Essential applications for family travel in China

Whilst travelling generally requires you to be organised, China is a whole new ball game.  It definitely pays to be thorough with your research before you travel but in all honesty, much of the information can only be found when in China. 

But travelling independently around China can be challenging, but not difficult.  There are a number of essential applications which can be downloaded before you arrive in China.  

These are the applications we have found to be most useful:

  1. VPN Access – we had a couple of criteria: firstly, the ability to login on several electronical items as we have phones as well as tablets.  secondly, we are also on a strict budget so cost was a factor. We decided on Express VPN which cost £ to download and allowed for 3 separate logins.
  2. Google Translate – this an absolute must for communicating and being able to read Chinese symbols.  Make sure you download the Chinese language before you travel. Simple Chinese is used throughout most of China, whereas Hong Kong use Traditional language.  You should also be aware that China has different regions and dialects, same as Europe has different countries and languages. This can sometimes be the reason you are getting confused looks.  But we always got there in the end.
  3. Metroman – most of the tourist destinations we visited were huge cities, even the places that I thought were small towns!  So subways are the easiest and cheapest way to get around. For planning days out we found metroman to be extremely useful for getting around and provided useful timings on travel, as well as several travel options.
  4. OsmAnd (open street map) – its the only offline map we could find so essential if you don’t have Wifi.   This map on the otherhand has been very useful and very accurate. It provides good detail and most of our searches have been successful.  Download China maps before you arrive.
  5. Amap – We have tried using this local chinese map, but I found this very difficult to navigate.  However, it can be useful for finding some items (such as ATM machines etc.). You can type your destination in English and it will provide options.  We also have Google maps (once you have established a VPN link), however quite a bit of the information or locations aren’t accurate, so can be unreliable.
  6. Wechat – this is the chinese alternative to Whatsapp.  The chinese use it for literally everything in terms of communication and payment.  However, you won’t be able to set up a payment option unless you have a Chinese bank card.  Instead you need Wechat to help communicate with accommodation, send messages to locals or connect to some establishments with WIFI (including places like McDonalds or malls or train stations).
  7. Hostelworld – I found this application/website the best for providing directions to our accommodation.  If you are on a budget and haven’t pre-booked your accommodation it’s a useful app to have. We used this as well as Agoda and booking.com.  
  8. ctrip for booking accommodation & trains.  We were travelling through China independently and found this app was useful to book local accommodation.  Although we booked our trains through an agent to ensure we were sat together, this app also gives you that option!

SIM Card – there is much conflicting information regarding SIM Cards and to be honest we were no clearer even talking to the mobile phone agents so decided against a SIM, in the hope that WiFi would be available.  However, I have found on a couple of occasions (not that frequently!) that it would have been useful.

  1. China have an uber app (for ordering taxis) called Didi.  And whilst we are budget travellers and not planning on using taxis, there have been a couple of occasions where a taxi would have been useful.
  2. Some free WiFi facilities require you to type in a phone number in order to receive a code to enter.  Without a SIM card, you can’t do this so it limits your WiFi options!
  3. As we are independent travellers there have been occasions where we have needed to call the hostel or hotel to advise pick up or delays or any issues finding the place (which can be often).
  4. It restricted how often I could update the blog too, so if you are a keen blogger then it’s a no-brainer.

Hope this information is of help, but feel free to add any questions on anything we may not have covered!

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