Whether you’re an experienced traveler or this is your first time going overseas, it helps to know what is and isn’t available in a country like China so you can pack accordingly. Overpacking is a burden and under-packing is terribly uncomfortable.
I don’t want to point out the obvious for you here (i.e. should you bring your camera?) but I do want to share a few things that most travelers to China tend to overlook. As you’re packing your bag or suitcase for the journey, carefully read through my suggestions below and plan accordingly.
Based on the 10 years I’ve been traveling and living in China, I think you’ll be glad you did.
Hard-to-Find Essentials in China
- Deodorant: I know quite a few travelers who just buy toiletries as they go but deodorant is one item that I specifically advise travelers to buy ahead of time. It’s not commonly used here in China (a fact which you’ll quickly discover if you travel on a crowded city bus!) and therefore the choices – if there are any – are quite scarce.
- Quick-Dry Clothes: washing machines are everywhere here in China…driers are not. One of the best decisions I made was to start buying quick-dry briefs and quick-dry shirts. If you’re traveling around China during the summer, expect to be washing your clothes once a day or once every other day.
- Plug Converter: while everybody warns you that China runs on 220v instead of 110v, that’s really not a big deal. Most of our cellphones and computers can be plugged into 220v outlets (check the plug…it will usually say “110v-220v”). The problem arises when you want to plug in your two-prong or three-prong plug into a Chinese outlet. For that, you’ll need to make sure you have a light and cheap plug converter for China.
- Pepto-Bismol: I’ve lived here in China since 2006 and every time I return after an extended stay back in the U.S., my stomach always requires about a week to adjust to the different cuisine. Pepto Bismol or some Immodium chewables will be a lifesaver when your stomach decides that it can no longer take the local food you’re ingesting.
- Sunscreen: although it is possible to find sunscreen here in China, most of it comes with some form of skin-whitener, a popular fad here in China that you may not care for. Just grab a small travel tube of sunscreen for your trip here and keep it on you for that time when you’re doing a lot of walking outside.
- Unlocked phone: if you have a smartphone that is out of contract, figure out how to unlock it for your trip to China (for example, here’s a tutorial on how to unlock your AT&T iPhone). All you have to do once you arrive is buy a cheap SIM card (which is easy to do) and you have an instant ability to communicate. Or, if you’re not out of contract, just bring the phone and connect via Wifi when available (although I suggest you also get a VPN in China for security reasons).
- Hand Sanitizer: while this isn’t a must, I have found it incredibly useful. Even something as simple as a sink with soap can be hard to come by, so a small travel bottle of your favorite sanitizer will put your mind at ease.
Often-Overlooked China Packing Tips
What I’ve shared above deals more with the day-to-day items that you’ll find essential, but there are still some aspects of international travel – especially travel here in China – that are important to keep in mind. I’ll walk through a few of the most important ones below:
- Bring a Copy of Your Passport: and store it in a different bag than your actual passport. As an added security precaution, I would also make a digital scan of your passport and visa and perhaps email it to yourself or store it in the cloud. Just to be safe.
- Don’t Bring Too Much Cash: many people get worried about cash, especially if they’re traveling outside the big Chinese cities. Don’t be. ATMs are everywhere in China and provide a decent exchange rate. Traveler’s cheques are also a hassle to deal with. My advice is to bring enough cash to live on for a few days (and split it among bags in case one gets lost/stolen), have traveler’s cheques as a backup and then use your bank card at an ATM. (Also, read up on the best ways to get money into China)
- Consider Chinese Luggage Requirements: each airline has its own rules, but generally speaking you can expect that most airlines won’t let you carry-on a bag that is more than 11 lbs in weight (5 kilograms). For checked baggage it’s important to note that while the US usually allows you 50 lbs per bag, China limits you to 44 lbs (20 kilograms). Quick tip: if you’re worried about losing your luggage in China (which is not unheard of!), consider some travel insurance coverage before you leave.
Non-Essentials, But Very Helpful
The following are not essential to your trip here to China, but I think you’ll find that it’s nice to have a few of these things along with you.
A China Travel Guide Book can be incredibly helpful during your journey, the only problem is that their heaviness can also be quite a burden. Thankfully most major travel publishers are doing eBook version of their guides so you can download the travel guide (with maps) onto your iPad, Android or Kindle. The same goes for individual city guides, which can be helpful if you’re spending a majority of your time in cities like Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong.
A Mandarin phrasebook is also a huge help, especially if your Mandarin skills haven’t progressed beyond simple numbers and greetings. While it is definitely possible to travel to China without speaking Mandarin, there are quite a few free Mandarin language resources that can be invaluable during your trip.
Sign up for a Weixin (WeChat) account before you come to China. WeChat is an extremely popular social media app and pretty much everybody and their grandma has an account. While you’re traveling around, WeChat is one of the few ways you can grab somebody’s contact information (email isn’t as widespread and therefore many people don’t have or often check theirs).
China Packing Checklist
Has this been helpful? If so, then you might find even added value in the China packing list I’ve put together. Just click on the button below and I’ll send it immediately to your email account. Just print it off and you’ll be good to go.
Enjoy and please let me know in the comments if there’s anything you think I missed here. Safe travels!