Cultural Experience | China

Travel Packing List Essentials for China

I was frightened of forgetting something crucial but in the end, it’s not what’s in your suitcase, that matters.

When packing for a stay in China for the first time I guess I could consider myself lucky that I wasn’t allowed to bring more than 20kg – I would have probably packed a whole truckload. My knowledge about this country was more than limited and I was frightened of forgetting something crucial.

After my arrival I quickly realized that there was no need to be afraid: In the globalized world that we live in, the everyday items that we’re used to can be found even in remote traveling destinations – the same rule applies for China: Especially in the bigger cities you will definitely be able to find a solution for any exotic craving or specific need. Most of the well-known brands also have a branch in China and you’ll be surprised to see how familiar the city centers, with all their KFC’s and Starbucks’ seem.

What to pack

Of course you should bring the general travel essentials like your camera, an adapter and chargers for your electronic devices, maybe a multi-power outlet strip, medicine for emergencies, a guidebook and your travel documents; clothes that you can wear in layers, comfortable shoes, some photos to remind you of home, sunscreen and mosquito repellent – but there are also some other things that you might want to consider before packing for a trip to China:

Clothes
China is one of the largest countries in the world and as it covers several different climate zones, both the amount and the kind of clothes you should pack will vary considerably. Depending on where you go, you might find yourself in almost tropical climate in the humid South or in the continental climate of the North West with its -20°C during Winter, sandstorms in Spring and hot Summers. Check online before leaving to avoid unpleasant surprises! Besides, shopping is great in China, in the worldly shopping malls as well as on the rather traditional markets, so leave a room in your luggage to buy clothes 😉 The only obstacle might be the sizes: It sounds like a silly stereotype but people in China a generally a bit smaller than in western countries and so are their shoes and clothing. Especially when you are coming in Winter make sure you bring a warm coat and footwear in your size.

Communication
What helped me a lot in terms of communications was a great little book that my mom gave me as a farewell gift: a picture dictionary! Instead of vocabulary, this little book is full of all kinds of useful images you can point at to describe what you are looking for or how you are feeling. This might seem a little awkward at first, but it really helps! Another thing you might find useful is taking a little calculator with you when you go shopping in “traditional” places: vendors can type in their offer and you can put yours – let the bargain begin!

chinese paper lanterns red student travel image

Cosmetics
This is a tricky topic: A lot of items look similar at first sight – but even though the popular brands are available, double check if the product is actually the same – I noticed that the formula of most products seems different than home. I wouldn’t advice anybody on bringing tons of make up, but if you don’t want to miss out on certain cosmetics or if you are a little picky when it comes to your hair, you should probably bring some with you. It might also be difficult to find deodorant with anti-perspirant, hand sanitizer or tampons – pads, however, are widely available. Apart from supermarkets you can buy cosmetics in a drugstore called Watson’s. But be prepared for some unusual discoveries: a lot of day creams have a whitening effect!

Pollution
Air pollution is a big issue in China, especially in the bigger cities like Beijing, Nanjing or Chengdu. Especially if you are sensitive you might want to consider wearing a face mask and avoiding outside sports. You can check online for the level of fine dust.

Food
Chinese cuisine is tasty: spicy Hotpot, stuffed buns and noodles, fruits and vegetables I had never seen before in any other places and the most delicious street food in the whole world – Even if some dishes look a bit funny, give everything a try! If you want to bring some favorite treats from home just keep in mind that it is not allowed to bring fresh fruit, vegetables or dairy products. You can bring prepacked goods like chocolate or granola bars. If you love good coffee and are traveling more rural areas, you might want to consider bringing your own – China is traditionally more of a tea-country. And if you don’t feel like using you own food in the end, all kinds of foreign sweets make great gifts for your new Chinese friends, too 😉

Traveling
Make sure to bring a small backpack for weekend trips, maybe a neck pouch to keep your money safe. Generally, safety is not a problem in China but especially on overnight train rides you should be careful.
Many Chinese carry a thermos jug with loose tealeaves with them, not only for traveling but also to uni or to the office. You can get your own cheaply at any supermarket and then simply refill it where ever you go – there are hot water supplies basically anywhere, even on trains.
Going to a foreign country, its always a good idea to take a journal. Not only to write about the places you’ve seen or the new friends you made but also to reflect on your experience. Chinese culture is probably quite different from what you are used to and it is not always easy to cope with. Writing it down can help you understand and make progress, also in terms of dealing with a possible culture shock.
Plus, you’ll have a scrapbook of your time in China by the time you go home!

But in the end, it’s not what’s in your suitcase, that matters – Enjoy your trip!

china student travel image

Josefine Schaefer

University of Applied Science in Cologne | 5 stories

Josefine Schaefer studies Multilingual Communication at the University of Applied Science in Cologne; she loves travelling, mango smoothies and modern dance and has spend some time living both in China and Ecuador. Right now she is doing a semester abroad in the UK.


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