Travel in China Like a Local, Part 1

As an outsider, truly experiencing a new culture can prove challenging. Without language abilities or local knowledge, its incredibly easy and comforting to fall prey to tourist traps. While fun, these tourist-tailored experiences are usually fake representations of a culture, with no actual insiders to the culture as participants. This blog series will give you tips to not only gain access to Chinese culture during your travels in China, but to enjoy the (sometimes uncomfortable) experience. Part 1 of our Travel in China Like a Local series? Choosing accommodations while traveling in China.

international youth hostel china

If you want a reliably familiar experience that does not change from country to country, stay at the Hilton. If you want to hang with like-minded travel junkies, stay at a youth hostel (we recommend Captain’s Youth Hostel in Shanghai for killer Bund views without the price tags you’ll find at upscale options like the Peace Hotel.) Both hotels and hostels provide a good homebase for going out and exploring Chinese culture, but if you wish to actually bring the cultural adventure into your temporary home, we recommend finding other accommodations. If you were to stay in a hotel, how would you learn that you must take off your shoes when entering into a Chinese home?

Gaining access into locals’ homes can be a challenge. While Waygo allows you the opportunity to venture into local restaurants and businesses who do not cater to non-Chinese speakers, Waygo does not magically hand you the keys to a Chinese home. Then how do you experience Chinese culture from within the home, the most intimate view into another culture?

As a student, finding a host family is relatively easy, and most study abroad programs facilitate the process, including AFS and CIEE. There are also third party companies that assist in finding and placing students with host families, like Homestay Booking and HomestayFinder.

mid autumn moon festival dinner china

Cheers to the Mid-Autumn Festival

chinese home calligraphy

Host father teaches student calligraphy within the home.

making homemade dumplings china

Making homemade dumplings for Chinese New Year.














Not a student, but just a mere traveler? Airbnb and Couchsurfing are your solution. These communities offer adults the chance to make up for the missed opportunities to study abroad and live with host families. With Airbnb and Couchsurfing, hosts open up their homes to strangers, as an alternative to staying in ordinary accommodations while traveling.

airbnbcouch surfing project


Take San Francisco for example. If you stay in a hotel, you will be staying in Union Square, a hot bed for tourists. Most likely 99% of the people you’ll brush shoulders with are other tourists and all of the businesses and restaurants in the area are frequented only by tourists. Airbnb and Couchsurfing allow you to stay in neighborhoods like the Mission and the Richmond, among actual San Franciscan residents and unique businesses. You’ll learn local knowledge that is inaccessible when staying tidily tucked away in a hotel.

The following Airbnb listings are a mix of both private rooms and entire homes/apartments.  Although the hosts of the entire homes/apartments will not actually be living with you, you’ll likely meet the host during the key exchange, who might provide local recommendations and invitations. Their house house will be more of a local neighborhood, versus the more touristy and commercial zones where hotels tend to cluster.

Waygo’s Shanghai Picks
A Single Room in French Concession: “We are Shanghai natives, mother and daughter. Mother teaches Chinese to oversea students as a profession. The daughter is 15years old. We are friendly and would be glad to help you settle in or show you around if you so wish.” (Listing description)

Roof Garden Home @ French Concession: “Terrace garden perfect for restfulness & open space in a busy city. Katherine & husband Cliff took us out for delicious hot pot dinner on our first night & invited friends over to share in a fun & tasty BBQ on our last night.” (Review from guest)

Live in Another Shanghai: “When you travel, I think most people prefer to stay in a place with more traditional culture. Jiading is a suburb of Shanghai with Confucius Temple and beautiful Gardens.” (Listing description)

Unbeatable Shanghai Lane Apt (The splurge!): “We were thrilled with our accommodation in Shanghai and voted it our favourite place to stay over and above some lovely 5 star hotels we stayed in whilst in China. It was clean, comfortable and perfectly situated…
Thanks to Fanny for meeting us and helping us settle in and also to her colleague for helping us with luggage and hailing a taxi.” (Review from guest)

Waygo’s Beijing Picks
Gladys Garden: “The house is in one of the few remaining Hutong areas (alleyways) of old Beijing, with courtyard houses…once inside the alleys, there is no sound of traffic and the tranquility of traditional life still prevails…We are happy to show you around the neighborhood, the local supermarket, farmers market, bank, post office, department store, swimming place, and the like.” (Listing description)

Cozy Private Room on 3rd Ring Road: “Tom has given me my best Airbnb experience so far. He was always extremely nice: he waited for me until midnight and runned to pick me up a block away from his place where my taxi dropped me; he showed me around the neighborhood (which is very Chinese in the sense that it gives you the real experience of living in 21st century middle class Beijing)…he helped me book my air tickets to Xi’an; he even booked a masage for me in Mandarin! In terms of attention and service, Tom was way above my wildest expectations from an airbnb host or a 5 star hotel. Do not expect a 5 star hotel, though. This is is a Beijingese apartment which you share with a nice couple.” (Review from guest)

Heart of Beijing: “This is a genuine Beijing neighborhood where daily life unfolds. Dong Si is one of Beijing’s oldest populated areas. Looking out on the terrace, you see modern glass buildings rising along the second loop of Beijing. Waves of time have been washing away traces of the traditional Beijing. Yet, in my neighborhood, things haven’t changed much in more than 60 years of Red China.” (Listing description)


Check out Airbnb and Couchsurfing to find your Chinese accommodations. Endless cultural lessons and deep relationships await!


Happy travels and happy sleeping (in a real local experience!),

Team Waygo