The first time I told my American friend that I wanted to stay at a hostel in Shanghai instead of a hotel, she asked me if that was a type of motel where all of the cheap prostitutes go. As I sat there in disbelief at this question, I realized that many people who haven’t stayed at hostels during their travels haven’t done so because of all of the exaggerated rumors they have heard.
“I heard there’s no hot water there. ”
“Don’t you have to share a room with random strangers, including those of the opposite sex?”
“I don’t want to get bed bugs.”
I have personally stayed in a number of hostels myself throughout china, and I have never gotten bit by any bed bugs nor have I ever ran out of hot water. While most hostels have dorm styles, many of them also offer private rooms with twin and double beds. They are great places to meet other foreigners traveling across the world. Many offer pool tables, bars, coffee bars, and just overall great environments. They may not be your 5 star hotel, but for $10 a night? I am more than happy with a safe, clean, friendly environment with free Wi-Fi, hot water, heat, and great people.
Obviously, some hostels are better than others. While I’ve been lucky enough to stay at decent hostels through my travels, that’s not to say there aren’t your share of sketchy, no-good ones out there either. So how do you find the best hostels?
First thing you want to do of course is research in advance. Even if you are backpacking across and can’t book it beforehand, it is still a good idea to at least write down a few recommended ones in the cities you’ll be visiting. Most youth hostels can be booked in advance online in a couple of minutes. You can either pay the total online, or pay a small percentage and then pay the rest in person when you arrive.
When searching for your hostel, keep these points in mind:
How will I get there from the airport or train station? The last thing you want to do after an exhausting travel day is have no idea how to get to the hostel, especially when you have luggage that you will want to drop off.
Does the hostel include free Wi-Fi? Some try to charge you for it. Don’t fall for these.
Location Location Location. Make sure its close to either a subway line or a bus station. This will make your life that much easier. Even if you only plan on taking taxis, the taxi driver will more than likely always know where you need to go if you say you are staying near a specific subway station.
Read comments and reviews. There will always be negative reviews no matter where you stay. Don’t take these comments too seriously, but it will at least give you a better idea of things to keep in mind.
Use well trusted sites to look for these hostels. www.yhachina.com is usually a good one to start with.
Lastly, make sure to keep an open mind! The beds may not be as soft as the ones back home, the pillows maybe not as fluffy, but remember how much money you’re saving for those nights!
4. WHAT TO BRING
Bring only the essentials. You want room to bring back more souvenirs anyway. Essentials include:
Passport/Visa, cash, credit card. Bring extra copies of your passport.
Towels, Flip Flops, toiletries. Never shower without flip flops in the bathroom! Not all places offer towels either.
Toilet Paper! We all know in china how scarce this is in public places.
If you opted for the train, bring some snacks with you. The food and snacks on the train are very limited and not very good!
5. FINALLY THERE
Be afraid to use public transportation!
Expect to be understood. Depending on where you go, the type of dialect they speak may be completely different. The few lessons of Mandarin that you learned in your own city may not be very helpful here. Even native speakers have trouble understanding the different dialects of the different cities throughout china so don’t feel discouraged.
Be afraid to try the unique things the city has to offer!
Try as many different foods as you can.
Research beforehand some major tourist attractions you want to hit, or at least what the city is most famous for.
Take a ton of pictures or even keep a journal.
Read this story about getting around big cities in china.
Click here if you want some confessions of a Chinese backpacker, or here for backpacking’s crazy history!
Photo courtesy of Amanda Esque
Missed part 1? Check out how to determine where to stay and how to buy cheap tickets online here.