Carleton College:
Political Science

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 your visas
    • Blank notebook/diary for your journal
    • A small stuffed animal that reminds you of home (absolutely required)


Overall Strategy:

(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 climate).

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:

Luggage: Some General Airplane Rules

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.

The Basics

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.


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.

Personal Items

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.


Other Items

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:

Twin Cities:

    • REI in Bloomington has the best assortment of travel gear, clothing, water bottles, etc.

WEB Sites:

    • L. L. BeanÖalways one of the best sources of good travel clothing, luggage

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Updated July 22, 2002 by T. Peterson