Backpacking through China is something you can’t truly prepare for.  You hear its crowded and its polluted but you never truly understand until you do it yourself.  

I went in the summer which was the high season.  If I had three words to describe my time in China, it would be humid, polluted, and crowded AF.  All I kept thinking was ‘know wonder the visa process to enter the country was so difficult, there’s already way too many people here to begin with.  

China is one of those countries that a little forethought and preperation goes a long way.  You’ll want to know these things before you visit China and here’s what I learned after backpacking China.

27 Things I'm Jess Traveling learned backpacking China

For full transparency, I have sprinkled some affiliate links in this post which gives me a small commission at no extra cost to you if you decided to make a purchase. As always, I would never recommend a product or service that I didn't truely believe in. If you find this post useful, you can also treat Jess to a cup coffee by clicking the icon on the bottom of the page. This will allow me to continue to create more content for you to enjoy ☕️. 

Things I Learned Backpacking CHina

China travel guides with I'm Jess Traveling

1. Spitting

You will see people spitting on the ground to clear there nose, just as we would blow into a tissue to clear ours, the Chinese hawk it up and spit on the ground.

2. Honking

Everyone honks their horn while driving for any reason…to let someone know they’re beside them, to say ‘hey I’m coming over so you better watch out’, or my personal favorite for no apparent reason at a red light and the horn is held down for one long blare until the light turns green.

3. Peeing in Public

This is something I read about when I was preparing for my trip but didn’t believe it until on my second day I witnessed my first account.  Getting off of the subway as soon as I hit street level, I saw a man pissing right there on the sidewalk…not in the bushes, not in a trashcan, right there on the sidewalk.

4. Get Used to Squatting 

Squat toilets are still a thing, find your balance and prefect your aim.

How to prepare to travel China


Bring your own toilet paper because you won’t find any in the bathrooms and that’s a predicament you don’t want to find yourself in. Have you ever tried to eat noodle soup with chopsticks?  The same goes for napkins.

Jess and Joe at the Forbidden City in China

6. Always have your Passport on your Person

Police can stop you at anytime and ask to see identification (I personally never had this happen to me) and you don’t want to be stopped without it. Also, if you are booking a hotel or a train, you will need your passport to complete the booking and to be able to enter some sights, like the Forbidden City.

YOU MAY ENJOY: The Top Sights of Beijing

7. Subways

Although very crowded, subways are clean, efficient, and easy to navigate! A++ They also close at 10:30, I learned this one the hard way!

Backpacking through China Beijing travel gudie

8. Stairs

Always wanted a tight butt?  Well come to China because you will be doing a lot of stairs all of the time.

9. Escalators

Maybe its because there are so many stairs but everyone seems to opt for the escalators and avoid the stairs if possible.  So if you’re willing to put in the leg work then you’ll always be a step up!

Im Jess Traveling through China

10. Sim Card

Do yourself a favor and purchase a Chinese SIM card when you land. It doesn’t cost very much and you will be connected to the internet at all times.  This is very useful when lets say you get lost and need to access google maps.  You must have a VPN to do this.

11. VPN

It is known as the Great Fire Wall of China, where you are not able to access a lot of sites including, GoogleMaps, GoogleTranslate… anything Google, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, well you get the picture.  Purchase a VPN (Virtual Private Network) before you arrive in China that will redirect where you are getting your internet to a different country without a firewall so you will be able to access these sights.

I used VyprVPNthe whole time I was there and didn’t have a problem and it worked really well.  Sign up here and receive 25% off any annual plan purchased.

Old street in Shanghai China

12. Haggle

I always feel so uncomfortable doing this. But if you don’t haggle you will get ripped off, so put on your bargaining pants and giddy up.

13. Visas

Most countries need to obtain a visa before they travel China.

The bund skyline in Shanghai China

14. Crowds

China has population of 1.379 billion people, now thats a lot of people!  You can image how crowded it can be.  I went backpacking through China in the high season (whoops).  It was crowded everywhere at anytime, day or night.  

You can’t fathom how crowded it is until you experience it yourself.  Think of how many people across the world want to hike the Great Wall of China or play with the pandas, well everybody inside China wants to do the same, its mayhem!

15. Pedestrians Don’t have the right away

If you’re used to walking on a crosswalk when the little green man is on and assuming you have the right away…well your assumptions are incorrect.

16. Look Both Ways when Crossing the Street

I know this may sound like a no brainer but if you’re crossing a one way street and you only look to the left because thats the way the traffic would be coming from, thats not always the case.  

Driving in China looks like chaos and I’ve seen people driving up the wrong way on daily basis.  Always be observant and aware because they will run you over (half joking)!

Hiking on the Great Wall of China

17. Direction of Walking

For example in the subway when you are walking down the right side of the stairs, following the down arrows or walking up the stairs, following the up arrows.  That doesn’t apply here people walk anyway they like, making something simple very chaotic and challenging.

18. The Abundance of Electric Cars & Mopeds

I was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of electric vehicles on the road!  Alright China!

Qibao outside of Shanghai China

19. Waiting in Line

The Chinese don’t really wait in lines (unless of course its for a train or plane (see next post).  They sort of huddle and then push there way through.  I call that ‘cutting’ but here its just how you get places.  You must stop being polite and start being assertive.

20. Cueing Up Hours Before you Need to

The only time that I saw the Chinese waiting in lines when I was backpacking through China was when they were waiting to board a train or an airplane.  Even though everyone had assigned seats, they would still cue up hours before the gates even opened just so they could run to be the first ones on the train.  And yes there were still “cutters” (see above).

21. Using your Phone to Pay for Everything

Very similar to ApplePay, the Chinese scans the APP or barcode and voila they have paid, anything from street food to cabs.

Xi'An Travel Guide

22. Street Food

Street food is plentiful, delicious, and cheap. Rule of thumb do as the locals do, if you see locals eating at a street vendor then its probably good and I’d follow suit.

23. Personal Space

Sometimes there will be a lack there of, Shanghai alone has 24.18 million people in it.  I mean what do you expect.

24. Speaking English

We as Americans are spoiled as most places in the world the people speak English so its easy to ask questions and get around. Not here, not in China, no one speaks English and it’ll take some work to navigate around and order food.  But this makes it more fun right?!?!

25. You Become the Tourist attraction

Not many westerns travel to China so you will get stared at a lot and will be asked to have your picture taken. They are staring because they are curious, not because they are judging.  

Although I always smile when I see someone ogling me and most of the time you won’t get a smile back, its okay, you’ll get used to it.  As for the picture taking, you’ll feel like a small time celebrity!

Having fun in Shanghai

26. Legal to Drink on the Street

You will more than likely only see a tourist doing this, but it is legal.  And since we’re on the subject of beer, it is about 3% no matter the size or the brand.

27. Pollution

It’s there, you feel it, you see it.

Backpacking through China is all about experiencing new cultures and seeing how others live differently throughout the world. China is definitely a culture shock but one filled with rich history, diverse landscapes, and some wonders of the world.  If you’re looking for an adventure, you’ll find it in China.

27 Things I Learned Backpacking through China