China packing list — what should I bring?
First, some general thoughts and tips:
- Pack lightly. Unless you’re a luxury traveler who can afford to hire people to carry your bags every step of the way, you want something that you can comfortably handle. Many times you’ll be forced to carry your luggage up & down stairs — for instance in subway stations and train stations (where there are no porters). Also, keep in mind that a lot of stuff is made in China (obviously), so you have the option of buying most things there if you need them. For instance, I usually pack one t-shirt because I like to buy them on the road.
- Leave some room in your bags for gifts and souvenirs. Another option if you’re planning on doing some serious shopping is to ship a package back home.
- Don’t bring too many clothes—experienced travelers wear the same outfits over and over (washing in your hotel or laundry service). Pack neutral colored clothes that are easily mixed and matched. Also, avoid white and light colors that show dirt.
- The Chinese tend to dress casually no matter where they go. So unless you’re traveling on business or planning on going to upscale restaurants, I’d recommend packing for comfort. But still, I’d recommend having at least one “respectable” outfit if you have any interest in hitting any nightclubs, for example. And if you’re in the shaggy, backpacker category, it also helps to look respectable in certain situations (such as applying for visa extension or sneaking in 5-star hotels).
- Choose your fabrics intelligently. Don’t bring jeans (unless you absolutely can’t live without them)– they not only take up a lot of real estate in your bag, they take forever to dry. Instead, I love the hiking/travel type pants (made of synthetic fabrics) which are durable, wrinkle-resistant, and dry quickly overnight.
- Pack high-quality, comfortable shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking so don’t skimp here. Not only are high-quality shoes (e.g. genuine Gore-tex) hard to find in China, you’ll have problems finding your size unless you’ve got dainty Chinese-like feet. Personally, I travel with a pair of light hiking boots and a pair of Chaco sandals (kind of like Tevas). I used to travel with flip-flops but there were too many times when I wished I had an extra strap in the back keeping them securely on.
- Even if you’re traveling in the summer, pack a light jacket. There’ll be plenty of uses (e.g., airplane, air conditioned buses or movie theaters, early morning hikes, chilly boat rides). While fleece is comfortable, I personally think they take up too much room (it’s all about real estate!). Instead, I prefer the quick-dry running/hiking type of light jackets (high warmth to size ratio). For additional layers, thermal underwear or Under Armor-type shirts also pack light with good warmth. I also pack a light, waterproof jacket that packs small (umbrellas are cheap and easy to find in China).
- Leave your expensive jewelry at home so you won’t have to worry about losing them.
My “must-have” essential packing list:
- Alarm clock—or watch with alarm
- Eye mask
- Deodorant (and other favorite toiletries), which may not be easy to find in China.
- Quick dry towel—can also use as small blanket on cold bus rides. Also, small washcloth.
- Small luggage lock for zipper. Plus a larger lock and thin cable for securing your bag
- “Sleep sack”– basically thin sleeping bag liners that also cover a pillow (I prefer the silk ones which are comfy and dry super-quick). You’ll feel clean no matter where you’re sleeping (such as a cheap hostel or overnight train).
- Travel coffee mug—for tea or brewing coffee like French Press. I need my (gourmet) coffee.
- Ziplock bags–various sizes
- Copies of passport and other documents, such as credit card numbers, embassy contact info, etc (also save docs on a USB thumb drive and your email account)
Consider also packing:
- Extra pair of glasses or contact lenses
- Small daypack
- Small calculator—for bridging the Communication Gap while bargaining
- Small flashlight (or can buy cheap ones in China)
- Money belt
- Sleeping pills
- Netbook (mini-laptop)
- MP3 player or iPod with games like Chess for long train rides (or GameBoy)
- Mobile phone
- Business cards and photos —to give/show to people you meet
- Mosquito repellent (if during summer—Western brands seem to be more effective)
- Mosquito net
- Knife, fork & spoon (camping type made of hard plastic)
- Hand sanitizers—catching on in Asia but not as common