If you know how to save money in China, you can travel for cheap. I mean....really cheap.
So what will it cost to travel in China? We have identified six categories (Airfare, accommodation, food, public transportation, attractions, and domestic train / plane tickets) and will suggest our best tips to keep your travel costs down. t. If you know how to save money in China, you can travel for cheap. I mean....really cheap.
Airfare - Book your airfare to China in the low season
So you would like to know what is a very cheap price for a round trip ticket to Beijing or Shanghai? If you can book a ticket for under $1000 round trip in the low season, its very cheap. In the peak season, a cheap fare is around $1500 and up.
According to our sources at FlyChina.com, the cheapest departure dates are in January, February, March, April, and November. You can also set low price alerts to scout out good deals.
Generally, I have found Fly China to have the cheapest air tickets to China.
Hotels, hostels, and accommodations - Stick to hostels
China has a GREAT network of hostels. By sticking to hostels, you will save loads of money. I have always had great experiences staying in hostel dormitory beds. Dormitory beds are rooms, which have been divided up to host multiple travelers or groups at a fraction of the cost. There is no better way to make friends, find travel companions, and learn about other exciting attractions and experiences from fellow travelers.
The best part is the cost. For example, Qianmen hostel (My preferred hostel in Beijing) is located right in the middle of Beijing. Dorm beds on hostel world for tonight (4/24/2013) are running just over 70 Yuan a night. A budget hotel room in the same vicinity is running between 400 – 500 Yuan per night.
Outside the major cities, hostels and hotels become much cheaper. If you plan to stick to hostels during your stay in China, you can expect to spend around 50 – 60 RMB per night (per person) on average.
There are several websites over the years, which have served me well when booking hostels in China. They are:
- YHA China - - If a hostel is an YHA (Youth Hostel International) approved hostel, you simply can’t go wrong. YHA hostels are held to certain standards by the YHA organization. To this day I have never seen a bad one.
- Hostel Bookers - Hostel bookers is one of the two major hostel booking websites on the internet. I personally prefer them to Hostelworld because they are slightly cheaper.
- Hostel World
Food; Eat local
Food in China is stuuuupendous! If you’re into food you’re going to absolutely go wild here. The vast majority of restaurants in China are still family owned and operated, so the trick to saving money on food is just to stick to small places and to avoid shopping malls, foreign chains, and fancy restaurants.
No matter what city you’re in, a decent meal can be had for around 10 yuan.
If you visit China as a part of an organized tour, food is going to be a large part of the experience. It’s important that if you plan to travel on your own, to do your research beforehand so that you don’t miss out! For example, you need to eat roasted duck in Beijing. Ask your hostel where an inexpensive place to eat Beijing duck is and they can guide you.
If you get tired of eating cheap Chinese food, a great option is to use the kitchen in your hostel to cook your own food. Many hostels in China have community kitchens and kitchen utensils.
In larger cities, foreign food chains (such as McDonalds, KFC, and Burger King) are also available. The price in my experience has been about the same as the USA (way more expensive than local food)
Public Transportation; use it
Every city in China has great public transportation (Subway, Public bus, etc.). Using the public transportation is a great alternative to paying for taxicabs. I have always been able to use Google Maps on my phone to find public bus directions. Generally subways in China are very inexpensive (2 Yuan per ride in Beijing for example). Public buses are even cheaper.
Taxi cabs are more expensive, but in certain situations can save you a lot of time. A taxi from the North of Beijing to the South Railway station will take you about 35 to 40 minutes and will run you around 70 Yuan. The same trip by subway will take you around an hour; but will only cost you 2 Yuan.
Public transportation is cheap - Expect to spend under 20 Yuan per day.
Attractions - Bring Your Student ID
Unfortunately, attractions have been the most expensive part of my travels in China. The trick here is to bring a student ID. It doesn’t matter if its from when you graduated college ten years ago. It will save you half the price on your admission tickets to some major historic attractions.
Admission tickets range from 80 to 300 Yuan per ticket depending on the attraction, but usually offer large discounts for student ID holders.
Train tickets and domestic plane tickets: Do research
China has a massive network of trains that can literally take you from one side of the country to the other. I have found that using hostels to procure your train tickets, has been a wise decision. Hostels can usually add a 10 Yuan fee to send someone to the train station to pick up your ticket.
Another consideration is to book sleeper cars for overnight train tickets. This way, you can avoid paying for a hotel for the nights you spend sleeping on the train. Surprisingly I sleep really well in “soft sleeper” trains. “Hard sleeper” trains are much less inexpensive, but are comparable to sleeping in a bar. Puffs of cigarette smoke, obnoxious drunks, screaming children, total pandemonium etc.
If traveling a large distance, you should always check to see if plane fares are cheaper than rail tickets. I have used several websites to book my domestic plane tickets:
- Elong – http://www.elong.com- the premier travel booking website in China
- Ctrip – http://www.ctrip.com - A lesser known, but equally Elong alternative
So what will it cost per day to travel in China?
The average cost to independently travel in China can vary largely depending on several factors. How long you choose to spend in large cities can increase your daily average greatly.
The following budget is adequate for a mid-range budget traveler (Will offer plenty of wiggle room)
- Hostels – 60 Yuan per night
- Food – 30 Yuan per day
- Public transportation – 10 Yuan per day
- Attractions – 40 Yuan per day (assuming major attractions only come along every several days)
- Train tickets / plane tickets – 40 Yuan per day
If you budget around 150 – 200 Yuan per day, you will have more than enough to cover all of your expenses while traveling in China.
Lets get some discussion going. Where do you plan on traveling to on your China trip? This can influence your daily cost greatly.