How Much to Budget for 30 Days in China

by | 23 Sep, 2016

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After a very difficult Chinese visa application process we were finally granted entry to explore this vast and diverse country. But with only 30 days we were determined to pack in as much as we could and did just that.

We started in the South and worked our way up North from the quiet country life of Guilin to the crazy big city life of Shanghai. We absolutely loved everything about China; the people, the food, the landscapes, the culture, we can’t wait to go back and see more of it.

Budget Tips For China

James and Sarah exploring the forbidden cityExploring the Forbidden City

So without further ado here’s our second instalment of our ‘Let’s Talk Money Series’ to help you plan your trip to this incredible country. Using the ‘Trail Wallet’ App we set a budget for each day and recorded everything we spent to ensure we were on track.

The app is super easy to use and we would highly recommend it. It lets you create your own spending categories so that you can see exactly where your money is going, calculates daily averages and creates graphs automatically for you.

How Much Does It Cost To Travel China?

  • Length of Trip: 30 days
  • Destinations: Guilin, Chengdu, Xi’an, Beijing, Shanghai
  • Travel period: May 2016
  • Traveller profile: Married couple in early 30’s
  • Accommodation: Mixed dorm rooms and private rooms in budget hostels
  • Transportation: Overnight sleeper trains and one internal flight
  • Food: Street food and local restaurants
  • Total Spend: £1921.10*
  • Average Spend Per Day Per Couple: £64.00
  • Average Spend Per Day Per Individual: £32.00
    *amount is per couple
    *amount includes all transport, accommodation, food, drinks, entrance fees, toiletries etc.
    *amount excludes international flights

graph expenses by category

China expenses by percentage of spend

Chinese Visa Costs

After the horror show that we experienced in Colombia trying to apply directly to the embassy ourselves, we opted to pay for an agency to obtain our Chinese visas on our behalf in Hong Kong. It cost around £15 more each but if you’ve read our blog posts on our experience you’ll understand why we did. Obviously agencies charge a fee, so to save costs on this expense all you need to do is just the research the requirements and do the paperwork yourself directly with the embassy – just not the one in Colombia!

China Accommodation Costs

Hostels are the cheapest form of accommodation throughout China, however we did find that private rooms were often not much more expensive than dorm rooms so we stayed in a mix of both. Typically, accommodation is more expensive in the larger cities of Beijing and Shanghai where we paid around £8 each per night for a dorm room in comparison to around £4 each per night for a private room in Guilin for example.

Every hostel we stayed in had good social spaces and the hostel staff in each place provided lots of helpful information about the surrounding areas and best ways to get to places. They even wrote things down in Chinese for us to help with communication in restaurants and onward journeys etc. Internet was speedy enough in the budget places we stayed (you need a VPN of course) and on the whole facilities were modern and clean.

Transport Costs in China

As usual, travelling slower would have considerably cut this proportion by reducing our daily average, but we didn’t have that option due to our visa restrictions. Overnight sleeper trains are the most cost effective way of travelling long distances in China. Options range from seating only, to hard and soft sleepers. The hard sleepers are 6 to an open cabin with triple bunk beds and very limited space, soft sleepers are more expensive with 4 to a more private closed cabin, double bunkbeds with more space and generally cleaner toilets.

James on a sleeper train in ChinaNot much room on the hard sleepers

You need to book at least a few days in advance as they often get booked up, especially the hard sleepers, but it’s easy enough with the online booking agent C-Trip. Then all you need to do is pick your tickets up from the station. We took one internal flight between Guilin and Chengdu because there wasn’t an easy direct route, we didn’t have a lot of time and the flights weren’t crazily more expensive.

But the cheapest and most interesting travel option is definitely the hard option of the overnight sleeper trains. Of course travelling overnight also saves on accommodation costs.

Best Activities in China

China is the most expensive country we have been to so far with regard to attraction entrance fees, particularly when compared to the low local living costs. But in such a diverse country with so many fascinating, world renowned attractions drawing hordes of tourists, the tourism industry knows they can charge it and people will pay.

Panda Research Centre in ChengduPanda Research Centre in Chengdu

Many attractions offer discounted student rates and so you can try your luck with anything from a driving licence to a PADI diving card if you aren’t an actual student but many outfits are becoming wise to this. We spent more on activities than we did on accommodation but by staying in budget places and eating cheaply this allowed us the wiggle room in our budget to visit all the sites we wanted to.

Notable entrance fee expenses

Chinese Food Costs

The food in China in ridiculously delicious. If you are thinking of going and trying to save costs by cooking yourself, don’t! Not only because you would be mad to miss out on the cuisine on offer but because you’ll be hard pushed to find a hostel in China that has anything more than boiled water for packet noodles on offer kitchen wise. On average we spent £12.78 per day for both of us on food so at £2 per meal you really can’t go wrong.

£2 meal in ChinaTypical £2 meal in China

As usual we ate lots of street food and the rest of the time at local’s restaurants. Portions are generous so you could cut your meals down to two per day to save on costs, we couldn’t bring ourselves to do this however and left China a little fatter than when we arrived. Check out our video on the Muslim Quarterin Xi’an and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Be prepared for your mouth to water!

Cost of Alcohol in China

Obviously if you don’t drink or are happy not to then you can just cut this cost right out. For us though we love sampling the local brews and at 30p for a can of beer in China we’d have been crazy not to sample at least a few. You can drink anywhere in China so it’s no problem to just sit out in a park and enjoy a beer from a shop rather than pay the inflated prices that bars and hostels can charge.

James and Sarah with warm beerBeer is usually served warm

Along with a substantial expat crowd, there’s a big party scene in Shanghai where you can easily spend more than intended. although we managed to have a night out on bar street and went to a club afterwards while keeping spends to £60 for the both of us including drinks, club entrance and taxi back to the hostel. Not bad at all whilst under the influence!

Miscellaneous China Backpacking Costs

Miscellaneous includes toiletries, laundry, clothes and travel essentials such as replacement computer screens and battery rechargers. Unfortunately, we cracked our computer screen and had to fork out for a new one whilst we were in China so this pushed our costs up by £38 for this section. I also dropped our battery charger and so we replaced this.

There’s a Japanese owned shop called Miniso with many stores in China with cheap, good quality electronic equipment amongst other things, so head there if you are travelling long term and need to replace anything. We splashed out £6 on a mini portable speaker and £7 on some packing cubes that I’m not sure how we managed before without now!

Laundry is very cheap within hostels; we didn’t spend more than £2 a time for this. Six months into travelling with some clothes starting to wear we also replaced a couple of items because clothes were very cheap at £1.50 for a t-shirt for example.

We packed such a lot into our 30 days in China. We ate like kings, met some incredible people and saw stunning landscapes. We were awed by the Great Wall, enchanted by the Forbidden city, taken aback by the Terracotta army, enthralled with the talents at opera and acrobatics shows, survived the world’s most dangerous hike and an intense Chinese massage. And all for just £32 each per day.

Are you planning a trip to China? If not, why not? Have you been, what was your experience cost wise? Do you think there’s anything we could have done to make it cheaper? Let us know in the comments.

Sarah & James

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