Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet On Planning Your Trip To China

It’s vacation time! You’ve been waiting for this moment for an entire year. You’ve saved up your vacation time for the perfect season and now you are sitting down at your kitchen table eating dinner reminiscing about where you wish to travel. Last year, your adventure brought you to the Old West and you saw Yellowstone and the Rockies. The year before that, you tested your resilience and traveled to Europe to tour parts of Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

Moreover, you wish to do something outside of your comfort zone and you wish to go somewhere that is exotic and full of culture. Before you know it, you come across a small ad on your computer advertising cheap flights to Asia. Intrigued, you click the ad and see what the advertiser has to offer. You see the usual, deals to fly to Tokyo, Japan, and Seoul, South Korea, for dirt cheap and an offer to bundle your purchase with a complimentary hotel stay and a ride to and from the airport.

This sounds great, but it not what you are looking for. Further down the list of reduced prices in flights, you come across a less known place—China. “Non-stop flight from Chicago to Beijing, only $699!” or “The Cheapest Flights to Shanghai, only available today!” Interested, you click to find out more and the advertiser sends you to another website that offers tours. Tours in China are cheaper ways to travel the country and you’ll learn a lot more about the tourist sites with a tour guide. Just be aware that some tour companies are not legit. Do your research before you give a company your hard-earned money.

You’ve made your decision! China it is. Now, all you must do is pack and enjoy your trip, right? Wrong!

Any seasoned traveler knows that there is a boatload that goes into preparing, enjoying, and returning from a trip. Here are 12 helpful tips for planning your trip to China.

The Three Parts

First, you need to understand that there are three parts to preparing for any trip. This includes the initial or beginning process, the traveling process, and arriving at your destination.

The Beginning Process

The initial or beginning process is separated into five parts that include (1) applying for your passport, (2) paying for your plane ticket, (3) applying for a visa, (4) finding travel and medical insurance, and (5) registering at the embassy or sending in a confirmation of your trip to the embassy.

1: Passport

I always wore my passport around my neck.
Your passport is going to be the most important part of the beginning process. In any foreign country, keep your passport on you. If you get into trouble while in a foreign country or get hurt, you’ll need your passport. Your passport tells officials where you are from and information on how to contact your family if something did happen to you when abroad. Leaving and arriving at the airport, especially in China, will require you to show your passport to several police officers, security personnel, airport security, and sometimes the staff on the plane.

The process for applying for your passport in the United States can take some time. My passport only took six weeks to be processed, but I got my passport seven months in advance before I left the country. Some countries require applicants to have their passport processed six months in advance before arriving in the country. Do your research to make sure you are meeting the criteria to enter the country you wish to travel to. Though, China doesn’t have a rule like this.

You can apply for your passport at your local post office. Everything is taken care of there including your photo. The passport will cost around $150 (USD).

2: Plane Ticket

The next step is to purchase your plane tickets. I went through Travelocity and bought my tickets on a Tuesday when the prices seemed to be lower. Travelocity offered complimentary taxi service and a bundle package including the hotel stay for the duration of my trip. This is an option for you if you wish to save some money, but there are limitations on which hotels you can stay at and what taxi services you can use. These bundle packages are when companies collaborate with each other to get you to use their services. There may be cheaper options available.

Make sure you save your confirmation number and email you get from whatever service you use to purchase your plane ticket. You’ll need this for the next step.

3: Visa

This step is going to be the one that takes the longest and maybe the hardest. You need to apply for a Chinese Visa before entering China. This may seem easy, but there are over 10 types of visas you can apply for.

To help me determine what type of visa I needed for staying in China for over a month, I utilized a company called Travisa. The closest location to me was the office in Chicago. After several phone calls and filling out three separate visa applications, I finally sent in a Non-Business Visa Application.

In return, I was awarded an L Tourist Visa that allows me to stay in the country for 60 days at a time, then I would leave for 30 days and then would be allowed to return for another 60 days.

There are four sections to the Chinese Visa Application through Travisa:

(1)   Document Preparation Service paperwork
(2)   Visa Application Form
(3)   Embassy Registration Form
(4)   Visa Order Application

You will be required to send these pieces of information with your visa application:

(1)   Letter of Invitation (only if you are not coming as a tourist)
(2)   Passport / Personal Data and Emergency Contact Page
(3)   Verification of Airline and Ticket Confirmation
(4)   Hotel Information
(5)   Photo of Yourself (very strict requirements)
(6)   Proof of Residency
(7)   Proof that You Can Afford the Trip (not always required)

My visa cost me nearly $500 because I signed up for several extra services to make sure I was protected while in China. Read all the fine print when filling out the visa application, otherwise, you may find yourself with an unexpected bill.

4: Travel & Medical Insurance

I would suggest getting travel and medical insurance before arriving in China. Though medical services are significantly less in China, it is always a good idea to be prepared for the worst. Travel insurance is also a must. I was lucky because I had travel insurance as my luggage on the way home exploded and all my things came out before my suitcase at the O’Hare airport in Chicago and I got a brand-new suitcase without being charged.

I went through the World Nomads because the service offered unbeatable prices and bundled travel and medical insurance together. I couldn’t find any other service that offered everything World Nomads did for the price.

5: Embassy

Though this step is optional, I suggest registering at the embassy in your country or when filling out your visa application, paying for the additional service of having the embassy know where you are when you are in China.

The Traveling Process

The traveling process is separated into five sections including (1) duration of travel, (2) dealing with layovers, (3) the food, (4) your safety, and (5) how to pass your time. Planning the traveling process may help you deal with some of the uncomfortable parts of travel.

1: Travel Time

If you are coming from the continental United States, the travel time getting to China may take 12 to over 24 hours depending on if you have a straight shot to your destination or several layovers. It took me over 24 hours to get to China from Chicago and just over 16 hours to return.

I suggest you plan how you will spend this time. Are you going to be flying first-class? Business? Economy? Depending on your budget, your traveling experience may be comfortable or the most irritating process.

I was in economy class or what I like to call “cattle class”. I’m a small person and those seats were a tight fit. Plan for occurrence and difficulties like this so you can try to make this part of traveling less of a hassle.

2: Layovers

Layover in Seattle, Washington
If you so happen to be like me who had a layover, you’ll know the meaning of bored. I had an 8 ½ hour layover in the Seattle/Tacoma International Airport. Not only had I been awake since 3:30 AM, but I now had to keep myself occupied for 8 ½ hours. Two hours was committed to finding the next terminal. After this, I was left to my own devices.

I suggest that you bring something along that can keep you occupied. I had a book, my computer, several card games, and a friend to help pass the time. My friend and I also took the time to see what the Seattle/Tacoma International Airport had to offer. Research what is around the area you have a layover in and see if it would be worth your time to spend some extra money on traveling around the area.

3: Food

What are you going to eat when you are traveling? Will you eat at the airport? Will you depend on the airline's meals? Prepare yourself for some of the best and worst food when on an airplane. Most of the meals and snacks I had was amazing, but the few that weren’t had me visiting the bathroom more than I appreciated. Bring along stomach acid reducer medication in case your stomach gets upset and bring some of your own snacks (if allowed).

4: Safety

Getting through airport security… it’s something I’ve learned to love because it protects me and hate because of the rules, restrictions, and process. Look up what is allowed in your carry-on luggage and checked luggage before you pack. Many airlines allow a personal carry-on besides the one that goes in the overhead compartment in the plane. Fill essentials like medication and a few sets of clothes in the carry-on just in case your checked luggage gets lost or delayed.

5: Passing the Time on the Plane

You now have 12 hours before you land in mainland China. What are you going to do? Are you going to try to sleep? Watch TV? Maybe read a book? Before you make this decision, understand that the different classes of seats may need to be researched if you wish to do certain activities like sleeping and having room to stretch. Sleeping in economy class or cattle class may be nearly impossible.

Arriving at Your Destination

You’ve made it to your destination! Congratulations! You’ve survived the plane ride, airport security, the layovers, and the food. Now, you have two main things to be aware of including (1) the time change and (2) how you will communicate.

1: The Time Change

This will be hard. I’m not going to lie by saying I didn’t struggle with the 13-hour time difference. Even with being a night owl, I found switching my day and night excessively hard. To help with this, start preparing yourself by staying up later at night and waking up later in the morning. You’ll deal with the time change significantly better if you start training your body for the change gradually.

2: Communication

You are now planning on how you will communicate in China. Chinese is the national language, but the south has many civilians who speak Cantonese. Research the location you are visiting to see what the most common language is. Hong Kong and Shanghai have many people who speak English and you may not need to have a translator if you travel to these places.

Take Home Notes

These are 12 helpful tips for planning your trip to China. The three processes, (1) the initial or beginning process, (2) the traveling process, and (3) arriving at your destination process are useful for you so you can enjoy the “before the real trip” happens.

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