As 2020 marks a new era for many across the world, China has long followed its own tradition that has embraced the lunar calendar rather than conforming to global convention. Every year, a new animal from the Chinese zodiac becomes poster child for the year ahead.
Last year, the country had welcomed the year of the pig, but this year the mantle has been passed to the rat. Moreover, this passing of the torch from one animal to the next comes bundled with nearly two weeks off for locals and expats alike.
With the immense population of China, this can become an overwhelming time for the weary or wayward traveler. Planning can be otherwise cumbersome, but I’m here to offer some tips and an antidote of my first experience traveling during the holiday. So maybe you’re wondering to yourself where to start? Don’t fret. I’m going to guide you through the process on how to optimize your vacation while spending as little as possible.
For starters, let’s look at the typical methodology for booking your next dream destination.
Trip, the premiere go to service that offers everything from reserving lavish hotels to booking extravagant tours to finding the best mode of transport.
However, be mindful that tickets during holidays will cost you a little more than usual as heaps of tourists begin to prepare for the time ahead. Booking tickets in advance can not only save you a headache but can make the rest of the process hassle free. This doesn’t just apply to flights either as trains tickets can be purchased in advance as well. Focus on choosing the locale and then decide how you’ll get there. This should allow you to then switch gears to planning out the allotted time you’ll have within China or abroad.
Bear in mind that some destinations are going to be more popular than others, and it’s safe to assume that Southeast Asian countries will be swarming with tourists. That’s because everyone is fleeing the rigid winter that the mainland experiences. And if you’re thinking that South Korea or Japan may be less busy, you may want to reconsider as these two countries are top travel picks.
To keep things simple, I’d suggest coming up with a rough outline for a ten-day plan, and then insert locations as necessary. You’ll save yourself a lot of time by just constructing an itinerary weeks before the holiday kicks off.
For the thrifty traveler, it’s a wise idea to focus your efforts for accommodation and flights on applications such as: booking.com, trip, hostel world, Skyscanner, etc. To compare accommodation costs, a hostel in Japan can run up to $50 USD per night, but on the other end of the spectrum, a hostel in Thailand can costs as little as $5 USD per night.
Regarding tours, many hostels participate in either inexpensive tour packages or free walking tours, so take full advantage of this nifty perk. Also, it should be a no-brainer that eating out in more expensive nations can set you back quite a bit. It’s easy to travel to a place like Hong Kong and spend a few hundred dollars in a week if you aren’t prepared. Aim to eat out sparingly and to make food at your hostel or hotel for the day.
If you do find yourself on a tight budget or yearning to explore more of China, then much of the same applies. As the third largest country on earth, China is host to a myriad of amazing places and ten days is perfect to knock some of these off your ‘China bucket list.’ You could take the trek to the great wall, visit the iconic rock towers of Zhangjiajie, explore the rustic Ancient Phoenix Town, or scour the bountiful Yunnan province. You’re travel itinerary is completely at your discretion!
**Read more about How to Celebrate Chinese New Year as an Expat in China!
In retrospect, if you’ve been itching to explore Europe, Oceania, or even Africa, then this is the perfect time to do so. For example, on average tickets to Australia cost around 6,000 RMB, tickets to Africa around 8,000 RMB, and tickets to Europe around 8,500 RMB. Despite the costs of these flights being a bit higher than to nearby locations, it can prove to be an ideal opportunity to globetrot.
I speak from experience, as I decided give Asia a break and explore a continent I’ve always wanted to go to, Africa.Considering that the flights from Shanghai to Africa cost about 7,000 RMB for a round trip, which was a fraction of the price than I’d normally expect it to be, I wasted no time booking my ticket to South Africa with the help of some friends there. It was the perfect getaway as I was able to escape the bustle of the holiday while exploring a country full of riches. I spent several days hopping across the cities of Johannesburg, East London, and Cape Town.
My journey in Africa was surreal, and an experience I never thought I’d have. It was not only an ideal place to escape the frigid winter, but an amazing opportunity to knock off many items off my own travel list. Soaking up the sun along the African coastline, taking a safari, hiking across the African wilderness, and diving into the local cuisine was a must for my first time in the Rainbow Nation (a reference to the sheer diversity of South Africa).
Ultimately, if you choose to stick within the confines of China, you won’t find yourself disappointed. Enjoy one of the numerous spectacular fireworks displays that are meant to quell evil. Roam about the cities and you’ll find shop after shop and house after house adorned with red decorations and keep an eye out for the special markets associated with the holiday. It is also common for the Chinese to hand out red packets with RMB inside, and many ESL schools partake in this activity with their foreign staff so it’s a nice bonus. If you’re fortunate, you may even find yourself being invited for a new year’s dinner by a friend or colleague from China.
No matter where you desire to go, or what items you’re hoping to scratch off your own list, living in China during the new year is a prime opportunity to explore as much as possible. Now all it takes is for you to formulate your own travel plan, hop on the plane, and you’re off to fulfill another amazing destination that awaits.
Mike Santiago is a former First Leap teacher in Nanjing, China. He has worked in China for almost 2 years. He's originally from New York. He loves writing, traveling, and film making. You can follow many of his travels on Instagram @michael.santiago87 and read another post written by him: 10 Things I've Learned Living in China for Two Years.
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