Deciding what to pack for moving to China was difficult, it has to fit in just two suitcases and a carry-on, it can’t exceed 120lbs total, and I’ll be here at least a year! Some things are obvious – clothes, a camera, a laptop. But how to use that last bit of spare space in the suitcase wisely? What to pack when moving to China – these are the top 10 things I’m glad I decided to bring!
1) Photos, posters, wall decor
Empty walls in my bedroom give me the blues! Photos and a couple small posters essentially weigh nothing and take up no room in a suitcase, and have been a welcome source of comfort as I adjust to living in a totally new place. Plus, it’s surprisingly difficult to find posters or wall hangings for sale in the shops around Fuzhou!
So until I get the hang of using Taobao to order decorations and/or make some decent paintings myself to hang up, I’m glad I have some photos, cards, and posters on my walls that I brought from home.
2) Peppermint essential oil
I debated whether or not bringing a few essential oils was useful or a silly extravagance, but my peppermint oil has turned out to be worth its weight in gold as a mosquito bite remedy!
Summer in Fuzhou brings hot weather, afternoon lightning storms, and a lot of mosquitoes. When the itch becomes unbearable, I rub a drop of peppermint oil on the bites and relish the cooling sensation sinking deep into my skin. Itch-free and minty fresh at the same time!
3) Health Supplements
I was definitely afraid of getting “traveler’s diarrhea” my first couple of weeks in China, the body’s natural reaction to encountering new, different bacteria than it is used to dealing with. To help prepare my gut for the transition, I brought a few health supplements with me:
- Garlic oil capsules offer the same benefits as eating raw garlic, without having to actually eat raw garlic! Garlic is a great overall immune booster but also helps make your gut inhospitable to harmful bacteria, making you less likely to get ill.
- Probiotic supplements help increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut, so you have more “good guys” in there to help you fight the “bad” ones! A healthy gut microbiome is strongly linked to overall good health.
So when you’re already dealing with the physical stress of jet lag and recovering from a long plane ride, plus the mental stress of moving to a new country and visa issues, it’s nice to give your immune system some tools to work with to fight off illness and indigestion.
4) A lot of deodrant
Have I mentioned it’s very hot here in the South of China in the summer? Deodorant can be difficult to find in Chinese stores as most Chinese people lack the gene that causes sweat to have an odor. (No thanks to my European ancestors for failing to evolve the same trait!)
I’m a bit particular about the scents of my personal care products and wasn’t wild about the idea of getting stuck with a too-flowery or too-musky scented deodorant as my only option. I hate being able to smell my own sweat and would be highly embarrassed to think that others could smell it too, so I brought several sticks of my favorite deodorant from home with me. Hopefully it will last me through the warm season!
Back home I thought iPads were an unnecessary tech toy, but in China it’s such a blessing to be able to download e-books to read! As much as I love the look and feel of a paper book, they’re definitely too heavy and bulky to pack more than one in a suitcase.
Doing my Mandarin language-learning apps on a bigger screen than my phone is nicer on my eyes too. The iPad also turned out to be a lifesaver as a backup computer when my laptop charge cord broke my second night in China! And I’ve become hooked on using fitness apps and watching YouTube exercise classes on it to stay in shape without having to shell out for a gym membership just yet.
I’ve come to seriously appreciate my tech multi-tool. While I would never consider splurging on a brand new, latest issue iPad; refurbished, older-generation ones are pretty affordable on eBay and well worth the money, in my opinion.
6) Portable phone charger
While a dead phone battery back home was annoying, in China it can be a very stressful predicament. Since we generally use WeChat to pay for everything, a dead phone can mean no buying lunch or a cab ride home, unless you happen to have enough cash with you (many businesses, especially smaller ones, do not take credit or debit cards in China).
More importantly, not having GPS to navigate can quickly become a panic-inducing nightmare when you haven’t got your bearings in your new city yet. And trying to communicate with a cab driver or shop keeper without a translation app (or a decent grasp of Mandarin) can range from difficult and frustrating to literally impossible. Like it or not, we are very dependent on our smartphones here.
While constantly using them was essentially a bad habit back home, it’s basically a necessity here for communication, payment, and navigation, which means a battery charge might not last you as long as you were previously used to. I always bring a portable phone charger with me when I go out for an explore around town so I can freely take as many pictures as I want, check my GPS as often as I need to, and use WeChat without worrying about draining my whole battery and not being able to find my way home.
7) More than one pair of sandals
I have big feet for a woman even by western standards (at size 9 my mom lovingly calls me Bigfoot), so I wasn’t optimistic that generally-more-petite China would have many compelling footwear options in my size.
I decided to play it safe and bring 2 pairs of dressy sandals for work, my rugged Chaco sandals for hiking and adventuring, and one extra pair of casual, comfy sandals for running errands and such. I haven’t even wanted to look at a sock let alone wear one in the past month of 90-100 degree days, and I am grateful for every one of those pairs of sandals!
8) Sturdy backpack
I was sad that my big backpacking pack was too big to put in a suitcase but not big enough to be one of my suitcases, and so had to stay home in the US. My sturdy, waterproof, every day backpack that I always used for bike commuting back home however, packed almost perfectly flat and did fit well in the suitcase. It will be great for trips of a week or less and was extremely useful for running my first few “getting things for the apartment” errands!
9) Hiking daypack
While the 65 liter backpacking pack sadly had to stay behind, my nice Osprey hiking daypack with its 3-liter water bladder was small enough to bring along. So I will at least be well prepared to stay hydrated on day hikes! Forest Park and WuyiShan, here I come!
10) Large water canteen/bottle
As an environmentally conscious person, I feel guilty every time I have to buy or accept a small disposable water bottle. While there are plenty of reusable water bottles for sale here, I have yet to see any that looked like they were more than 16oz, which isn’t much water for an afternoon out around town or the park in 90 degree weather.
I brought my nice 32oz Nalgene canteen with me and I can usually make it through even a long walk in hot weather with just that without having to buy an extra water bottle at a convenience store. Even though I know it’s only a small thing, I like to know I’m taking responsibility for the impact of my own actions on the Earth by not creating avoidable plastic waste.
Ultimately, what to pack when moving to China is a personal process. Think about what items bring you comfort and joy, and what conveniences you can and can’t live without. At the end of the day, anything you forget to pack… you probably don’t need it that badly after all!