What’s worth packing and what’s worth leaving behind? Get some expert tips with this China packing list!
General Packing Tips for China
Before we dive into China-specific recommendations for what to pack, let’s begin with general travel packing best practices. Some of these may seem obvious, but it’s important to remind yourself as you start packing.
No matter where you travel, when you’re packing for an international trip, it’s highly recommended that you:
- 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). I’m also a big fan of backpacks that can be used as your only piece of luggage (carry-on). Personally, I use the Tortuga Setout, which is amazing because it can open up like a suitcase and has pockets for everything I need.
- Leave Room for Gifts and Souvenirs. For most people, you come home with more than you left with. If you’re packing your bag to capacity (in room or weight), you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Leave some room for gifts and souvenirs. Of course, 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 easily.
- Dress Casually: Unless you’re traveling on business or planning on going to upscale restaurants, I’d recommend packing for comfort. I recommend having at least one “respectable” outfit if you have any interest in hitting any nightclubs. 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 Wisely. Don’t bring jeans (unless you absolutely can’t live without them). Jeans 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. 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.
- Pack a Light Jacket. 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. You don’t want to have to worry about losing them while on the road.
My “Must-Have” Essentials for China
Below I’m going to walk through a few basic items on my personal China packing list, but for the sake of convenience, I’m also offering it as a download. If you would prefer to have a printable checklist to help you pack for your trip to China, click the button below and I’ll send it directly to your email inbox.
The following are the things that I must have when I’m traveling around China – and I recommend you do the same.
- Sunglasses & Hat: It gets bright when you’re out hiking the Great Wall!
- Earplugs & Eye Mask: I find this helps when taking buses, train or planes in China.
- 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.
- 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)
China Packing List | Worth Considering
These are the items which I like having, but I don’t consider them essential. Take a look and consider if it’s something you might want as well.
- Extra pair of glasses or contact lenses
- Small daypack
- Small flashlight (or can buy cheap ones in China)
- Money belt
- Sleeping pills
- Netbook (mini-laptop) or iPad
- 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