The biggest variable for what to pack is your clothing. First of all, that is a broad statement. It is the same as saying “what should I pack to visit America in winter”. There are many more variables that you must take into consideration. Our trip visited Beijing, Shanghai, and my son and I took a side trip to Hong Kong. The average temperatures in each of these cities are quite different. Beijing was pretty cold, Shanghai was not quite as cold, and Hong Kong was downright tropical.
Suggestion #1: Look up the average temperatures for the cities you are visiting beforehand to get an idea. Then check out the 10 day forecast before you leave. I always say, prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Suggestion #2: Dress in layers! Most days I had at least three different layers that I could take off as the day warmed up. We carried a backpack most days so we had a place to store shrugged layers or carry extras such as scarves, hats, and gloves.
I packed the following clothing items: hat, gloves, scarf, heavy coat, sweatshirt, thermal underwear, extra socks, and my “regular” clothing items based on the number of days and the projected weather. I did not find an easy way to get my laundry done between our packed schedule and the language barrier. I did plan on my jeans getting at least two uses each.
Medicine: Since I was packing for both my son and myself, I had a larger than usual amount of medicine. When I travel in the US or Mexico, I typically don’t pack more than what I need on a daily basis because a pharmacy is on every street corner (I speak Spanish so the pharmacies in Mexico are equally accessible for me). Since I do NOT know Chinese, I pack a bit more than I normally would. I had medicine for headaches, stomach aches, sinus issues, throat lozenges, and diarrhea. I do suggest using a probiotic (even if this isn’t in your normal routine). It seems to help your food digest better especially when you are in such a different culture. The food in China is typically less processed and fresh. I had absolutely no issues with the food aside from eating too much! I also suggest melatonin to help you sleep. I took melatonin on the plane to China so I could get a sleep cycle in before we arrived. I also took one every night the first week of the trip because my body had a bit of trouble adjusting. (I had no trouble falling asleep as I was exhausted, but I would wake up just a couple of hours later). I will say that I used a gummy supplement that included melatonin and elderberry for immunity. I am very happy with this and have added it to my daily routine. Pollution may cause sinus issues. I typically take an allergy pill, so I kept up that routine in China. My son took some of the allergy medicine as well as he was having a bit of trouble with the changes in the atmosphere.
Pollution Masks: I don’t suggest packing these unless you already have them. Pollution was not a big issue for most of the days on the trip. There were a couple of days that you could notice the difference in the air quality, but I didn’t feel like I needed a mask. Also, if you get there and you feel like you need a mask, they are found everywhere (even in vending machines) and are quite cheap.
Battery Chargers: You will be taking a lot of pictures. My phone died several days because I had it on taking pictures so much. I highly recommend taking one of the portable power sources that fit in your pocket so you can recharge. Sometimes, there are outlets on the bus or at the lunch locations, but you can’t count on that. You don’t want to miss taking pictures because of a dead battery. You may want an adaptor, but most of my devices connected with USB and there were USB chargers in most of the hotel rooms. If you need a “regular” plugin, you may need an adaptor.
Toilet Paper: Toilet paper is not always readily available in China. We carried our own. I will admit that I took a roll from our hotel room because I had not planned this out very well, but the toilet paper rolls in China are not the quality I like to buy here in America. I would have rather had a roll of my Charmin. Side note: rather than pack kleenex as well, we just repurposed the toilet paper so there was less to carry.
Snacks: If you are a picky eater or have special dietary needs, you may want to pack some portable snacks. If you don’t know how to use chopsticks (and aren’t willing to learn), you may want some eating utensils. The restaurants often did not have enough “western utensils” for our large group.
Shoes: You will be walking a LOT. Make sure you have shoes with good support. I packed several pairs of shoes so that I could switch them out as I am prone to problems with my feet.
Passport with visa: Obviously you need your passport with a Chinese visa. You will need to have it with you most of the time. Some attractions require your visa for entrance.
Money: I will have a separate article about money in China. It is a good idea to have at least a small amount of Chinese currency on you at all times while you travel in China. There are places you can exchange money or use an ATM, but most foreign travelers will pay with credit card or Chinese currency when traveling in China.
Finally, I recommend taking a backpack with you on the daily outings. Make sure it is manageable, but carry some extra essentials. We had these things in our backpack most days: toilet paper, antibacterial wipes, ibuprofen, tums, multiple portable battery packs, USB cord, small amount of cash, gloves, and some crackers. I also carried a smaller purse with our passports, cash, and my credit card, room key, battery pack and USB cord, and other small incidentals. If you are traveling solo, you might put your wallet in the backpack to conserve space. We used a backpack and a purse so that neither of us would be without our essentials. Remember you will be walking a LOT, so you don’t want to carry a heavy backpack.
I hope this helps give you ideas on what to pack. Feel free to comment or contact me if you have any other questions.