Travel // Planning Your First Trip to Asia

I'm so excited to be heading on a pretty big adventure next week... to China and Vietnam! I've been dying to go to Asia and I'll get to cross visiting a new country off my 2017 goals list. Everything came together pretty quickly for this trip and it's been a bit of a whirlwind to plan in a short time.

As I've been figuring out an itinerary, I find myself referencing a post I wrote about planning a BIG trip before I went to Africa. So many of those points hold true for this Asia trip, especially the google travel map (if you haven't made one before, you need to for your next vacation!). But planning this adventure is proving to be much more complicated than Africa. The intense language barrier, Chinese internet limitations and strict visa requirements are all new-to-me travel issues. Needless to say, I've been learning a lot. Below are some tips and important things to keep in mind if you plan a trip to Asia.

Find out if you need a visa
I've needed visas to travel before, but never had as tricky a time getting one as this trip! In Africa we only needed them for Zambia and Zimbabwe and they could be purchased right at the border- super easy. We need visas for both China and Vietnam, and they must be obtained before you travel. That means filling out the paperwork, gathering and printing all necessary documents (hotel reservations, flight confirmations, a note from your employer) and carving out time to go to the Consulate or Embassy of China (the lines are LONG!). The visas take a few days to process, so make sure you plan ahead or else you'll have to pay a hefty fee to expedite. They're also pretty pricey, expedited or not, so if you're on a tight budget this is something to consider.
*A note on the paperwork for the Chinese visa- you have to be very careful here. They are extremely particular and will send you away if anything is wrong (like not typing out the application in all capital letters!). The Yelp page for the China Consulate was super helpful as I planned and prepared. Our experience getting our Vietnam visa was easier and more straightforward than China.

long lines outside the Consulate of China
Figure out your phone situation
It is possible to use your cell phone in China, but it's complicated. Most phones are network locked to a specific carrier (Verizon, AT&T, etc) and won't work in China. It's an option to unlock your phone, but it won't always work. Likewise, you can purchase a cheap unlocked "burner" phone to use abroad, but that may not work in China. I opted to get a month long international plan on my phone and plan to mainly use wifi. After you figure out your phone, you still have to deal with the "great firewall of China" aka the blocking of many sites we use daily- Facebook, Twitter, Gmail. To get past this you can download a VPN (Virtual Private Network). There are a lot of VPN apps out there and this site outlines the best ones.

Bring local currency with you
Plan to arrive in your destination with local currency already on you. Changing money ahead of time is likely to be cheaper (some banks even have no fee) and it will definitely be less expensive than doing it at the airport. Taxis in China don't take credit card, so you'll need cash on hand to get to your hotel or destination. 

I hope these tips help anyone planning a trip to Asia! When I return I'll do a follow up post of the top things I learned while traveling in Asia for the first time. Be sure to follow along on Instagram!

*photo via


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