Solo Female Traveler in China
China is actually a very safe place for solo female travelers. In addition to its very low crime rate in general, there’s far less of a macho, alpha-male attitude here than in some other countries (or cities), and the Chinese tend to give females a relatively high degree of respect. Of course, take the usual precautions and consider carrying a whistle or other noisemaker in the event of a threatening situation. Try to choose accommodations that are centrally located and well-trafficked.
Compared to countries like India which has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons recently, China is awesome for the solo female. Although be prepared to get stared at… Here are a few of our tips to help you prepare:
Expect to be leered at, but don’t expect to be hit on. Flirting isn’t really part of Chinese culture; in fact, most Chinese guys will be intimidated by you!
A lot of Chinese people want to practice their English so don’t be surprised if a stranger wants to talk to you or befriend you. There’s also a certain status in having foreign friends so people are eager to make friends with you for this reason also. Saying this, if someone you don’t know approaches and offers you a taxi ride, invites you to a teahouse, or to see an ‘art exhibition’, just say, “No thanks” - these are almost invariably ruses which will get you lumped with a large bill at the end. (See more in our common scams section).
If you’re planning on embarking on one of China’s many multi-hour train journeys it might be a good idea to get a top bunk as it means you can keep yourself to yourself. If you take a bottom bunk for example, other passengers will inevitably sit down on it as if it were a public bench. Although they’re generally well-intentioned, you might be more comfortable tucked away at the top, without the attention being a foreign female will garner. Unless you want to practice your Chinese for 20 hours straight that is.
Be sure to pick up a business card from the hostel or hotel where you are staying. That way if you need a cab at any point you can just show the driver the card with the address in Chinese on. It’s important because drivers don’t speak or read any English whatsoever!
As a solo female traveler in China you should be aware there is a strong social drinking culture here and you may find people toasting with you repeatedly, and encouraging you to down small glasses of beer. It’s generally not with a view to take advantage of you; it’s just how they drink. If you’re uncomfortable at any point just leave your glass full and signal you’ve had enough. You should never feel forced to drink more than you’re comfortable with.
Bring comfy shoes. It’s a no brainer as there’s going to be a lot of walking involved, but if you’re a lady with larger-than-average sized feet (say 39 or above), it might be worth bringing an extra pair of shoes in your luggage as it can sometimes be difficult finding the larger sizes in China.
As a single traveler the best way to meet other travelers is at hostels. There are always communal areas there where you can find like-minded travelers and have a chat and a drink, or find an excursion buddy to split the cost of transport with.
If you’re going off the tourist track and there aren’t any hostels, you might want to budget for a slightly nicer hotel, as the cheapest ones can be a little seedy and unsettling. For peace of mind it’s worth springing the extra twenty bucks or so.
If a Chinese guy or girl asks you for your phone number or app messaging username (WeChat is the big one at the moment) don’t be offended or assume they’re hitting on you. It doesn’t have the same connotation as it does elsewhere - Chinese people enjoy exchanging numbers with everybody.
Carry personal details and contact info on a small card. Include a contact number for someone back home and in China too if there is anyone. It’s unlikely you’ll ever need it, but it doesn’t take up any room and could be invaluable if there’s no Internet or your phone is lost/stolen/broken.
In terms of dress you can pretty much wear whatever you want. You’ll get a lot of attention as a foreign female anyway, so it’s up to you how much attention you can handle. Be prepared to be gawped at. There’s no underlying threat to the stares, as there is in other countries, but it can be very annoying nonetheless, so you might prefer to tone down your wardrobe to be more discreet. Chinese girls’ legs and arms are commonly exposed although you won’t see many bared midriffs.
Prepare for an invasion of body space. Chinese people typically don’t hug each other but they also don’t have any problem having full body contact on the subway. If you think there’s unnecessary contact from someone on a crowded subway, move away. If they follow or persist, then feel free to let them know how you feel, they’ll be shamed into stopping.
Bring tampons, deodorant, make up, moisturizer. Stores in China have got much better in recent years for stocking these kinds of things, at least in the big cities anyway, but it’s better to be safe. There’s also the issue of what your skin and body is used to - there are imitation brands and questionable ingredients used here which may cause irritation, so it might be best sticking with what you know works. Branded make up is even more expensive over here than it is back home so bring whatever essentials you need with you. If you’re happy with cheaper stuff there’s tons available here.
It’s a good idea to bring your own sunscreen (and moisturizers for that matter) as the ones available in China often contain skin whitening agents.
Wet wipes always come in handy. A small bottle of hand sanitizer is useful, and you probably know by now to always carry some tissues on you.
Bring books or magazines. English language material can be a tradeable commodity with other travelers in more off-the-beaten path places. Personally, I’d recommend an ebook reader such as a Kindle as it saves you lugging books around with you, but if you’re old school and like the tangibility of books, bring a few. In the bigger cities you can find plenty of options if you know where to look, but when you venture away, you’ll likely find your standards of what you’re willing to read plummet due to what’s available.
Be prepared for squat toilets. Some don’t have dividing partitions between them either so it’s a social squat. You could practice squatting before you come to China if your leg muscles are out of shape. If the odor of the toilets gets overpowering when you’re here then something mentholated like tiger balm can help. You may want to roll your trouser legs up before you go in to prevent them from getting dirty.
Police tend to treat crimes against foreigners more seriously than locals. This acts as a deterrent for any would-be offenders, thus giving you a greater sense of security: serious sexual offences against foreigners are extremely rare.
Although China is relatively safe you still need to use your common sense. Avoid unlit areas at night, be discreet with expensive objects, cash, and jewelry, and be wary of your belongings in crowded areas, particularly bus and train stations, as pickpockets can be a problem.