with a population of 1.4 billion, China is a huge country to explore. But have no fear, despite its scale, it’s very easy to explore without completely breaking the bank. Here’s our guide to backpacking in China on a budget.
Finding the right flights is one of the most important things when booking a trip. There are so many things that can influence the price of a flight – the airline, layovers, the time of year you want to travel, how far in advance you’re booking them, even what time of day you’re looking! It’s important to shop around for a while before booking so that you can find the best value flight for you, with both money and comfort in mind. A super cheap flight on with a 24-hour layover might not be worth saving £50!
There are many cities in China with major international airports – Beijing and Hong Kong are the most popular, but Shanghai and even Guangzhou have a number of international flights running in and out of them. If you’re flexible with your itinerary, why not shop around with return flights from different cities, or even fly to and from different cities.
Once you’re there, China has a very good public transport network in all its major cities. In Beijing and Shanghai, you can get pretty much everywhere you need to go using the Metro, which has signs and announcements in Chinese and English. Taxi can be very affordable if you’re travelling with a group and can split the fair, just be wary of using them to cover long distances or during rush hour, as their fares tend to increase if you’re stuck in traffic for a while. For a truly unique experience, why not take the local buses, a ticket is only 10p!
Accommodation is very well priced across China. There is a great network of hostels, especially in the major cities, that are safe, clean, and even pretty modern! They’re usually just as good, if not better quality and value for money than lower-star hotels, as they’re tailored specifically for backpackers. If you’re travelling on a budget, hostels are one of the best ways to save money, and you have the opportunity to meet fellow travellers too. Hostels are also normally always located in the centre of each city, within walking distance to the top tourist spots, so you won’t have to spend more money than you need to on transportation.
Trying new and exciting food has got to be one of the best things about travelling, and China won’t let you down here. For the most part, authentic Chinese cuisine isn’t always like what you’ll find at your local takeaway, which has been adapted by western influence and tastes. If you find yourself travelling around southern China, Cantonese food can bare more similarities to the western take on Chinese food.
On the whole, food is extremely cheap in China, especially in comparison to western countries. You’ll find the best deals at street food stalls, which serve anything from dumpling to fried rice to savoury pancakes. We’re not just talking snacks; for less than £1, you can get enough for a seriously filling lunch or dinner! Check out the top street food dishes to try while you’re there. Restaurants, although more expensive than street food vendors, are still very reasonable to what you’ll be used to at home. If you’re craving western food like burgers or pizzas, things can start to get a little pricer. So if you’re looking to stick to a budget, we’d recommend opting for local dishes to keep the prices down, and save the western food for when you’re home!
If you have special dietary requirements and are nervous about travelling overseas, don’t worry! There is an abundance of vegetarian dishes in Chinese cuisine that can easily be made vegan. Check out our vegetarian and vegan guide to China to find out more.
Much like food, drinks in China are incredibly cheap. Expect to pay around 20p for a bottle of water from a street stall or convenience store – if you’re being charged anything significantly higher than that then look somewhere else! A bottle of iced tea will cost around 50p, and if you’re looking for a bubble tea fix, these usually cost £1.50-£2.50 depending on your order.
When it comes to alcohol, local beers are very cheap, although they don’t have a very high percentage. If you’re looking for imported beers, wines and spirits, this is where things start to get expensive. We’d recommend considering your drinking habits while you’re travelling as more nights out means more money! If you’re trying to travel on a budget, perhaps restrict yourself to a certain number of nights out, rather than every night, otherwise, it’ll start to break the bank.
Buying travel insurance may seem like an extra expense when you’re planning your trip, you might even question whether you really need it. But if your flight gets cancelled, a natural disaster occurs or you get ill while abroad, what you spent on insurance will seem like nothing in comparison to what you could have needed to pay for replacement flights, accommodation or hospital bills.
We recommend World Nomads. If you’re travelling to a country where natural disasters can occur, it’s a good idea to opt for natural disaster cover to be safe. Keep your itinerary in mind too, are you doing extreme sports or activities where you could get injured? There’s coverage for that too.
Want to visit these destinations on your own China adventure? Check out Budget Backpacking Tours in China from our flagship 25-day tour, taking you across the whole country, or our shorter 18-day Shanghai Loop and 15-day Hong Kong to Beijing tour! Alternatively, drop us a message in the chat box below or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more!