5 'Must Haves' to Travel China After Summer Camp
There’s something incredible about working at a summer camp in China.
It was somewhere I never imagined I would be fortunate enough to visit (let alone spend a quarter of year in). China was full of adventure, surprise, excitement….and a little bit of getting lost.
This, of course, is all part and parcel of what makes a great and memorable trip. But, while getting lost can be fun – and lead to all sorts of new discoveries – it helps to have a few failsafe tricks up your sleeve. Especially for when things go slightly pear-shaped, and a little too off the beaten track.
The language barrier is, inevitably, huge in a location like China. You’ll want to combine your map apps with a fistful of language tools, to help ease the panic of having to ask for help when you’re lost.
So take notes (both paper notes and phone reminders and maybe even email yourself if you’re a worry type) of the below ideas – even if only for your peace of mind pre-travel departure.
1. Navigation apps
As obvious as it sounds, the best way to begin feeling confident with traveling China, is to invest in some map applications.
But be mindful that the usual sites you use at home might not work in China. Even if they do, they might be temperamental due to the reliance on VPNs.
Remember, for example, that Google is banned in China – so it can be difficult to access the search engine and its related apps without a good VPN connection. So where possible, as with Google Translate, try to download offline versions of certain areas that you’re planning to visit. Then you’re less likely to be caught out without connectivity.
Alternatively, apps like Baidu maps – the kind used by the locals – will lead the way, even with a dodgy connection.
For China and beyond, go for Maps.me. It includes user recommendations like nifty shortcuts, the best haunt to grab an authentic bite to eat, and even handy spots for a toilet break.
2. Translation apps
Your phone can be a life-saver in sticky situations when you travel China.
Make sure to also download the content for offline usage, to save your precious phone battery and data. This is especially important in those middle-of-nowhere situations, when there’s no WiFi in sight.
Also spend some time before you travel familiarising yourself with the apps. It's helpful to understand their functionality so you can feel calmer in any unfortunate situations. You can build up a bank of useful phrases so you can quickly refer to them on your apps, even if you haven’t quite managed to memorise anything off by heart yet.
The golden part of these wonderful apps though, is their speech to text functionality. While not always perfect, you’ll definitely be able to string together a conversation with a local. Simply speak into your phone and allow your phone to do the magic, and then let them speak back so you can read their response in your native tongue.
3. Mobile data
The holy grail of travel survival!
Well, sort of. While mobile data might seem like an absolute essential for just your Instagram and Whatsapp needs, it can also be a bit of a saviour in certain situations.
While you’ll come across plenty of WiFI hot spots in the major cities, the more rural locations will definitely prove more challenging. So get in touch with your phone provider pre-departure to get the low down on data rates while in China and find out if there’s a deal worth investing in.
Be mindful that unplanned, emergency data usage can result in an unwelcome phone bill at the end of your trip. So if you think you might end up needing to use the internet while away from WiFi-zones, it’s definitely worth shopping around for mobile data.
4. A portable charger (or two!)
Portable chargers should be a key component of your travel survival kit.
With long, adventurous days ahead, you’ll be needing all the power you can get. As long as you remember to charge your charger, these handy pieces of tech could save you a whole lot of stress. But here’s an insider tip; be sure to buy one with a serial number on! I found out the hard way about this, after having a non-serial-numbered portable charger confiscated from me when passing through airport security. If this does happen, you could always buy one while you travel in China, just to be safe. Of course, remember the relevant plugs and leads that go along with chargers.
Wow, life without phones must have been an easier time, right?!
5. A good, old-fashioned phrase book
This one comes from real experience of getting horribly lost and ending up with a completely drained phone battery.
Luckily, a broken conversation with the support of my trusty phrase book and a friendly local meant I was able to make my way back to summer camp without too much trauma!
Remember you can’t always rely on technology to save the day. As mentioned in the points above, you may well face issues with data or battery life on your device. But keeping a pocket phrase book handy can be really helpful both for on the go learning, and for stringing together phrases with the locals. If you’re not feeling up to a conversational challenge, you can always politely point to certain words or phrases to help you out of sticky situations.
You'll be going to an incredible country with loads to see and with the right preparation, you'll see it on purpose, not by accident!