China with kids: 10 things you NEED to know
16th February, 2023
Travelling in China with kids is an amazing experience, trust me- I know! And we haven’t just travelled in China, we live here too!
Whilst most travel bloggers will tell you their experiences based on a two week holiday, a short city break from a nearby country or perhaps a month backpacking, I actually live in China. I like to think that I have a little bit more ‘expertise’ when it comes to travelling in China with kids than your average person. I have written a number of articles and guides on travelling to different areas of China- feel free to check them out here.
- My top tips for travelling China with kids
- #1 Get a VPN
- #2 Be prepared for staring and touching
- #3 Don’t let strangers take photos of your kids
- #4 Prepare your kids for squat toilets
- #5 You can potty train any place any time
- #6 Track the pollution levels
- #7 Pack your swim cap
- #8 Get a portable car seat
- #9 Know the height of your kids
- #10 Bring a light weight stroller and baby carrier
- Are you planning to travel in China with kids?
My top tips for travelling China with kids
Today I will tell you my essential tips for travelling in China with kids. These are things that I have learn during my time here. They are not on offs, they are things that come up again and again, wherever in the country I seem to be.
I also document our travels on my Instagram stories, follow along for travel inspiration, tips and advice!
#1 Get a VPN
One of the most important things that you can do when travelling to China with kids is make sure that you have a working VPN.
Many people think that a VPN is only needed for accessing social media. Well, yes- it’s true that can’t update your Facebook status without a VPN. But without a VPN you also can’t access Netflix, Disney+, Google, Gmail, Google maps, BBC and lots more.
Furthermore, your data is not secure in China- watching eyes can observe what you are doing online at any time they wish!
Convinced yet? You should be! You NEED a VPN.
I live here- trust me when I say that most VPNs that you see advertised do not work in China, especially the free ones. And to make matters worse, it is difficult to set up a VPN in China (because VPN sites are blocked, obviously). This means that you really need to set up your VPN before you leave home.
Express VPN is the best on the market and the rates are pretty low. Click here to check take a look at your options with Express VPN.
#2 Be prepared for staring and touching
Even in the major cities of Shanghai and Beijing, Westerns are still pretty uncommon. And if you are travelling in rural areas you could well be the first Westerner a person has ever seen!
This is why you should expect to get a lot of stares in China. I’m talking about YOU, the grown up. Your kids? Whatever attention a normal foreign adult gets in China can be multiplied by five for kids!
Read also: 35 things to do in Shanghai with kids
Chinese people LOVE kids. Perhaps it’s a legacy of the one child policy, I don’t know. But Chinese people will smile as soon as your child walks into the room. Do they have blond or red hair? Even better!
With this comes a lot of stares and also touching.
The staring I can cope with. But the touching does bother me. It especially bothered me during the COVID pandemic when people would wear masks, but then not wash their hands and touch my children’s faces. This made me really cross!
But I know that they don’t mean any harm, it’s a cultural thing….
Before your trip to China with kids I suggest that you prepare yourself and your children for this.
#3 Don’t let strangers take photos of your kids
You might think its a nice thing to do- pose with some Chinese people and let them take a photo with you and your kids. But I recommend that you do not do this.
Someone I knew had a photo taken and then saw it appear on the side of a bus!!!
There are no rules, at least that I know about, that prevent this kind of thing from happening. Unless you are happy for your children’s photographs to appear just about anywhere, I would suggest that you gratefully decline requests for photos.
In addition to this, people will take sneaky photos too. Without asking your permission people will take photos and videos of you and your children. Socialising with foreigners increasing a Chinese persons’s social status and so don’t be surprised to see these photos late shared on their social media channels.
#4 Prepare your kids for squat toilets
Squat toilets are a challenge for anyone who isn’t used to it, let alone children!
Many public places in China will have squat toilets and so you will have no choice but to use them. I suggest that you prepare your kids for this.
If you have young children who can’t master the art of squatting and aiming just yet, then you can always opt to carry around a portable potty like this one.
While we are on the subject of toilets- be sure to take your own toilet paper and hand sanitiser, because (despite the pandemic), Chinese toilets rarely have these amenities.
#5 You can potty train any place any time
I was shocked the first time I saw a little boy with slits down his trousers and his ‘bits’ hanging out for all to see! This is definitely not something that we do in the UK! But then I recently read an article about the environmental damage caused by disposable nappies and I thought ‘well, I guess it’s kinder on the planet, if not my eyes!’.
In China small children pee in public, a lot. It is perfectly acceptable for a two year old to pee in a bush, male or female.
#6 Track the pollution levels
Did you know that the smog doesn’t come from the cities (well, most of it)? It actually comes from the factories in the countryside! Yep, those new clothes that you just bought and the toy that you got your kid last week (the things that were made in CHINA) are causing the smog that covers the entires country like a dark cloud.
OK, so that’s not quite true. It’s a bit like the weather- you download an app and check the forecast. Rain clears the smog and brings clear skies. The smog is blown by the wind, so depending on which direction the wind is blowing, the smog may be bad or it may be good.
Regardless, it is a bit of an issue. If you go outside in the smog it will likely give you a headache. Prolonged exposure will give you a cough and over time this can make you ill. The effects children worse than adults.
I won’t get into the nitty gritty details here, but smog contains a toxic ingredient called PM2.5. These particles are so small that the body cannot clear them out of its system. So even if you leave China and never return, the pollution will always remain in your body.
If you will be spending a lot of time outside in the smog you may want to consider buying a mask. You can’t buy any old mask (remember I told you those particles are small!), you need an N95 mask.
#7 Pack your swim cap
This is something I learnt the hard way!
Most hotels in China require you to wear a swim cap. Some sell caps at the poolside, but others don’t.
If you want to go for a dip when you are travelling in China with kids then I recommend you get some swim caps before you leave home. There are plenty on Amazon and they’re pretty cheap.
#8 Get a portable car seat
In Europe we are used to having car seats for our kids, but this is not a thing in China. Actually, many cars don’t even have working seatbelts in the back.
However, if you would prefer for your kid to be strapped in, then there is a great portable car seat that works well, called MiFold. We bought a MiFold for our toddler when we arrived in China and it has been wonderful. It is easy to use and fit in my handbag, so it’s practical too!
Obviously a portable car seat doesn’t work without seatbelts. But this is a problem easily overcome. Download the Didi app and request Select or Premier cars. They always have working seatbelts.
Read also: The best family hotels in Shanghai
#9 Know the height of your kids
It is worth checking the height of your kids just before you leave home. There are two reasons for this: entrance fees and clothing.
Many attractions and transport operators charge fees based on a child’s height, rather than age. For example, kids under 120cm ride free on the train and kids under 100cm get free entrance to Disneyland, Shanghai.
The other reason that you will want to know your child’s height is if you want to buy any clothing. All children’s clothes are sold by height in China, rather than age. Which actually makes a lot of sense! So if you are travelling in China with kids and want a cute panda jumper while in Chengdu or an authentic Chinese outfit from a street seller on The Bund, then you will need to know your child’s height.
#10 Bring a light weight stroller and baby carrier
When I arrived in China with my heavy duty iCandy pram I felt really silly. It didn’t fit into the back of taxis, it was difficult to carry up steps and it was just hugely impractical.
It didn’t take me long to swap this pram for a lightweight one. There are two popular prams that I would recommend when travelling in China with kids: Pokit and Yoyo. Both of these are really light and durable. They also fold flat, meaning that you can take them with you in the cabin on your flight (this was a game-changer for me!). You can read more about the specifications and reviews online. Click here for the Pokit and here for the Yoyo.
These prams are a bit pricey, however, so if you don’t plan on using them a lot then it’s probably not worth the money. As an alternative, I suggest this Zeta Citi Stroller. We have had one of these as our back up pram for three years and it has lasted well.
If you can survive without a pram, then I suggest ditching it all together. Baby carriers are much more practical in China because there are soooo many steps everywhere you go! I absolutely LOVE our Tula carriers. We have a toddler size and a free to grow (newborn to age 4). Sometimes I carry both kids in tandem #supermum!
Are you planning to travel in China with kids?
My family have been living in China since my youngest daughter was four months old and we have travelled to cities, mountains and beach areas in China. If you have any questions or want some travel inspiration, you can follow me on Instagram or subscribe to my newsletter (it’s worth it- I send out regular travel tips and discount codes etc!). Happy travels!