For most people who travel to Xinjiang and around China, there are two concerns that direct how they plan their entire journey: time and money. There’s not much I can do about your time, but what if I could help you with Xinjiang budget travel by giving you some simple yet very effective ways to save you money?
Many of these tips can generally be applied to travel all across China, but there are a few “tricks of the trade” I’ve learned during my years in Xinjiang that I hope you’ll find useful.
Xinjiang Budget Travel Tip #1: Travel at Night
There is nothing I hate worse than wasting daylight hours traveling in a bus or train – yet I have done it more often than I care to admit! If you’re like me, you’ve probably been torn between the higher cost of airfare vs. the time lost in transit.
The reason this is so important in Xinjiang is because this region is so much larger than you realize! Larger than Texas and California combined. A trip between two cities that look close on the map could take you 8 hours…easily.
How will this save you money traveling by night? Simple. You save the cost of a hotel.
Xinjiang Budget Travel Tip #2: Travel by Train
Airplanes and private taxis are a luxury and not an option for real budget travelers to Xinjiang. The only other options are buses and trains.
Buses aren’t a bad choice – and often they can be your only option – but if you can, I recommend the train.
Why the train? First of all, it’s much more reliable. I can’t tell you how many buses I’ve traveled on that have either broken down or been indefinitely stopped by police at a checkpoint. This doesn’t happen on a train.
Second, if you’re taking my advice on point #1, it’s much more comfortable sleeping on a train than on a bus – even if it’s a sleeper bus. This is particularly true for those of us who are tall.
For help on train travel in Xinjiang, see Traveling by Train from Urumqi Station
Xinjiang Budget Travel Tip #3: Team Up
One of the easiest and most fun ways to save money while traveling in Xinjiang – and pretty much any part of China – is to find a group of people who are interested to do/see the same things you are and then go together.
You’ll see the largest savings by sharing services and splitting the cost. Take, for instance, a trip along the Karakoram highway. The best mode of transportation is – in my opinion – a rented taxi which costs about 400-500 RMB regardless the number of passengers. Fill the car with three other people and you just cut your costs by 75%.
It may seem like an idea unfit for a budget traveler, but it’s definitely worth considering: Should I join a Xinjiang tour group?
Perhaps your group doesn’t need to be THIS big!
Xinjiang Budget Travel Tip #4: Local Flavor
It seems like a no-brainer to remind people that “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t do this. They’ll buy some kebabs or Uyghur bread, but when it comes meal time you’ll find them at a restaurant with a picture menu (usually more expensive) or worse…at KFC (gasp!).
I find that the #1 reason people don’t eat locally is that they don’t know what to order. I completely understand. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of great Xinjiang foods – try every one on the list.
FINALLY (and most importantly), I strongly suggest you try what I like to call “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants. They’re usually on a side street and don’t have a big sign. The reason I say this is because most people interpret “local” to be “street food”, and while I do love food bought from a street vendor, I also know that 75% of the time I will walk away…actually, race away…to the nearest bathroom 5 minutes later.
Get some kebabs and bread from a street vendor, but get a reasonably-priced meal in a restaurant.
Xinjiang Budget Travel Tip #5: Atypical Accommodations
If you’re traveling in Xinjiang it’s a given that you like adventures. You think 5-star hotels are for sissies and air conditioning is for the physically weak.
That’s perfect. The best thing you can do while traveling in Xinjiang is to take advantage of cheaper lodging that some might consider “roughing it”. What am I talking about?
- Yurts: whether you’re at Salimu Lake, Karakul Lake or a host of other destinations nearby the Kazakhstan or Tajikistan border, you have to try a yurt. They usually only cost about 50RMB per person and typically come with a meal or two.
- Uyghur Homestay: why stay in a hotel when you can enjoy a night in the hospitable home of a local Uyghur? These are often cheaper than a hotel and set up through a good travel agency. *Read more about How to do a Uyghur homestay*
- Tent Camping: You can purchase camping equipment in Urumqi or you can just bring your own. Either way you’re in for a treat when you hike away from everything else and enjoy the natural beauty that Xinjiang has to offer.
Photo courtesy of NotesfromXian