The ability to use smartphone apps has made solo travel in China more convenient. You can find an app for almost anything, and thankfully apps have been created to make the most difficult parts of your travels easier. Through experience, we compiled a list of apps, which we feel are absolutely essential to any English speaking traveler in China.
Before you leave for China, you may want to consider obtaining an unlocked phone. If you currently use an iPhone with a carrier here in the USA, simply call the carrier and request an unlock for international travel. If your account is in good standing, they will take care of the unlock on their end, and you will need reformat your phone and load new software onto your phone from iTunes. Be careful to back up all information before you update the software, so that you may restore your phones contacts and apps afterwards.
Unlocked phones can be purchased online, through craigslist, or Ebay. I recommend purchasing an inexpensive used phone for your trip.
Obtaining 3G Service In China
Sim cards can be purchased from both China Unicom and China mobile to for phone service with wireless 3G Internet. Generally, these phone plans will require you to have a passport and are paid at the end of each month. Make sure you pay your phone bill before your departure if you plan on returning to China. Having a 3G connection while traveling allows you to have access to several apps which require Internet connection and certainly make your life easier.
The Best Apps for Traveling In China
- Maps - (Iphone and Android) – Although you wont be able to use the GPS function of your phone, simply having access to map features (and the ability to pin yourself on a map) is incredibly useful. Map programs come native to both Android and iOS systems, and function very well. Many times you can easily look up phone numbers, street address, and other useful information.
- Dian Hua Dictionary – (iOS) Available for free from iTunes – Dian Hua dictionary is useful for when you need to look up specific words. For example, if you walk into a convenience store and need to purchase a specialty item you can just look it up in Dian Hua dictionary and show the clerk. For studying and learning Chinese, Dian Hua is essential.
- Google Translate – (iOS and Android) - Simply the best translator available for your smartphone. Google translate can handle whole sentences, and while it struggles to translate them 100% correctly, people can usually grasp what your trying to communicate.
- Skype for iPhone / Android – Skype is possibly one of the most useful aps ever created for budget travel. With any internet connection (incuding wifi), you gain the ability to place international and domestic phone calls. Simply load credit onto your skype account, select your country, and your good to go.
- China Menu – (iOS) – A very useful app for learning how and what to order in Chinese restaurants. Ordering food in China can be intimidating and difficult at times. This menu simplifies food for English speakers and makes it easy to understand what you might like trying. Its not free, but at just a couple dollars, its well worth it in advance of your China backpacking trip.
If you look at the app store or at the Google Play store, you will find a ton of apps for sale that target traveling in China. To this day, I still have not found any other apps that I feel are worth paying for besides the above mentioned.
The taxi guides that are available can be useful, but the same information is available online if you have internet access (Or can be arranged on paper from the front desk at your hostel).
Prepare your phone with the apps above and you will be ready for your trip. Do you normally travel with a smartphone?