SC 拷贝
Illustration by: Wang Siqi

Checking In: A Language Guide to Social Media Travel Posting

​Learn how to “check-in” at China’s viral tourist destinations and post about travel online

Travel may once have been about exploring the world, understanding new cultures, and discovering oneself. But a glance at Chinese social media suggests the main point of hitting the road is to “check in (打卡 dǎkǎ).”

The term originally referred to office workers punching in and out of work, and “check-in” tourism works in much the same way. One must visit and post online as proof. Tourists head to specific tourist hotspots, take beautiful generic photographs, and post them on social media with formulaic captions.

In 2023, feeds on Xiaohongshu and WeChat “Moments” were full of posts of people enjoying barbecue food in Zibo, Shandong province, after the previously unheralded city went viral. This year, daka-obsessed travelers flooded to Tianshui, Gansu province, to try local “malatang (麻辣烫)” eateries that blew up online thanks to short videos on Douyin (China’s version of TikTok). Nearly 1 million tourists visited the city in just three days in April, almost doubling the city’s metropolitan population.

But maximizing “likes” on a checking-in post is a skill. Attractive travel photos of trendy destinations are mandatory, but descriptive captions that flaunt the experience help. First comes the standard check-in line:

I successfully checked in at the Universal Beijing Resort!

Běijīng Huánqiú Yǐngchéng dǎkǎ chénggōng!


Next, the poster must choose their voice. Perhaps they want to double down on the virality of their spot by focusing on another favorite daka phrase: “I miss you so much here (我在这里很想你 Wǒ zài zhèlǐ hěn xiǎng nǐ), similar to “Wish you were here” in English. The phrase has become ubiquitous at tourist destinations since a netizen’s post of a road sign in Chongqing with the slogan went viral in 2022. Netizens now write the phrase into their posts with their destination:

I miss you so much in Xiamen.

Wǒ zài Xiàmén hěn xiǎng nǐ.


Or they get more sophisticated and use:

The wind of missing you finally blows to Xiamen.

Xiǎng nǐ de fēng hái shì chuīdàole Xiàmén.


However, experienced “check-in” tourists know these phrases are already cliché. They take the literary path by repeating poignant quotes from books or movies, alongside photos of themselves looking pensively out to sea or toward a sunset. This line from the classic movie Roman Holiday (1953) frequently appears:

You can either travel or read, but either your body or soul must be on the way.

Yàome dúshū, yàome lǚxíng, shēntǐ hé línghún zǒngyǒu yí gè yào zài lù shang.


Successfully checking in also requires looking the part and knowing the hottest local customs. For example, Xi’an, Shaanxi province, was China’s capital during more than 10 imperial dynasties. Standard posts for a Xi’an trip, therefore, will include references to ancient culture and photos of cosplayers dressed in hanfu (traditional clothing of China’s Han ethnic group), along with grand text, such as:

Strolling through the streets of Xi’an, it’s as if you’ve traveled through time, returning to that era of unparalleled elegance.

Mànbù zài Xī’ān de jiētóu, fǎngfú chuānyuèle shíkōng, huídàole nàge fēnghuá juédài de shídài.


Others rely on references to literature and poetry to evoke emotions:

This is not Jinan, this is what Lao She called the “City of Springs!”

Zhè bú shì Jǐnán, zhè shì Lǎo Shě bǐxià de quánchéng!


A craze for ultra-intense “special-forces-style travel (特种兵式旅游 tèzhǒngbīngshì lǚyóu)” that emerged in 2023 has taken checking in to the next level. Young tourists spend as little time and money visiting tourist spots as possible, getting in and out like in a military operation.

In the spring of last year, a man from Chengdu visited China’s “Five Great Mountains” in just five days, covering thousands of kilometers across the country and posting photos at each summit. Netizens were impressed: The hashtag “young man who climbed the Five Major Mountains in five days displays his check-in schedule” quickly gained millions of views on the microblogging platform Weibo.

A post emphasizing the challenges and rapidity of one’s tourism is bound to attract attention. For example:

I’ve eaten 16 meals in 24 hours across Zibo.

Èrshísì xiǎoshí shíliù dùn fàn chībiàn Zībó.


However, focusing on speed risks compromising the quality of photographs. Sometimes it’s best to seek out the most “photogenic (出片 chūpiān)” locations to fill social media feeds with. Harbin, Heilongjiang province, for example, went viral last winter in part because of its stunning ice sculptures:

I’ve checked in to Harbin. Who says a crowded place can’t be photogenic?

Hā’ěrbīn dǎkǎ, shéi shuō rén duō bù chūpiān?


Or, put another way:

In Harbin, you can take great photos even with your eyes closed.

Hā'ěrbīn zhēn shì yí gè bìyǎn pāi dōu chūpiān de dìfāng.


However, the explosion of viral spots and the craze for checking in doesn’t always make for a pleasant travel experience. During this year’s Lunar New Year holiday, over 9.5 million tourists flocked to the tropical Hainan province, leaving many stranded without flights when everyone tried to go home at the same time. Airfares soared to 10 times their original prices.

But complaining can make for good social media posts too:

You came to Sanya to see the sea. I came to Sanya and saw a sea of people.

Nǐ dào Sānyà lái kàn hǎi, wǒ dào Sānyà lái kàn rénshān rénhǎi.


Find more audio versions of our content here.

author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

Related Articles