I knew when I packed to move to China for half a year that I only wanted to bring one backpack, assuming that at some point I'd want to be mobile for backpacking.
Plus, you can't take the cheap buses to and from airports if you have to lug a lot of luggage– and I have a total and complete aversion to the cost of cabs, even when they are cheap in China.
So, here's how to pack one backpack for six months of travel.
First, bring the things you can't buy in China (outside of an expensive expat-oriented grocery store, which only exists in the big cities): razors, tampons, deodorant, and Western medicine.
Seriously– none of those exist in my small town at all. To all those who are curious– yes, there is a market for deodorant here that's going untapped. The people here also have BO, they just seem less concerned about it than we do in the US. So pack two Old Spices or Secret cause you're not going to find it here.
Don't pack toothpaste, shampoo, face wash, loofahs, etc.– even Qtips are readily available here, so as long as you can shake your brand loyalties, you can find those things in abundance and quite cheaply.
I personally traded in Pantene Pro-V (which you can find here at a reasonable price) for Jake Chan's Anti-Falling Shampoo (maybe they mean anti-balding?) and Israel Locks Conditioner (which I take to mean ” good for curly hair!”?).
Speaking of buying locally, if you are moving to a cold climate, as I did, I recommend you buy some of your cold weather items here. Why bother to pack gloves, a coat, and boots, since they take up a ton of space, when you can buy them?
I am proudly sporting a pair of fingerless gloves (5 RMB), a coat (90 RMB), and a pair of boots that kind of look like space shoes (40 RMB). For those keeping track at home, this means I was winter-outfitted for $20. I admit, I had little choice on the shoes because I have bigger feet than most Chinese, and my coat is a XXXL (ugh. I feel huge in this country) and the zipper leaves something to be desired, at times, but hey. Good deals abound.
Other than that, here are the three smartest items I packed:
- Leggings- they can be worn under skirts in the fall, under jeans in the winter as long underwear, and for sleeping. Multi-purpose is key if you just have one backpack.
- Fleece items- a fleece travel pillow and blanket have been great since it's freezing, as have fleece pants and a fleece jacket. The jacket has been a saving grace.
- Photos of my family and friends- they're nice to have in your room and office and are fun to bring to show people when your computer is not handy.
Most of the other things I brought are quite standard, but when in doubt, assume that it's available in China. I probably didn't need that umbrella since one here would be $1. Why did I pack a large Nalgene from the States, which takes up an annoying amount of space on the airplane and can't even have liquid? That's available here cheaply. Oops. But hey, you live, you learn.
What I've mostly learned is that next time I travel, I need a Kindle– running out of books in rural China means that you'd better learn to read characters. Fast.
Laura is currently working at a microfinance bank in rural Sichuan, China. She'll be traveling around China this spring and then sailing on Semester at Sea around the Mediterranean this summer. Not surprisingly, she studied international relations in college, graduating from Wesleyan University in 2008. As a self-proclaimed “Cheapion,” or champion of cheap, all of these travels will be done on a tight budget.