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

What should I bring on my China trip?

China can sound like a very foreign destination that may be intimidating to some, but it’s truly a joy to explore such a fascinating country with its incredibly deep, rich history.

For some, it can be hard to know what you need to take to China. 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, including what to wear.

Traveling in China is a journey in all senses. Be sure to bring an open heart and mind, patience and your sense of humor.

1) Pollution mask – China has a serious pollution problem, especially in most of the cities. You’ll see a lot of local people wearing masks as they go about their everyday lives on the street, so don’t worry about looking like a tourist while wearing one – it’s a good idea to protect yourself when in areas with dense pollution. Getting a good mask before you go will save you from paying a higher price for one when you arrive.
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2) China Power adapter – China uses a 220 Volt 50 Hz AC electricity supply. There are several socket types in common use – these include Type I, B and C. To be safe, It’s best to have a universal adapter to ensure that you’ll always be able to charge your devices, regardless of the socket, and that your devices won’t get fried in the process of charging!
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3) Activated Charcoal – I can’t speak highly enough about these activated charcoal capsules. Traveler’s diarrhea is an unfortunate truth that comes with exploring new places, and in any situation where you’re going to be trying new foods and traveling to unfamiliar territory, it’s a great idea to have these with you. The charcoal absorbs irritants and toxins that may be causing upset, and helps your system “reset” so that you can get back to feeling normal and travel-ready.
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4) Virtual Private Network (VPN) – China’s firewall and Internet monitoring/censorship are legendary. Many sites are blocked (including Google, Facebook and YouTube) and so if you don’t have your own private network you will not be able to access your favorite websites while you’re traveling. I recommend NordVPN to solve this problem. Do keep in mind that even with a VPN, the Internet is still monitored and you’ll want to avoid raising any red flags with your browsing habits.

Another reason to get a good VPN is because it protects you with 1-click from losing your passwords, credit cards and identity. Hackers are known to target tourists on insecure WiFi networks.
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5) Female Urination Device – I know, this one may sound a little strange, but did you know that one of the most common kinds of toilets in China is a “squat toilet”? You will have access to some western-style toilets in larger cities, but you’ll find that squat toilets are still extremely common, and a little challenging to use until you get used to them. Female urination devices like this one make your job a little easier, especially if you have a hard time squatting for any length of time.
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6) Travel toilet paper – Speaking of toiletries and squat toilets, you may want to think about bringing along some of your own toilet paper. Chinese toilets, especially in rural areas, are often quite ill equiped (which may include no toilet paper), so it’s better to plan ahead than to be caught in an uncomfortable situation.
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7) Universal Waterproof Phone Case – This phone case is my new favorite travel item – it provides fantastic protection from dirt, dust, scratches, and water, and it costs under $10! We all travel with our phones and rely on them heavily, so protection like this really can’t be beat.
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8) Travel Insurance – Most trips to China are enjoyable and without any significant incidents, but when traveling internationally it’s always better to be prepared for emergencies. Experienced travelers know that Travel insurance is a must, and can really save you time, worry, and money when dealing with things like medical emergencies and theft.
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9) Rolling suitcase – You’re bound to travel quite some distance even on a short trip to China, and you’ll be doing a lot of walking along the way – that means your luggage will likely be bounced around at the airport, dragged along behind you as you move from one place to another, pulled along uneven roads and pavement, etc. In situations like these it’s always worth it to invest in quality luggage – something robust, lightweight, and easy to travel with will save you time and back pain later.
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10) Packing Cubes – Rummaging around in your bags for something you can’t find is annoying and time-consuming when you are on the road, and packing cubes are the sort of simple solution you wonder why someone didn’t invent before. They are a lightweight tool to help you organize what’s inside your bag, so you can get to what you are looking for in seconds as opposed to digging for minutes and potentially dropping items in the process.
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11) Travel backpack – I find that a backpack is a comfortable and convenient way to carry my stuff while I’m traveling. The Osprey Porter is a popular travel backpack, and with its lockable zippers, padded laptop sleeve, and technical suspension it’s easy to see why – those things come in very handy when toting around your belongings. You can also easily attach a smaller pack to the outside, in case you want more storage space or need a day-pack on your travels.
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12) Swimming cap – Most swimming pools in China require you to wear a swimming cap, but the ones they wear may be uncomfortable and are often of poor value, so it’s best to bring your own.
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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’ll never need to worry about it! It’s also great to have a towel for other common needs like freshening up on a long train trip.
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14) Sarong – I always travel with a sarong, and I’ve found so many uses for mine along the way that I could probably write a book on the subject. Whether you use yours as a swimsuit cover-up, a makeshift privacy screen, a pillowcase for a dirty pillow, or a lightweight blanket, you’ll be thankful you brought a sarong with you.
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15) 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 this one from Lush is just right.
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16) Travel 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 in places like train stations and other public areas, and a water bottle is ideal to carry water with you so that you can avoid having to purchase pre-bottled drinking water.
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17) 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 that’s chock full of interesting details and tips for your journey.
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Other packing list items for China


What to wear in China

1) Nice pants, jeans, skirt – Clothing worn by natives in China tends to be fairly conservative, and relatively dressy when compared to the styles we are comfortable wearing in the States. For example, when jeans are worn they are nice-looking and often paired with a nicer top to dress them up. It’s not uncommon to see people wearing slacks, dresses, or other nicer clothing on a day-to-day basis. It’s also important to remember that if you’re planning to visit government, religious, or holy sites, you’ll need to dress conservatively.

2) Dress in layers – China is a large country, and it spans a couple of different climate zones. Seasons are similar to temperate zones around the world with a spring-summer-fall-winter cycle akin to the Eastern United States. Cold, dry winters with some precipitation and hot, humid, rainy summers can be expected, so it’s important to bring layers that can be easily added and removed to keep you comfortable.

3) Rain jacket Women’s and Men’s – When it rains in China, it really rains – the rains are intense, especially if you’re in the south during tropical storm season. Everywhere you travel in China the pollution in the rain means that it can be dirty, so protect your clothes and yourself by getting a rain jacket to prevent yourself and your clothing from becoming soaked and potentially ruined.

4) Lightweight fabrics – Summer travel and trips to southern China will be warm and often humid or rainy. Lighter fabrics and fabrics that will breathe and dry well are a good idea.

5) Nice-looking shoes that are also comfortable – It makes sense that you’d need nicer-looking shoes since you’ll be dressing more nicely in China than in other travel destinations, but remember that you will still be walking quite a bit and those shoes should be comfortable, supportive, and broken in. These Women’s and Men’s shoes are reliable and comfortable, and tend to look great as well. Flip flops should be worn in pool areas only.

6) Warm or very warm clothes – If you’re traveling during the winter months, you’ll need to be prepared to bundle up. Layers are still important, but choosing your layers carefully will be key: high-quality outer gear like jackets or coats are best, along with appropriate gloves and hats. Under-layers should be made of quality fabrics and should be breathable. Red is considered lucky, so this is also a good opportunity to play with adding a pop of color to your winter accessories!

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 that fits you well.

What NOT to take to China

1) 🚫 DON’T PACK Lots of electronics – It’s never a good idea to travel with expensive items that you don’t absolutely need, and there’s no exception for electronics, even in our device-driven world. Electronics tend to be heavy, fragile, and unnecessary on trips, though we still recommend bringing your phone, kindle, and camera along for the ride.

2) 🚫 DON’T BRING Books – Save the weight, save the space; load those books onto a Kindle instead. It’s lightweight, and can hold more books than you could possibly carry, including guidebooks and phrasebooks for local languages!

3) 🚫 DON’T TAKE Politically sensitive material – It’s important to remember that China is a much more guarded country, and that along with those previously mentioned internet restrictions come some additional cultural and governmental sensitivities. Bringing anything that might be seen as inflammatory or disrespectful is unwise, and may cause you some trouble during your travels.

4) 🚫 DON’T PACK Too many clothes – You won’t need very much clothing for most seasons in China, and you don’t want to weigh yourself down with luggage any more than you already will be. If you’re traveling with clothing that can dry quickly, it’s easy to wash your items yourself. If you need professional laundry services, they’re provided by most hotels, or you can seek a coin-operated laundry should you need to. Bottom line: pack things that you need, leave things that you don’t, and choose items that can be re-worn or easily washed.

5) 🚫 DON’T BRING Expensive jewelry – Yes, you’ll need to look nice and you may want to bring some inexpensive jewelry for that purpose, but bringing expensive jewelry on your travels is never wise. Unless it’s something you never remove and you’re sure it’s not going to get lost, it’s best to leave valuables like these at home and away from risk.

6) 🚫 DON’T TAKE Delicate or expensive clothes – Just like valuable jewelry, clothing is at some amount of risk of breakage or being misplaced every time you travel. You’ll want to feel completely comfortable tackling your travel activities wearing what you bring, so pack accordingly!

7) 🚫 DON’T PACK A towel – A standard-weight and full-sized towel is very unnecessary, and adds considerable bulk and weight to your belongings. Stick with a travel towel instead.

8) 🚫 DON’T BRING Lots of cash – Yes, you will make some purchases from cash-only vendors, but the amount of cash you will need should still be minimal, and it’s much safer to use your credit card to make purchases. Just be sure to tell your banking institution(s) that you’ll be traveling to China before you leave!

9) 🚫 DON’T TAKE Overly casual clothes – There are times when dressing casually will be appropriate, such as when hiking or exploring areas that are not as urban, but there will really not be a time or a place for excessively casual clothing or clothing that is considered immodest. Wearing this kind of clothing will only attract unwelcome attention.

FAQs about travel in China

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

Most tap water in China will not contain bacteria, but it may contain chemicals and traces of heavy metals. It is safe enough to drink but not healthy in the long-run, so it’s best to stick with filtered water from fountains (that’s where your travel water bottle comes in handy), or bottled water.

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. Traveling 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 for travelers – 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. Other issues can come up in urban areas where traffic can be dangerous.

4) How prevalent is English in China?

A lot of educated Chinese people learn English in 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 communication may be a little trickier. If you have specific dietary needs, be sure to look up phrases for those before you go, and consider bringing pictures if you find that the language is difficult.

5) Where is the best food in China?

One of the great things about China is its incredible food culture – you can find great food just about anywhere! Southern regions in China are most famous for their varied cuisine and unique flavors.

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

China is not a country where tipping is expected or even part of the culture.

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. Consult a guide book for ideas, and be sure to do your research before you go – remember that internet restrictions may make accessing information pretty difficult once you’re there.

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

The train system is fast and generally affordable, but tickets can sell out quickly so it’s best to plan in advance. Flights are a good way to cover longer distances – delays are common, but travel will still be faster via plane. Buses are cheap but have a bad reputation for safety, but on the other hand buses can often access travel areas that other vehicles of transportation cannot.

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 sometimes change without warning, so it’s best to sort out a visa well in advance and to verify that you’ve done everything required of you before you leave. Most US 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 at that time is for cold-lovers. If you’re able to enjoy the cold, though, there are many amazing sites and festivities to experience during this time! One example is the famous Ice Festival held in Harbin in January. On the opposite end, Summer can get very hot and humid not only in the south, but also inland, even further north like Beijing. There are festivals in the summer as well, but it’s not the most comfortable time to travel if you don’t like the heat. Spring and autumn are widely accepted as the best times to visit, and are often very busy tourist times.

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

China is a fairly cheap place to travel, and staying in smaller towns or cities will slash costs compared to staying in places like Shanghai. Eating local food instead of western food is another smart way to save money and to savor the local culture.

12. Is the internet accessible in China?

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

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