What NOT to pack for a holiday in China

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In general

All but the briefest visits to China require some long distance travel. Given that stations and airports, and cities generally, have not been designed to make walking with luggage easy it makes a big difference if you can travel light. Those burdened with large or heavy cases will suffer whenever changing location and that will detract from their overall experience. The list below has been prepared so as to help you remove items and save a bit of weight and space.

It pays to begin packing early. Lay out the items that you think might be useful and keep adding so that you do not forget anything essential. A few days before departure review each item and think when you would use it. If you cannot think of a situation immediately then leave the item at home.

Don't forget to check quantities too. If you have 4 pairs of socks, could you manage with just 3?

The list

T-shirts: Clothing is cheap in China and even special tourist shirts are not expensive if you bargain the asking price down. Given that you are likely to pick up several along the way it therefore doesn't make sense to carry too many to start with.

Boots & shoes: Footwear is heavy and takes up a lot of space. Trainers (sneakers) or sports sandals are appropriate for most general sightseeing with heavier boots only required for those going hiking or with special medical conditions. Even then, good quality sandals may be sufficient.

Waterproofs: Buy a cheap umbrella at a supermarket early in your trip. This will be sufficient in most cases and also doubles as a parasol when you need shade.

Electronics: Electronic items themselves may be small and light but when travelling you probably need to bring along a protective case and chargers/adapters etc. For each item you manage to leave behind you therefore save yourself quite a bit of space and weight, and the risk of losing an item.

Torch: A typical 'just-in-case' item to pack for travel is a torch (flashlight). It is unlikely you will ever need one of these so, if you must bring one, bring the smallest/lightest LED one that you can find. One with a single AAA battery would be sufficient.

Camping equipment: camping is not common in China and so a tent etc could go completely unused. If you would like to 'get away from it all' at some point in your trip do a bit of research and find a route where you could stay with locals each night. Tiger Leaping Gorge is one such option. There are several others becoming popular. In Jiuzhaigou National Park it is now possible to join an eco-trek with camping equipment supplied. Hopefully other similar options will follow.

Sleeping bag or Pillow: Some people advise carrying a sleeping bag and pillow for overnight train travel. At most you might want a sleeping sheet to cover the items provided but this is an ideal opportunity to save bulk.

Water bottle: Travellers often like to have their shiny (but battered) aluminium (aluminum) water bottle dangling off their backpack for convenient sips and, perhaps, as a status symbol. Small bottles of water are available pretty much anywhere and so there really is no need to carry this one item. Don't worry too much about the environment either. Recycling of plastic bottles in China is a profitable business for poor locals and your contributions will be much appreciated.

Shampoo/shower gel: One of the biggest weight savings to be had is in the bathroom collection. Do not travel with a litre of shampoo and another of shower gel. If you must carry your own from home transfer some into smaller bottles for your trip. Hotels and most guesthouses offer soaps/shampoo of some sort and you could do without these completely. All other creams and bottled products should be reviewed at the same time.

Guide-books and other reading material: If you have decided on your route before leaving home there is little point in carrying a full guidebook for the whole of China. Copy the relevant pages and leave the original at home. You might want to carry a paperback or two for reading during long journeys and good English-language books are not easy to find en-route. If you are a real bookworm you will find cheap classics in most bookstores and could work your way through some of these.

Medicines and first aid: China is not a place where travellers run a great risk of getting sick. The most common ailments are colds and flus and western medicines for these are available locally. Do some research here and cut down on your usual first aid kit as much as you are comfortable with. Better to ensure that you have adequate travel insurance with cover for emergency repatriation in the event of anything major. Of course, this is useless if you don't know the 24/7 hotline number so record that and your policy details in several safe places.

Snacks: there is little chance you will get caught out hungry and with no food outlet in sight so do not carry emergency bars of chocolate or similar 'just in case' unless you are diabetic that is. Local snacks may be unfamiliar at first but, since they are cheap, you can keep trying options until you find some that you enjoy.

Special cases


Nappies: Branded nappies (diapers) are available in China and so you need carry only sufficient for your next journey. They may not be heavy but can take up considerable space. Do bring plastic bags for soiled nappies as you may not have a good opportunity to dispose of these immediately. Wet wipes are available locally but you may prefer to bring your own supply of hand gel.

Games, toys & books: given that so many plastic toys originate in China it is no surprise to find that they are cheap here. You, and your children, will see many novel ones so don't bring too many from home. Perhaps even make shopping for these a feature to keep youngsters interested. Any excess can become gifts back home.

Clothing: It is tempting to bring lots of variety for a range of conditions. Check the likely weather along your route and pack for that only. Chinese childrens' clothing is cheap and cheerful so it won't hurt if you have to pick up some extra items along the way.

Push-chair: Chinese pavements are cluttered, have high kerbs and often have many pits and holes to trap small wheels. A push-chair therefore becomes a liability. A sling is preferable in most cases so find one that is comfortable for you and your baby. One that allows the baby to face forward is ideal.


Photographers cannot really cut back on the tools of their trade. A tripod, one or two camera bodies and a selection of lenses and a cleaning kit are all essential, especially the latter given that dust is a real problem in many locations. A good bag to protect all this valuable kit is also an absolute must. Photographers, therefore, have to be ruthless when it comes to other items.

One good pair of footwear must suffice.

You will find disposable slippers in most hotels and these can be used in your room and even down to the breakfast etc. They are ideal for overnight trains, being sufficient to protect your feet from dirt but easy to slip on and off.

Take just enough clothes to deal with the expected weather conditions, no 'just in case' items.

Limit your electronics to practical items. A laptop with removable hard drives is a good way to view and back up images but don't carry your biggest and most powerful one along. You won't have time for post-processing so speed is not essential. Leave all other gadgets behind.

There, that should have saved you at least a couple of kilos. Travel light and enjoy your trip.
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