19 Top China Packing List Items + What NOT to Bring (2017 Update)

China can sound very foreign and it can be hard to know what you need to take. So, I put together this essential checklist. At the bottom I also let you know “What NOT to bring to China”, as well as some additional tips on traveling in China.

Traveling in China is a journey in all senses. So, as well as these physical items, be sure to bring an open heart and mind, patience, your sense of humor and a spirit of adventure.

What should I bring on my China trip?

1) Rolling suitcase – You’re bound to travel quite some distance even for a short trip to China. From being thrown around at the airport, to lugging it along dusty, broken and uneven pavements, your belongings will travel far and not always in the best situation. So it’s worth investing in a suitcase which is robust, lightweight and easy to travel around with.
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2) Travel backpack – I find a backpack a comfortable and convenient way of carrying my stuff when I am travelling. The Osprey Porter is a popular travel backpack, with its lockable zippers, padded laptop sleeve, and technical suspension. You can also easily attach a smaller pack to the outside, in case you want more storage space or you’ll need a daypack on your travels.
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3) Packing cubes – Rummaging around in your bags for something you can’t find is annoying and time consuming when you are on the road. Packing cubes are the sort of simple solution you wonder why someone didn’t invent before. They are a lightweight way to help you organize what’s inside your bag, so you can get to what you are looking for in seconds not minutes.
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4) Rain jacket: Women’s and Men’s – When it rains in China, it really rains. The rains be intense, especially if you’re in the south during tropical storm season. Everywhere, the pollution in the rain means that it can be dirty. Protect your clothes and yourself by getting a rain jacket to stop the rains soaking you.
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5) Dark jeans: Women’s and Men’s , Skirt – You’ll want something smart to wear in case you head out for a fancy meal or drinks, or visit somewhere conservative like a temple. A trusty standby of dark jeans or long trousers, or a skirt, will see you well through the trip.
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6) Walking shoes: Women’s and Men’s – There’s a lot of walking to be done in China. That’s not just at well-known walking sights like the Great Wall – even in a city the size can mean you end up pounding the streets for hours. So, rather than risking cheap local shoes in odd sizes, bring a pair you’ve already broken in. Merrells is a reliable choice of walking shoe.
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7) Swimsuit: Women’s and Men’s – Having a swim can be a healthy, enjoyable way to unwind in the heat and dust of Summertime China. Bring your own swimsuit so you have one which fits you well.
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8) Swimming cap – Most swimming pools in China require you to wear a swimming cap. The ones they wear may be uncomfortable and are poor value, so it’s best to bring your own.
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9) Face mask – China has a serious pollution problem, especially in many of the cities you’ll visit as a tourist. You’ll see a lot of local people wearing masks as they go about their everyday lives on the street. Getting a good quality face mask before you go means you’ll have one to wear if you feel the pollution once you arrive.
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10) Sarong – A sarong is a versatile piece of clothing. You can wear it in different climates, and in different ways, and it will be ideal for use from a long train journey to lounging around inside your hotel room. A sarong can also be great to improvise a host of other uses, from a rolled up pillow, to a cover for a dirty pillow, a headscarf and at a pinch a towel.
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11) Water bottle – It’s important to stay hydrated and you’ll want to carry water from a reliable source. China has a lot of free drinking fountains, for example in train stations, and a water bottle is ideal to carry water on the go.
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12) Solid shampoo – Liquid shampoo can spill in your bag, and only a small amount can be carried onto flights. Solid shampoo is the answer! Not all solid shampoos do the job properly, but we’re happy with this one from Lush.
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13) Travel towel – Cheaper accommodation in China won’t always supply towels, and some towels you are offered elsewhere will have seen better, cleaner days. Bring your own and you need never worry about that. It’s also great to have a towel for other travel moments, such as when you’re on a long train trip.
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14) Rough guide book – There’s nothing like a good guidebook. That’s especially true in China, where Internet sites like Google are blocked. The Rough Guide is a detailed, helpful and well-researched book.
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15) Kindle – Traveling is a great time to read, in general and also about the place you are visiting. But paper books take up space and add weight. A Kindle is a great lightweight solution, allowing you to make the most of long train journeys, flights, time sitting around at stations and quiet time with a drink in hand.
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16) Power adapter – China uses a 220 Volt 50 Hz AC electricity supply. There are a couple of socket types in common use – primarily a U.S. style one, and sometimes a small three-pinned one. The larger, U.K.-style three pinned socket is sometimes found on extension leads, but less often. Make sure you have an adapter. A universal adapter will make sure whatever you have works, whatever the socket.
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17) Camera – China is a vast country with incredible sights, from the Great Wall, through food to the people you meet on your travels. Having a good camera will help you make the best of your trip once it’s over, with memories to cherish and share. A Canon Powershot is a happy medium between full on serious camera and the quality you’d get from the camera on your phone.
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18) Alarm clock – You’ll want to get up and make the most of some days, especially when travelling if you have an early transport connection. Your phone may have an alarm function but if the battery is running low or your phone is lost, you won’t be sure to wake up. A simple alarm clock is a reliable standby.
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19) Travel Insurance – Most trips to China pass very smoothly and hopefully you’ll be fine. But it’s best to be prepared, especially for expensive medical emergencies where in some cases you may want emergency treatment back home. Travel insurance is a must.World Nomads insurance is a really popular company among frequent travelers.
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Other packing list items for China

What to wear in China

1) Dress in layers
2) Nice clothes
3) Lightweight fabrics for south China/summer travel
4) Warm or very warm clothes for winter travel
5) Dark jeans/pants/skirt
6) Shoes that are comfortable but nice
7) No flip-flops

What NOT to take to China

1) 🚫 Lots of electronics

2) 🚫 Expensive jewelry

3) 🚫 Books

4) 🚫 Politically sensitive material

5) 🚫 Too many clothes

6) 🚫 Delicate or expensive clothes

7) 🚫 A towel

8) 🚫 Lots of cash

9) 🚫 Overly casual clothes

FAQs about travel in China

1) Is the tap water in China safe to drink?

Most tap water in China will not contain bacteria. However, it may contain chemicals and traces of heavy metals. It is safe enough to drink but not healthy in the long term. Bottled water is widely available.

2) What is the air quality like in China?

Air quality is one of the biggest challenges to tourists visiting China, especially if they have asthma or bronchial problems. The cities tend to be very polluted. Often the pollution hangs over the city in a visible smog, but even when it is not visible fine particulate pollution is often present. City pollution levels are tracked daily online which may help you plan your trip. Travelling after a national festival or heavy rain season may mean cleaner air.

3) How safe is it to travel in China?

In general, China is a safe country in which to travel. There is little random violence or street crime. The most common annoyances for tourists are likely to be scams in tourist centers like Beijing, such as a teahouse scam where someone invites you for tea and then bills you heavily, or else late at night in a bar or club where people are drunk. The traffic can be dangerous and some products are low quality, so you do need to pay attention to your situation.

4) How prevalent is English in China?

A lot of educated Chinese people learnt English at school but may be shy to use it. In tourist centers, staff at hotels and attractions should speak basic English but that’s not always the case. It’s helpful to have a few phrases with you. In restaurants English is often not spoken, so if you have specific ideas of what to eat, take some pictures or words.

5) Where is the best food in China?

One of the great things about China is its incredible food culture. You can find good food anywhere in China. Perhaps the southern part is most famous for its varied ingredients and complex cuisine.

6) Do I need to tip in restaurants in China?

China does not have a tipping culture and tipping is not expected.

7) Where can travelers get off the beaten path in China?

China is huge so it’s fairly easy to strike out beyond the usual tourist standbys.

8) What is the best way to get around China?

The train system is fast and generally affordable. Tickets can sell out fast so it’s best to plan in advance. Flights are a good way to cover longer distances. Delays are common but they will still be quicker than trains. Buses are cheap but have a bad reputation for safety. In some areas, however, buses have reach other modes of transport do not.

9) Do I need a visa to visit China?

Most western passport holders need a visa to visit China unless they are there in transit between two countries for a few days. The requirements vary by passport and change sometimes without warning so it’s best to sort out a visa well in advance if necessary. Most U.S. passport holders can apply for a ten year multiple entry visa.

10. What is the best time of year to visit China?

In the winter, northern China gets very cold and visiting then is for cold lovers, for example to see the famous Ice Festival held in Harbin in January. Equally, Summer can get very hot and humid not only in the south, but also inland, even further north like Beijing. So Spring and Autumn are the best times to visit.

11. How can I save money while traveling in China?

China is a fairly cheap place to travel. Staying in smaller towns or cities will slash costs compared to staying in Shanghai, for example. Eating local food not western food is a smart way to save money while savoring the local culture.

12. Is the Internet accessible in China?

The Internet is accessible but parts of it are blocked, for example Google, Facebook and Twitter. If you subscribe to a Virtual Private Network you should be able to access most of the Internet. Internet usage is heavily monitored by the government so be mindful of how you use it.

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