Planning your trip to China
1. Decide Where to Go in China
China is an enormous country with diverse options for travel. You can be as adventurous or "safe" as you want - in other words you can get pretty far off the Western Tourist Travel Trail or you can stay right on it. There may be certain things you absolutely feel you must see, or other places you didn't even know were in China.
2. Tour or Self-Guided? How do you want to see China?
It's a big decision to go to China. You may find it's an even bigger one to decide how you will travel. You may feel very comfortable traveling on your own or you may decide you want your hand held for the entire trip. Or you may want a bit of both. There are plenty of great tour operators out there so think about 1) your budget, 2) what you want to do on your trip (all historic sights vs culinary travel vs adventure travel) and find a tour operator that fits your requirements.
3. Decide When to Go to China
Going to a large country like China can take you to a number of different seasons or temperatures or altitudes depending on your trip. Research the weather, there are definitely better times and worse times to visit China in terms of temperature and national holidays (when there's a lot of domestic travel).
4. Get Your Travel Documents Ready
Before you even book your tickets, you'll want to make sure you've got your passport and visa all in order. You'll need a passport that is valid for at least six months at the time you apply for your visa and you'll need it to have a few empty pages. The Chinese visa takes up an entire page. Obtaining the visa through the Chinese Embassy or Consulate in your area can take up to two weeks so you don't want to leave this until the last minute.
5. Book Your Flights and Accomodation
If you're flexible, check into fare sales on airlines traveling to and from China. Otherwise, in my experience there's no hard and fast rule on the cheapest time to travel to China. If you're not going through a tour operator that is booking everything for you, consider booking the first few nights of accommodation before you go so that you're sure of sleeping in a comfortable bed in those first jet-lagged days.
6. Review Your Medical Checklist
There are no required vaccinations for China but depending on what you'll be doing and where you'll be going, there are some that are recommended. Make sure you've got everything medically-related (e.g. prescription and OTC medications) that you need – don't depend on purchasing anything abroad and bring your prescriptions with you.
7. Organize Your Money
Get acquainted with Chinese currency before you go and do a little budgeting. Also, figure out if you'd rather take travelers checks (I don't recommend them), cash (but be careful) or and ATM card for your cash needs. When traveling with an ATM, find out from your bank if they charge an overseas withdrawal fee (yuck! Ask them to waive it for you since you're a good customer) and find out the daily withdrawal limit.
8. Traveling with Children
If you'll be traveling with small children who have specific needs like diapers and formula, do some research before you go and make sure you have everything you absolutely need but haven't over-packed (e.g. you can get diapers in China!). Do some research on what they'd like to do so you have a good mix planned of adult-oriented touring mixed with kid-friendly stops.
9. Start Packing
Packing is my favorite and most stressful part of any trip and I always over-pack. You'll probably be traveling for an extended period and you'll be picking up a lot of treasures along the way. Really consider the best packing solutions for your trip and limit what you take so you're not lugging a lot of unnecessary stuff with you and you have plenty of room to take back your hoard.
10. Read Up on China
I typically read about the country I'm visiting during my trip - so take this as a recommendation for before, during or after your trip. Enjoy my recommendations on books about China to get a feel for the country you're visiting.
Recommended reading list：
1. Carl Crow, a Tough Old China Hand: The Life, Times, and Adventures of an America
2. Chasing the Monk's Shadow
3. Factory Girls
4. Fried Eggs with Chopsticks
5. Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World
6. Mr. China
7. Oracle Bones
8. Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now
9. Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train Through China
10. Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City
11. The Chinese