Prior to Departure
Prepare yourself before departure by researching the areas that you plan on visiting. May through September is high season. Not to be disregarded, weather in China varies a great deal. Language will be a significant obstacle at times. Purchase a phrase-book and learn some Chinese--not much as English is spoken overall. Visas are required for visitors. Contact the U.S. State Department regarding travel restrictions and problem areas. Lastly, contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for health recommendations. Malaria exits in parts of China. Protect yourself by taking some type of prophylaxis. Dengue fever is also prevalent. For those planning extended travel in rural areas, consider vaccinations for Japanese encephalitis and rabies. Note that rabies vaccinations only provide more time for treatment and are not a preventative. Shots for typhoid, hepatitis A and B are also recommended. Update any routine vaccinations, such as tetanus, as well.
United States Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington DC 20520
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd.
Atlanta, GA 30333
Use your head, in general, as you would in any unfamiliar surroundings. Trains are the most comfortable, reliable and affordable means of travel in China. Trains with sleeping quarters will offer both hard and soft berths. Hard berths are marginally less comfortable but cheaper while soft berths are more plush but cost roughly the same as a plane ticket. Consider hiring a local to accompany you as translator during any matter of state or if you just need more than the most basic of information. Importantly, pack as light as possible. Even in remote Turpan you will be able to find the basics. Though it may seem unfair, expect to be charged higher prices for most services. However, bargaining, especially in rural areas, is expected. Finally, though China is overwhelmingly safe, also remember that by traveling alone you are more of a target. By just being conscious of this you are likely to make better choices.
Around the Country
Travel where the rest do not dare. One of the best things about independent travel in China is mobility. Most tours hit the major sites, all of which are worthwhile, but the solo traveler has the time to explore such places in depth as well as visiting less touristy areas. For starters, plan on staying longer so you can really immerse yourself into the culture or sight your visiting. The Himalayas and Tibet beg closer inspection and trekking is unsurpassed. Remote and rarely visited Urumqi is a great base to explore the nearby Taklamakan Desert and the Tian Shan Mountains. Also, the Xinjiang Regional Museum with its 10,000-year-old human remains, including the 'Loulan Beauty,' should not be missed. Additionally, ethnic hill tribes living Yunnan Province make for an educational visit as does following the Silk Road to its end in Xi'an, a historical capital of China and the site of the famed terra-cotta army.