7 Things You Need to Know When Visiting Shanghai

The most populous city in the world could be your next dream vacation.


It’s big, it’s on mainland China, and it’s far away

Shanghai housed more than 24 million people in 2014, and the number has almost certainly grown since. It's safe to say that this city is huge. In addition, this amazing (and gigantic!) city is situated in the People's Republic of China, also referred to as Mainland China. What does that mean? Well, for Americans it means you need a Visa. You should also expect a pretty stringent entrance screening. Not only will customs officials check your documents extra closely, you will also be checked for radiation and automatic sensors will check if you have a fever.

The flight to Shanghai can be between 12 and 15 hours, depending on where you're leaving from in the US, so be prepared to entertain yourself on the plane. Depending on the company you fly with, you will likely be offered either Chinese or "western" meals. Airline food weirds a lot of people out as it is, so there's no shame in opting for that down-home goodness, but this is often your first opportunity to try out some local fare, if you're game.

What to look for in the city

Shanghai's skyline is something out of a science fiction movie. The bulbous TV tower dominates the skyline and gives the entire scene a futuristic feel, and the Huangpu River running through the city gives you the opportunity for riverside dining on the Bund for a spectacular view of the Pudong side of the city. The Puxi side of the city, while not what is traditionally pictured when one envisions Shanghai's skyline, is worth a visit too. It's the historic district of the city and is where people live and shop, and it contains much of the city's culture, since the Pudong side has been subjected to intense and overwhelming change and growth over recent years.

Shanghai is a unique blend of modern and traditional, with ancient-looking buildings butted right up against sleek, new skyscrapers. It's quite a sight!

Getting around

Shanghai's tourist areas tend to have plenty of people who speak English if you don't think you'll pick up much Mandarin before your trip. You should be able to find your way around in popular areas with little trouble, and your hotel staff and most young people you encounter will almost certainly have some English and be able to help you out if you need it.

Shanghai also offers a modern public transit system, and their subway trains feature maps in Chinese and English, and announcements are made in English as well.


What to eat while you’re there

Shanghai's food is unlike what Americans think of when they envision "Chinese food." While you should avoid street meat, you can otherwise treat yourself to all kinds of hearty and flavorful dishes. Shanghai's food is sometimes considered to be a little greasier than the Cantonese-style cuisine in Hong Kong, but the dishes served are delectable and it's hard to leave the city without falling in love with a menu item or two.

That being said, the Chinese serve their food a lot differently than Americans might expect. Remember the duck scene in A Christmas Story? It isn't uncommon for your food to have a face. Fish or fowl might be served "smiling at you," as they put it in the film. Don't be afraid, though. It's easy to eat around those parts, though locals will tell you the cheeks and the eyes are often the best parts!

Additionally, in case you're not sure what to eat and the dish descriptions aren't provided in English, most restaurants carry a picture menu for those of us who can't read Chinese, which will help you make some informed decisions about what's for dinner.

Finally, don't be afraid to check out the Chinese version of your favorite fast food joint. For instance, a trip to Pizza Hut will have you choosing between things like durian pizza, bacon-wrapped shrimp with pesto pizza, or the kung pao chicken stuffed-crust pizza.

In fact, even the snacks at the store can be an exciting endeavor. They get flavors of potato chips we don't often see in the US (some of my favorites were cucumber flavor and lobster and cheese flavor) and brown sugar candy with a dried, salted plum inside was my favorite after-dinner treat by the time I left.

The surrounding areas have lots of exciting options too

From Shanghai, you have access to the famous Bullet Trains that go 186mph (that's 300 km/h) and can visit a multitude of places with very little travel time. You can do your own research to find what sights appeal to you the most, but a favorite nearby destination is Hangzhou, home to the famous West Lake, surrounded by interesting shops and beautiful tea houses. There are many boats waiting by the shore offering picturesque rides around the lake as well.

Another interesting area that's easily accessible from Shanghai is the town of Xitang. They are perhaps most famous for scenes from Mission Impossible III being filmed there (and in fact there are many signs around the town reminding you of this fact), but this fishing village is worth a trip in its own right, even if you're not a fan of action movies and Tom Cruise. This town has delicious food, many shops with souvenirs and necessities alike, as well as a beautiful river snaking through the middle, seemingly never empty of small boats passing lazily through. It's a great place to go and get away from the chaos of the city for a bit, while still offering lots of shopping and photo opportunities.

Some things to keep in mind

China is hot and humid in the summer, and the heat can be oppressive for those not used to the stifling conditions. The smog and pollution are real, and the heavy, hazy air can sometime wear on travelers, especially if they suffer from any respiratory illnesses. That being said, though the outside might be dirty, in buildings you will see signs everywhere noting exactly how often interactive museum touch screens, escalator hand rails, and even bathroom faucets get sanitized. The Chinese try very hard not to spread disease, going so far as to wear face masks when sick, as you've undoubtedly seen.

Hong Kong and Shanghai use different currencies. If you plan on flitting between the two during your travels, you'll have to lose some money exchanging from USD to RMB or HKD, which is a given, but if you're traveling to both cities and don't plan your costs just right, keep in mind you might lose even more money transferring the HKD to RMB, or vice versa.

Shanghai is the most expensive city on the mainland, but it is still cheaper than Hong Kong, and to an American, both feel very cheap. You can really splurge on a good hotel and nice dinner without really pulling too much out of your bank account, as far as your US dollars go. Additionally, keep in mind that most shop owners will haggle with you. Outside of chain stores, you should generally never take the first price offered. (Or even the second or third—in fact, I get my best prices after walking out of the store completely!)

You will probably want a VPN if you're traveling to Shanghai. In Hong Kong the internet is more or less unrestricted, but the mainland severely limits what sites you may access, including Google (that means Gmail too) and Facebook. A VPN will help you get past the firewall and keep up with your friends and family while you're away.

It can't go without mentioning that toilets in China are different from American toilets. Be prepared to squat, or at the very least hold it until you're back at your hotel. There, you will likely have Western toilet (what we're used to) though some restaurants and attractions will too. However, other than your hotel, do not expect any establishment to provide toilet paper or soap. Most people carry travel tissue packs and hand sanitizer with them for this reason.

The takeaway

Shanghai (and anywhere on the mainland) has some specific quirks you might not encounter elsewhere, but though the Customs agents might not seem especially welcoming, a trip to China is truly an enriching experience. The flight may be a bit expensive, but your money stretches incredibly far here, and the culture and the food are worth much more than what you'll have to pay to experience them. If you're looking for a place where you get to see, taste, and experience things very unlike home, all while living comfortably and affordably, Shanghai is the place for you.

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Celebrate Endangered Species Day.

An endangered species is not a tragedy, because if a species is endangered, then they aren't yet extinct.

Sadly, there are millions of endangered species across the world, all facing threats that mostly stem from human activities. Still, it's not too late. Take a gander at these majestic animals, and then donate to a wildlife fund or environmental activism group of your choice.


Of course, nature doesn't need saving—humans do—and climate change and environmental destruction are threats to humans as well as animals, but if you need a reminder of the beauty and fragility of the natural world, check out these extraordinary species.



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Do Non-Melatonin Sleep Aids Really Work?

Objective makes a chocolate square.

I Can't Sleep.

I truly cannot remember the last time I had a good night's rest. Even before the stay-at-home orders, I was just a little ball of nerves.

But lately, it's been awful. I toss and turn, it's always too hot or even too cold, sometimes I make myself tea and read for a bit, but when I'm still up at 1 a.m., I reach for my phone and then I'm up until 3. My sister and I have a weekly call, and our small talk about our exhaustion turned into an hour long conversation about sleep.

I Thought I'd Tried Everything. Even Melatonin.

My sister asked why I hadn't gone for the old staple, melatonin and I reminded her about the time we traveled abroad, and it gave me the weirdest nightmares (the horrible kind where you wake up in your dream and you're still in a dream). Chamomile tea didn't work, nothing worked.

She said she had a friend who swore by something I definitely hadn't heard of.

They Were NOT Pills, Teas or Anything I'd Seen Before.

A company called Objective makes Fast Asleep, a sleep solution delivered as chocolatey treats. They're created with saffron and GABA. If going to sleep was as easy as eating a piece of these chocolatey, minty delights every night, I'd be sold.

What Exactly Was In It?

Cocoa contains caffeine, so I didn't know how this would help me sleep. After talking with my sister, I went online and saw that the calming, sleep-supporting ingredients cancel out any of the very little caffeine content.

Saffron, the spice, is apparently known to help with staying asleep, and their GABA is a fermented version of the neurotransmitter that's known to help you relax and fall asleep faster. In a study, 100% of customers saw improvement in their sleep quality thanks to saffron. One hundred percent!

Do I Try It?

A bag of 30 pieces was only $40, and they had a money-back guarantee.

They're keto-friendly and only 30 calories a piece, so not too decadent before bedtime.

They were chocolatey-minty, which is my favorite flavor, so I was sold. I ordered a bag to try.

The First Night, I Wasn't Impressed.

I took one piece (super yummy!) - 30-60 minutes before bedtime is recommended - but when I climbed in, I didn't notice a difference. I was worried I'd wasted my money.

However, once I fell asleep, I stayed asleep until my alarm went off, which hasn't always been the case for me.

I checked the site again, and noticed that many people didn't notice a real difference until the third or fourth night - it builds up in your system over time, so I decided to keep an open mind the rest of the week.

The Second Night Was Completely Different

Without doing anything differently from the first night, my second night was amazing. I felt calm and sleepy as I was getting ready for bed, and once I hit the pillow, I was out the whole night.

It had to be these sweet treats. The next day, I even felt more balanced and relaxed - Fast Asleep helps boost serotonin levels and reduce cortisol (the stress hormone), and I definitely noticed a difference in my overall mood and alertness.

I Already Ordered More.

Just In Case! There's nothing habit-forming about this product, so it's completely safe to take every night, and I honestly always want to keep it in the house. I'd also love to offer it to anyone staying over in the guest room, whenever we have guests again.

Now that I'm getting a healthy 8 hours of sleep every night, I feel more equipped during the day to tackle the things I need to do and deal with some of my daytime stressors. I finally had the energy to clean the kitchen, which had been bothering me so much for the past few weeks.

With Objective's Fast Asleep, I get real sleep and balance my levels, so I don't have to feel tired during my waking hours. Sleep in the form of chocolate squares sounds so weird, but oh my goodness, do they work.

Our partners at Objective Wellness are currently offering a 25% discount if you use the coupon code STAYHOME. Check them out here!

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Try beers from all over the world–from your phone.

With breweries and distilleries out of business for the foreseeable future, your favorite beer may feel particularly out of reach this time of year, especially with the weather changing. But don't let quarantine suck all the fun out of summer. Luckily, thanks to technology, a lot of craft beer is now deliverable straight to your door step. Here are a few of the best apps to help make sure you stay up to date on the latest trendy brews.

Tavour

Tavour

Simplistic and elegant, Tavour allows users to easily fill up a box of beer over a period of time before shipping. The app offers more than 650 different breweries both local and national and is perfect for those who like to experiment. It's easy to use, and their menu rotates regularly so you and your beer never grow stale.

TapRM

TapRM

TapRM offers a wide range of both craft beers and hard seltzers. While based almost exclusively in New York City, the app offers fast, same day delivery from some of the best beer brands in the world. They also provide a unique selection of beers to help you find your new favorite. All you need to do is download the app and place your order!

Drizly

Offering a stark variety of craft beer, Drizly allows its users to mix and match 12-packs, sixers or by the bottle. Their guarantee is that they can have whatever you order delivered to your house in less than an hour. You can even schedule your delivery for a specific time, with each delivery taking around 20-40 minutes.

Saucey

Saucey takes delivery very seriously. When you order with them they guarantee that they'll deliver in 30-minutes or less, or they guarantee two day shipping. Also, beer aside, their entire liquor cabinet is also up for grabs. From tequila and whiksey, to vodka and wine, nothing is off the table for Saucey.

Beer Menus

BeerMenus

For those who enjoy strictly local beers, BeerMenus features a tap list from local bars and a broader stock list from your neighborhood beer store. With that, you can make sure to create a list of your favorite beers in your neighborhood, so that when they're in stock you can be ready to go.