Can you travel by one self in China? Is it safe or is it better to take a tour, and does Rick Steves offer a tour? Thanking you in advance
Rick only offers tours to Europe.
You can travel alone in China but you can't drive yourself. That isn't allowed. It is very common and not expensive to hire a driver though! This is easily arranged.
Public transportation in the bigger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai is convenient.
The train system between cities is modern and easy to use.
For farther distances the airport system is also very modern and easy.
Whether or not you choose to travel alone depends on your comfort level and your travel experience in cultures that are very different from your own! I have traveled there alone and found it to be a pleasant experience but I have traveled quite a bit in Asia and knew what to expect. I used a combination of public transport in the cities and hired drivers when that made more sense for more remote places that were hard to get to via public transport.
I have always felt safe in China. The only thing that still makes me a little uncomfortable are the extremely pushy street vendors who hang around the more touristy places - other than that I have always found it to be a wonderful country to visit!
Yes, one can travel to China independently. Our son/daughter-in-law as 30 some-things, and Oregon retired couple friends both did "Lonely Planet" multiple week independent travel trips some 5 or 10 years ago. Both their travels included use of local buses, trains and overnight busses. Our Oregon retired couple friends did have an American agent pre-book all of their accommodations and provide travel instructions/directions. Our son did the backpack travel version including hostels (which they characterized as US motel like private accommodations) and on the fly bookings. Neither spoke Mandarin relying on phrase books and cards. (Our daughter-in-law is a vegetarian and our friend has food allergies).
We on the other hand are not as adventurous as son/friends. Our two trips were through my Alumni group using a specialty China travel agency, both including significant off the beaten path travel. The recent trip featuring traditional minority villages where our group of four were the only lǎowài (old outsiders, i.e. foreigners) to be seen. (We did do a two day pre-tour in Shanghai on our own in that the big cities are pretty Western tourist friendly).
China in my limited two trip experience is as safe if not safer than comparably sized North American cities/towns/villages and probably safer in terms of petty crime than many of the European cities featured in this Travel Forum. That said, on our very recent trip to Southeastern China, our guide warned us about pick pockets in Guilin while we were watching the 8:30 evening waterfall spectacle where a lighted waterfall cascades down 45 meters of the 75 meters wide hotel.
Like large cities and tourist areas of Europe, one can find English speaking accommodations in large cities and foreign tourist areas of China. (China's domestic tourism is growing by leaps and bounds with well-to-do urban Chinese flocking to the better known remote areas). These Western tourist oriented hotels can help with local tours and with taxi instruction cards on how to get to (and importantly back from) specific destinations. The more popular destinations are even pre-printed with check boxes on the taxi cards with destinations in English, Pinyin and in Putonghua characters. Licensed taxis with metered fares are honest, cheap and exciting. Hotel concierge staff can set you up with guide and driver day or half-day tours at a reasonable to western budget prices.
My bottom line is that touring China's big cities and tourist areas independently is very possible and practical. Touring the off the beaten path areas would require much study and a rudimentary language capability.
Done four independent trips to touristy areas of China, and had no real issues. If you are willing to study the guidebooks and other resources on the web you will be okay. IMO it's important to stay at a four or five star hotel with staff that speaks good english. I have yet to come across any taxi driver that speak any english, so the hotels will be key in writing down directions for the drivers. If all else fails and you are finding it stressful, the hotel can arrange Grey Line style day tours.