Packing for China
Royís list of absolutely very
important not-to-be-forgotten necessities:
- Nalgene water bottle(s) capable of holding both boiling
hot and cold water
- Prescription drugs, vitamins, over-the-counter remedies
- Long underwear (skier's, synthetic material)
- Extra eyeglasses
- One good "dress up" outfit
- Swiss army knife
- Kleenex packs
- Small inflatable travel pillow
- Photocopies of first page of your passport AND
- Blank notebook/diary for your journal
- A small stuffed animal that reminds you of home (absolutely
(a) RememberÖ.light is better. Make certain that you can carry
all your luggage at onceÖ.in train stations where you will climb up
stairs and then down, at airports where it is a long walk from customs
gates to bus pickup points, at our hotels in Thailand and Vietnam where
there may be a lot of stairs.
(b) Take two check-in bagsÖ.one with most of your stuff, a second
smaller one that can carry the stuff you will use in Thailand and Vietnam
before we get to Beijing. Our itinerary will take us to SE Asia for
almost two weeks of in-country travel before we get to your permanent
dorm rooms in Beijing. In both Thailand and Vietnam you will leave your
main piece of luggage at our hotels in Bangkok and Hanoi, and travel
into the countryside with only your small bag. Make certain you divide
up your stuff between these two bags before you
depart from the USA; plan on leaving your large bag pretty much untouched
until we get to Beijing. Choose this smaller 2nd piece with
care---perhaps some sort of convertible back pack.
(c) Washable clothing is a must. Remember, cotton takes a long
time to dry and washing machines will not be available when you are
on the road. For women and men, things like synthetic/silk underwear
is best, bathing suits that will dry quickly an absolute necessity.
(d) A coat is necessaryÖ..both to get to the airport in Minnesota
and for the first weeks in Beijing. Wear the coat onto the airplane
when you depart (it saves packing room) and take it off when you get
to Bangkok. (Biggest problem: what to do with the thing as we fly from
Thailand to Vietnam---probably look weird carrying winter coat in hot
Pack for cold and hot weather:
Figuring out what to bring on our trip will be one of your most difficult
tasks. We will be traveling through very different kinds of weather:
- Thailand, in March, could approach 100 degrees;
- Vietnam might be either warm or somewhat damp and cloudy;
- Beijing in March will be like Washington DC at the same
periodósometimes quite chilly, often windy, occasionally dusty--then
warmer by late April, and in the 90ís by May;
- On our travels in mid-China, we will hit cool to warm weather
(and very cold if we climb a mountain);
- Shanghai and Hong Kong in May/June will be in the
high 90ís, with humidity to match.
Luggage: Some General Airplane Rules
- International flights will limit you to two check-in
pieces and will also limit you (sometimes) to a combined luggage weight
of no more than 44 pounds. As well, you can carry on two SMALL pieces
and the airlines can sometimes be very sticky about the size of these
pieces (although not the weight).
- For domestic traveling IN China (after we get settled
in at our university), as well as for our travels in SE Asia, you will
want ONE of your two check-in pieces of luggage to serve as an all-purpose,
travel-anywhere-in-China piece--perhaps turning into some sort of medium-sized
back pack. This piece will see all sorts of situations--placed on dirty
floors, dropped onto airport tarmacs, stuffed into too-small storage
areas--and may also serve as either a chair or a pillow. Choose this
piece with some care.
- Carrying ALL of your luggage by yourself for some distance
might be necessary. Make certain that you can pick it all up at once
and actually walk with all of it at the same time--say, a block or two.
What to Bring to China
Tauna Szymanski and Michael Hasenstab
This is a list compiled by two former Beijing Seminar students who
traveled extensively throughout the country.
Mainland China has quickly gone from the stark, rigid, tightly controlled
Communist country of the 1960s to the much more individualistic, open, and
almost-capitalist country we see today. Even during our six months there,
we witnessed change. Perhaps by the time you read this, a lot of the advice
will no longer be applicable, but at least it will give you some idea of
living and travel conditions and hopefully will enable you to plan your
trip with more knowledge and detail.
Basically, try to bring as little as possible. Pack lightly rather than
heavily. Not everything is readily available in China and up to Western
quality standards but pretty much anything can be bought in China if you
know where to look. Also, either pack with extra room in your luggage or
bring items that you know youíll be discarding or distributing as gifts
along the way. Thereís no doubt that youíll buy lots of things, from books
to clothes to antiques to jewelry. And if you donít do this, you will at
least be loaded down either with gifts or with packages from Chinese friends
whoíll want you to mail them to relatives in the states.
We recommend leaving a list of your favorite brands of items with a person
in the U.S. If you run out of something or need something new all of a sudden,
you can e-mail them and they can send a package international mail. This
can get pricy, but thereís not much more you can do besides searching all
the major stores in the large cities.
- Luggage If you plan to travel in China, essential is a
sturdy, large, soft-sided internal frame backpack with several compartments
to fit all your things. Donít bring anything too expensive as it may get
damaged, but durability is a must. This is one item that is very hard
to replace in China. Remember that as you travel, you yourself will
be carrying all your luggage. When you are away from the group, in
train and bus stations there are usually mad rushes to get the available
seats and unless you donít mind standing for 36 hours as you ride the
trains across China then it would be smart to keep yourself fairly mobile.
If youíre just going to study or teach then suitcases are fine, but before
you leave be sure to ascertain the airlineís weight or baggage limit.
Label everything with tags inside and out in English and Chinese. Bring
sufficient luggage locks--the combination kind are easier to deal with,
perhaps not as sturdy, but you wonít have to deal with a pile of keys.
The key kind and bike lock-type things to lock your bag(s) to racks on
buses are available in train stations and department stores.
- Passport Bring three to four photocopies of the first
page and the visa page.
- Emergency card with a U.S. contact, address, and phone
- Extra passport photos (at least three to four)
- Nalgene one-liter see-through hard plastic water bottle
This was one of the most valuable things I brought to China. The water
canít be drunk straight out of the tap in China so most places have boiling
water available. It takes a really long time to cool in those big thermoses
they offer but not long at all in the Nalgene. These bottles, once filled
and sealed with the boiling water are also good hot water bottles in the
winter. They are also odor proof.
- Other ID International Student ID may be helpful (they
have several types of insurance too). Bring one or two IDs which arenít
important to you or which are easily replaceable. These may come in handy
when you need to deposit an ID at a hotel or for renting bikes and you
donít want to give up your passport.
- Neck or waist pouch which you can wear under your
clothes. This is to keep travelersí cheques, passport, and other important
papers very safe and together. This is the safest way to go when youíre
- Travelersí cheques US$500-800 for four months should be
enough for extra travel on the weekends, gifts, or travel after the program.
Double or triple this amount if you plan to stay longer, depending on
your circumstances. Travelersí cheques are pretty secure so bring more
than youíll need. Go American Express.
- A credit card (Visa, Mastercard, and American Express
are recognized) may be a good idea for security especially if you plan
to travel on your own for a long period of time.
- Cash cards are still not widely used in China, and almost
every cash machine you will find requires you to have an account with
the Bank of China (not a good idea).
- Lonely Planet China Guide Despite some of its faults,
the LP is really great for getting around a town. It also gives interesting
historical backgrounds on cities and provinces. This is almost an essential
if youíre going to travel around on your own.
- Ziplock bags are a basic that are wonderful. They are
reusable, very dependable, and clear. Bring lots of sizes to fit your
shoes, clothes, toiletries, etc. When you travel itís a good idea to wrap
everything in your pack in its own bag. When a man lost his lunch in a
rickety long-distance bus in Yunnan all over one of our packs that was
on the floor, the bags saved our stuff.
- First Aid kit Medical facilities are not reliable or of
the highest quality in China, and if you donít speak Chinese, seeking
help will be even more troublesome. This is very important. You donít
want to ruin your trip or have to cut it short because of illness. Itís
best to prepare as well as you can for your stay by bringing any antibiotics
or other medical supplies you might possibly need. Visit your doctor to
get some prescription medicine for respiratory infection, colds, stomach
problems. Pain killers and Tylenol for fevers will be helpful. Alka-Seltzer
Cold Plus worked great for us, and Sudafed and medicated throat lozenges
saved us. Also bring a supply of various sizes of bandages and Neosporin
or other anti-infectant cream. Bringing a large supply of alcohol pads
may be smart for medical purposes and for cleaning chopsticks (or just
bring your own). Syringes are a must, also in various sizes (an injection
with a Chinese needle is a serious game of roulette, playing your odds
between hepatitis or AIDS). An ACE bandage may be smart. Since most foreigners
encounter stomach trouble of various degrees of severity, you should bring
antacids (Rolaids), anti-diarrheals, laxatives, antibiotics and whatever
else may come in handy. Finally, bring enough of any medications you require
and birth control if you think that might be relevant (Men: condoms are
sized differently in most of Asia.)
Itís better to bring fewer clothes than too many. There are many department
stores and markets that carry Western-style clothes. In Beijing there are
several locations, such as Silk Alley, which carry cheap, good quality items.
Also, decent winter coats are sold all over the place. However, if you are
big or tall you may have difficulty finding your size.
Chinese tend to dress quite casually and you will be stared at no matter
what you wear, so any type of clothes you bring will probably be okay. Bring
at least one nice outfit for important meetings, banquets, and holidays.
Appearances definitely impress in China.
Finally, keep in mind that even when the heat is turned on, it doesnít
work very well in most places and you will always feel cold in the
late Spring, even when you sleep.
- Underwear. Cotton feels better but takes forever
to dry in Asiaís humid climate. When you travel there will most likely
be no washing machines and you will keep your stuff clean by washing it
in the sink. Bring synthetic, silk, or (best) Cool/Max underwear.
- Swimming suit. Ditto for bathing suits, which you very
much will want to have. Synthetic and light weight, since everything
takes a long time to dry and nothing is worse than carrying (and wearing)
a moldy wet suit. (RememberÖin Asiaís high humidity, moldy clothes generate
awful crud on the western body.) Blue jean cutoffs and baggy cotton trunks
just donít work. For women, too brief will set you apart; for men, long
baggies look odd in Asia, take forever to dry.
- Summer clothes It will get quite warm by late April, downright
hot by early May. Light clothing that is easily washable and that dries
easily. (Cotton underwear takes forever to dry in humid weather!!!)
- Long johns are important. Some cotton and silk kinds
can be bought but if you want the really good synthetic REI kinds, youíll
have to bring them. I brought long spandex to double as jogging wear and
bought a pair of very comfortable cotton ones on the street, which I also
used to sleep in when it got really cold.
- Spring clothes LAYERING! Bring sturdy, warm, washable
clothes. Nice scarves are available at Silk Alley (and not only silk items)
and cheaper ones on the street. Bring a hat, too. Also bring wool socks.
Bring a very warm winter jacket. Nice and inexpensive ones can be bought
in Tianjin or Beijing and they look just like anything youíd buy in the
States, but you may not want to trust your luck (or the weather to wait).
- Shoes These are difficult to buy if you have large feet,
this means above a 6 or 7 for women or 8 or 9 for men, and they arenít
very good quality. Most stores also donít let you walk around in the shoes
before you buy them. Bring a good pair of walking shoes, sandals or Teva-type
shoes, another pair that looks decent, and maybe one pair of dressy shoes,
especially if you plan to teach. For the walking shoes we highly recommend
bringing comfortable, waterproof hiking-type boots. You will need these
when it gets cold and rainy and snowy and they can also be worn on trips
in warmer weather. China is not a very sanitary place and you donít want
to have to worry about getting your shoes dirty all the time.
- Raingear Unless you have a nice gortex parka with hood,
you donít really need to bring special raingear. Decent, cheap ponchos
sold everywhere may even be smarter because they keep all of you dry on
a bicycle and can also go over your backpack to class or while traveling.
- Athletics Bring sweatpants or spandex and light weight
shorts and court or running shoes if you think youíll play basketball
a lot or run. (Note: at UIBE, there will be outdoor basketball courts,
outdoor track, weight room, etc.) For men, athletic supporters hard to
find in right size; for women, sports bras still not widely available.
Generally, things that are available in China are quite a bit cheaper than
their American counterparts. You can save money and room in your luggage
by waiting to purchase these items in China. On the other hand, if you want
guaranteed quality and assurance, then bring them with you.
- Vitamins Make sure you bring a good multi-vitamin and
bring enough for your entire stay. Not commonly available in China.
- Food If you think you canít live without certain Western
foods, then bring a lot with you or have people send you periodic care
packages. Nescafe packages are popular in China but you may want real
stuff. Milk is another item that is not readily available. Several western-style
markets carry a number of Western goods at Western prices. Merchandise
includes some coffee, chocolate bars, Pringles, western cereal, ice cream
bars, and also some milk. Bringing powdered milk might be a thought, though.
Sugarless gum is difficult to find. More and more Western food is appearing
in China, including specialized restaurants.
- Knife A Swiss Army knife was my third most valuable item
brought, behind my backpack and my Nalgene water bottle. Mine has scissors
which is a plus. The knife will be used to peel fruit. Smaller, cheaper
knifes can be bought in China.
- Chopsticks Some restaurants in China are pretty hairy
and bringing your own chopsticks may bring the worry off a bit. Either
bring plastic ones (they are safer than the wooden ones to clean) or a
lot of disposables. We also carried alcohol pads to clean the ones in
- Travel pillow REI offers a fold-up pillow that is really
comfortable and washable. Or just get one of those blowup neck deals.
Not available in China.
- Travel alarm clock These are difficult to find in China.
Bring one that is battery-operated, small and sturdy.
- Music Battery-operated Walkman-like players are necessary
if you listen to music at all, especially for long bus rides. It is also
nice to have one that could operate without headphones with an internal
speaker. Out-loud music makes your dorm room a lot more pleasant.
- Short-wave radio This is if you want VOA, BBC and the
like. News is fairly difficult to keep up with, although we get
Chinese TV in our dorm rooms (English news at 10 p.m.). If news is important
to you, this might be a good idea, although from some rooms, the reception
isnít too great.
- Batteries Just before we left China, Michaelís Walkman
was seriously damaged by a Chinese battery that had leaked. Bring a large
supply of Western batteries and maybe plan to have someone send you more
half-way through the term. Also bring another camera battery as these
are sometimes difficult to find in China, although they are showing up
more and more. Watch batteries are available.
- Skin moisturizer The climate in northern China turns quite
dry with the fall and winter so bring a lot of this. Some varieties of
cream can be found in China but if you have a favorite brand, bring it.
Nivea and some other Western brands are available in large department
- Laundry detergent Unless you plan on not washing your
clothes at all (some people choose this route in China and end up with
some fascinating rashes) or on paying for everything to be washed in the
dormitory, then you probably should bring some detergent. We chose to
pay for our heavier (jeans, sweaters, long-sleeved shirts) items and hand-washed
our t-shirts, underwear and shorts. If you think youíll end up buying
any silk (boxers, nice shirts, underwear are all popular) then you might
want to bring some Woolite. Normal laundry detergent (White Cat brand)
is available and is decent. Clothesline rope can be purchased easily
and cheaply in China.
- Glue stick for closing envelopes and pasting stamps. Only
really messy stuff of this sort is available in China. Airmail envelopes
and rice paper with college logos on it are available in the dorm.
- Slippers are not required, although dorm floors can be
pretty grimy. However, if you plan on traveling and staying in really
cheap places, sometimes these arenít provided. Just bring Teva-like
sandals or flip flops along if you donít want to have to put your shoes
on to just go to the bathroom.
- Mosquito repellent If you bring this, you probably wonít
need it very often. I used mine once (at Beidaihe), so bring a very small
container of it. However, if youíll be spending time in China during the
summer or in the South, this might be a lifesaver. Iím not sure about
availability in China of this stuff, but I have a feeling itís not very
- Dust masks You donít really need to bring a bandana for
this. When the weather starts getting cold and the coal starts a-burniní,
the pollution gets pretty bad. Many Chinese wear cloth surgical masks
when they go outside. These can be purchased for under Y5 in a pharmacy.
Youíll also blend in more with the crowd wearing these.
- Towel One was sufficient for beach and bathing purposes,
and especially important when on the road.
- Flashlight This was handy, especially when travelling
in areas that donít have plumbing facilities, or on trains in the middle
of the night.
- Glasses It would be a very good idea to bring an extra
pair of your prescription glasses.
- Sunglasses In mountainous areas, of which China has a
lot of, or in the far west, these will be essential. The sun can get pretty
bright in the summer months and with the snow, too. These are widely available
- Stationery items Donít worry about bringing letter-writing
paper to China as youíll have to use rice air mail paper (available on
campus) and envelopes. Good quality mechanical pencils, wood pencils and
pens are available.
- Tape China sells tape of course, but weíve found it loses
its stick rather quickly. Scotch tape and packing tape may be a good idea.
- Deodorant/anti-perspirant Because these are not used by
Chinese in China, they are impossible to find here. Bring enough to last
you through your stay. After all the garlic youíll eat, youíll need it
along with an adequate supply of toothpaste.
- Kleenex packs These small packages, wrapped in plastic,
are a great thing to bring to China. Bathrooms arenít supplied with toilet
paper and these are easy to carry and easily accesible. They are also
handy as napkins (to clean yourself and the dishes) in restaurants and
in the winter for their stipulated purpose. Bring a lot. China does sell
some Chinese versions.
- Toothpaste Tartar control and Western brands not available
so bring what youíll need.
- Hard toothbrushes are available but not the high-tech American
- Shampoo Many brands, Western and Chinese, are available
in China, but the Western ones can be even more expensive than they are
in the States.
- Soap Thereís a great sandalwood soap available in one
of the stores on campus for rmb 0.70. Once we found this we stopped using
the soap we had brought, but if you need moisturizing soap or have a favorite
brand, bring it along. Also bring a good soap dish for traveling
- Shaving cream Not commonly available in China.
- Razors The ones manufactured in China are not of very
good quality but more and more non-disposable Gillette Sensor blades and
razors are seen around, although theyíre comparatively expensive.
- Toilet paper Mostly the toilet paper in China is really
rough and cardboardy. If you think youíll miss Charmin, then you might
want to bring a few rolls.
- Brush or comb Just bring one. If it breaks, these items
are easily replaceable in many styles.
- Mousse, hair spray, gel, etc. Chinese versions available.
Quality may vary.
- Womenís sanitary pads and tampons A Chinese pad is widely
available and it seems to be of decent quality but tampons are nonexistent.
- Lip balm China gets dry in the fall so this is pretty
important. Lip balm is also difficult to find in China.
- Contact lens cleaner stuff Very difficult to find in China.
Neither of us wear contacts but China is pretty dusty and dry for the
autumn season and it may be difficult to wear contacts. People did it
on our program but they complained quite often about problems with it.
- Photos Bring pictures of yourself, your home, your family,
and other things that may be of interest to someone who has never traveled
before. Chinese we met loved photos!
- Books Although dictionaries are available comparatively
cheaply, you may want to bring your own for the first few weeks before
you know your way around and where these are for sale. Bring any books
for your projects. Also, you may want to bring some reading that has nothing
to do with China. I brought several books in English about Chinese history
and culture and it really enriched my experience. We suggest bringing
cheap or used editions in case you want to discard or trade them while
in China. Books are also great gifts for Chinese friends who are learning
English and have an interest in the Western world. We have been warned
strongly about giving "sensitive" materials such as some of
the titles above. Doing this probably wouldnít put you in much danger
but it might place your friend in an awkward situation, so we donít recommend
doing this. However, giving literature and books about the United States
and coffee table picture books would all be safe and greatly appreciated.
- Gifts Gifts have an important place in most relationships
in China, especially those involving foreigners. It would be a good idea
to bring a variety of gifts for a variety of relationships: friends, teachers,
employers, cabin-mates on trains, etc. This is a good way to express thanks
or appreciation especially if you canít do so verbally. Some good gifts
to Chinese are: books (see above), tame American tapes (Simon & Garfunkel,
The Beatles, U2, etc.), sweatshirts, T-shirts with American college logos
or other American things printed on, stamps (many Chinese love
stamps), maps, silver dollars, well-made American products (Maglite flashlights
for instance), American magazines (Newsweek, Time)
- Teaching English materials If you think that you may
want to teach English for a few hours a week while youíre here, then bringing
some interesting teaching materials may be helpful. Some classes ask that
you teach out of a specified book, but to make your Oral English class
interesting you can bring items that say a lot about American culture.
You can be presented with any range of English-speaking ability, so be
- Camera and film China is a very photogenic place; not
bringing a camera would be a shame. Fuji film and Chinese brands are widely
available in China, as are Chinese manufactured Kodak brand. Also, speeds
above 100 are difficult to find. Developing is available and relatively
inexpensive, however the quality may not be on par with developing done
back in the States.
One note of caution: When you first arrive in China, because
of the unfamiliar setting you are placed in, it might be difficult to find
the things on this list. You might want to bring several weeksí supply of
American goods that will help ease the transition. The last thing you want
to have to do is go searching for shampoo the first few days you arrive
in Asia. It took us several weeks and even several months to find back alleys,
markets, and small shops that carried the goods we wanted (some of which
have been listed above). Also, remember Asia is changing so quickly that
the availability of consumer goods grows daily. Expect prices to be a bit
higher, goods more accessible, and Chinese looking more Western than the
descriptions from people who visited China over 6 months ago.
Another note: Chinese version means Chinese version. Although
many Western items are available in China, the Chinese versions of certain
products can be of lower quaility. Of course certain items are the same,
take for instance clothes. Most clothes sold in the U.S. are made in China,
but also remember the clothes in U.S. department stores are made for export.
Clothes sold in China can have some interesting fashion twists and will
not always fit the western frame.
Note from Roy: Where to buy...
Most of the things you will take to Asia are commonly available.
It will be simply a matter of organizing what you have already.
But a couple of things on the list might be a little more difficult
to find. Mary Lewis and I have found almost everything available
from one of the following:
- REI in Bloomington has the best assortment of travel gear,
clothing, water bottles, etc.
- L. L. BeanÖalways one of the best sources of good
travel clothing, luggage
- Travel Smith for good lightweight clothing, travel
- Magellan's for a wide selection of travel supplies
Updated July 22, 2002 by T.