7 1/2 things I always carry when traveling in China

When I travel around China I don’t travel light. And I’m not talking about the weight of my suitcase after days with tempting shopping opportunities. I am talking about the bag that always hangs on my shoulder when sightseeing and exploring sites and places. It might be heavy, but it’s worth it!

First of all it is filled with the obvious things: Wallet (or wristlet) with cash and credit card, a camera or two, mobile phone, a copy of my passport and visa and band-aid in case of blisters.

I might have big bags, but this is only for illustration!
I might have big bags, but this is only for illustration!

Then I have the following check-list:

1.5 packets of Kleenex
You will never regret having enough paper in your bag. Obviously for all the toilets without paper, but also useful for the restaurants without napkins, the runny nose that comes from moving between air condition and the blistering summer heat or sightseeing during cold winter days. Furthermore they can also be used to polish shoes that get very dusty after a day walking around and can be traded for money and other valuable goods by people who weren’t smart enough to pack their own.

2. Card with the name of the hotel in Chinese
Don’t expect the taxi driver to know the English name of the hotel or understand your pronunciation in Chinese. With this card you can purposely get lost, leave your tour group any time and go out for a drink at night knowing you’ll always get home safe.

3. Snacks

Hungry for a snack?
Hungry for a snack?

You can find food everywhere in China, I’m sure that if more than two people gather somewhere there will be someone selling something that can be eaten. Only problem is that the snacks available might not be what you crave just then. I know that I need something else than sweet hot dogs on a stick, dried beef, pickled vegetables or preserved eggs to keep my blood sugar up. Bring from home or buy at supermarkets nuts, crackers, western chocolate, dried and fresh fruit. Sightseeing in China can be exhausting, so it’s important to keep your energy level up.

4. A bottle of water
Of course you can buy water everywhere, but it so important to stay hydrated I always make sure I have a bottle in my bag. During summer temperatures can reach high 90s and in the big cities the pollution and dust make your mouth dry. Since running water is scarce at many Chinese toilets, having water to wash hands is good if you forget #6.

Instead of gum you can always carry a box of Astroboy sweets
Instead of gum you can always carry a box of Astroboy sweets

5. Chewing gum
Mostly because I personally like to chew gum now and then, but I do recommend it for those who like something sweet after a meal, as the Chinese seldom serve other desert than fruit. Chinese food often leaves an unusual taste in your mouth, and you might want to freshen up.

6. Anti-bacterial wipes or gel
I am not really that afraid of bacteria and I seldom get sick when I am in China, and that’s not because of anti-bacterial overuse. But when I think of every pair of hands that have touched the bank notes I am counting (and what those hand have touched before touching those money) or the watery soap available at restaurant toilets I always make sure it’s in my bag. Then I can continue to eat with my hands, if needed.

7. Lip balm
Especially during winter, because the air in northern China is so dry. I always have a couple in different bags and jackets, mostly because it can be hard to find them in shops when you need them. Of all the things than can go askew on a China trip, cracked lips are not going to be one of them. And remember you will be in so many photos, might just as well look good!

Bonus tip: If you are not too fond of green tea or need your coffee fix after a meal, remember to pack instant coffee and tea bags. Few Chinese restaurants have black tea or serve coffee (and if they do it is extremely overpriced), but they always have hot water. My friend Elisabeth never travels without her own french press pot and freshly grounded coffee. That way she stays happy and alert and also gets a lot of new friends among the other tourists wherever she goes.

What is always in your bag when you travel? Please share – it could be a lifesaver! 

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Christine Surlien

Christine has studied Chinese culture and language extensively. She has spent two years at The People’s University of China in Beijing, done five years of Chinese studies at the University of Oslo, and has her masters degree from Hong Kong University. She has been associated with KinaReiser, Norway’s leading agency for travel to the The Far East, for a decade. She was also employed at the administration of the Norwegian Embassy to China for two years, before relocating to Washington DC with her diplomat husband and their two children.

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  5. Great tips! Sounds like the contents of my handbag day to day (I am so organised! or is that lame? LOL) I particularly like the one about having the name of the hotel written in Chinese – I shall remember that for my next holiday anywhere!

  6. So many great tips! I posted the question on facebook as well, and my seasoned China travel friends suggested: Ear plugs, hand cream and a foldable bag in case of major unexpected shopping 😉

  7. Great list! I am getting ready to go to England…My goal is not to have too much stuff…I always over pack. Your picture is precious! I look like that walking into the airport…except I have 2 golf bags too! Thanks.

  8. Thanks for the great tips tissue and snacks are essentials.

  9. I love this list! I’m en route to Cartagena and wishing I’d read your blog yesterday! Thanks for the valuable info! I can tell you know what you’re doing when you travel!

  10. Great tips, Christine, thanks! I chuckled at ‘card with the name of the hotel on it’ as I found myself wandering around Rome once due to not reading your list prior to traveling. 😉

  11. I’ve never been to China. Interesting enough…I like to travel light when I’m out and about. That doesn’t mean I don’t bring a lot of suitcases with me…but the personal bag I carry out and about is small. ID, Money, phone, and water. I like to bring a snack and my kindle on the plane.

    I can totally see the value of bringing extra tissues. No TP in bathrooms is the worst!

  12. Hi Christine-I’d love to visit China someday:-) These tips would definately made our trip to China more enjoyable! Essentials when traveling are passport, money, great shoes for walking, sunscreen when it calls for it, hydrating spritz for skin when it calls for it, water, and snacks. I know I am missing something but to be honest everytime I travel anywhere, I forget something:-) xoDana

  13. What a wealth of information! I’ve never been to China, but if I ever do, I’ll feel quite confident with your advice in hand! What’s always in my bag? First and foremost, my smartphone and charger. I must know where it is at all times. I use it for directions, both walking and driving, as a pedometer, as my camera, to find the nearest bathroom when nature calls (there’s an app for that: Sit or Squat), to figure out which way to walk on a cruise ship (yep, there apps for deck plans too), to keep in touch and document my movements (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.), and so much more. Beyond that, I always have water, my sunglasses, some gum (especially if I’m flying), a hard copy of something to read and a pen. I always, always, always need a pen. 🙂

  14. Definitely the sanitizer, for everywhere! I also carry a US $100 (which can get you out of a surprising number of jams) and a small pocketknife or swiss army tool (for the same reason).

  15. Well, unfortunately I don’t get to travel! Actually, I have never been outside of the United States. You certainly do seem like a seasoned veteran at traveling though. Have you been to other countries besides China?

    1. A lot of countries! When you grow up in Europe it’s so easy to travel around, and then I have been lucky to see a lot of Asia as well. Most interesting place I have been was North Korea, most relaxed was probably Clearwater Beach, FL this spring break! Even if you don’t travel outside the US I am sure you have a few essentials in your handbag 🙂

  16. What a GREAT post! I Love the 1/2!! Who would have thought that you’d need to make sure to bring kleenex! What’s in my bag when I travel – camera of course, money in both US& Foreign Currency, passport, probars (snacks are a must – I’ve been stranded on airport tarmacs for hours and will NEVER travel without food again), water (also essential), I also like to take a “fanny pack” bag to give my shoulders a break and have extra room to store stuff (I like to put my money and passport in this and keep it close to the body) Maybe someday I’ll make it to China!

    1. I 100% agree, never travel without food! Now that I travel with kids it’s even more important. Low bloodsugar = unhappy kids = unhappy parents! Hope you make it to China one day, and I am now reassured you will remember to bring enough kleenex 🙂

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