BEIJING — China is one of the toughest countries for independent budget travelers to handle.
It's not that domestic travel is expensive, it's that getting information and making suitable accommodations and transportation arrangements can be a real challenge when you aren't in a group and don't understand the language or culture.
For example, independent travelers can't make many domestic travel arrangements before they arrive in the country, yet train and plane tickets must be bought at least three days before each journey.
"You can do it," two young British backpackers assured me. They had traveled by rail for three weeks, buying their tickets at train stations.
"But you have to have a lot of patience," they said. "If people don't understand what you want, don't get upset or things just grind to a halt. Instead, wait 10 minutes and calmly try again."
Young travelers can look forward to a new home base in Beijing that should provide inexpensive lodging and be a good place to exchange information about budget travel to other areas of the country. It'll be Beijing's first international youth hostel, and is expected to be open in about a year.
The hostel is in the Lu Song Yuan Hotel at No. 22 Ban Chang Hutong, in the East District of Beijing.
You'll be able to reach it in about 20 minutes by taking trolley No. 104 from the central train station. Get off at Kuangie.
The hostel, operated by the service, will provide lodging for 120 in four rooms, and there will be a restaurant.
The building is being renovated with funds from the International Youth Hostel Federation and will be operated by China Youth Travel Service, one of the three largest international tour companies in China.
It has 43 offices, and arranges many group tours in China for foreign students. It also organizes programs for doctors, nurses and lawyers, and has special programs for groups wanting bike tours, home-stays, language instruction and summer camps for foreign youths.
Because the word youth in the organization's title sometimes is confusing when it works with other groups, the organization is changing its name to just the initials CYTS.
You can check on the status of the Beijing hostel at the CYTS office in Hong Kong, Room 606, Wing On House, 71 Des Voeux Road Central.
In the meantime, your best bet is to arrive in China with a good English-language guidebook.
For independent travelers, one of the best is the 1988 edition of "China--A Travel Survival Kit" by Lonely Planet ($17.95). You can buy English-language Beijing guide-maps at major hotels for five yuan (about $1.35 U.S.).
Bejing's subway system was closed to foreigners until 1980. You can now ride it to some of the city's key sights for less than 10 cents.
A good place to start is centrally located Tian'anmen Square, one of the largest squares in the world.
On the south side of the square you'll find Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, where Mao lies in state and can be viewed by the public most mornings. At the north end of the square you can enter the famous Forbidden City.
The Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Ming Tombs and Great Wall at Badaling should all be included during a visit to the Beijing area.
If you start to feel homesick or begin suffering from culture shock, you can head across the square from Mao's Hall and find the year-old Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, one of the most popular eating establishments in the city.
Or you can head for the Friendship store in Jianguomenwai Dajie, a five-minute walk from the Jian Guo Men subway stop. This is one of the stores that accepts only foreign-exchange certificates, the special currency foreigners are given when they exchange their money at banks.
The store is in the embassy area and stocks many American products, including groceries.