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How to Pack One Backpack for Six Months

Jackie Chan's shampoo and Israel Locks conditioner, courtesy of the Chinese grocery store

Jackie Chan's shampoo and Israel Locks conditioner, courtesy of the Chinese grocery store

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.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:


Wednesday 18th of June 2014

Earlier this year I was travelling to Venezuela, South America (from Finland). All I knew was that I was going to backpack all around that big Amazing country. Travelling by car, bus, boat and foot through the warm and wet jungle in Orinoco and all the way to the cooler Mountains in the Andes. I was going to party in a big city, relax on a sunny beach, hike throug a jungle and climb Mountains during my 2 month stay. So I needed a lot of different kind of clothes and things with me. And It all had to fit into one backpack.

So here are some advice from me. My top 10 list of things I brought that "saved my Life" and made my trip easy was:

1. Wet wipes!!! - We didn't Always have the opportunity to shower. For example when we were climbing Mountains for 6 Days they were perfect to fresh yoursel up with. Not just to feel fresh and don't smell bad. But for actually removing some of the dust that sticks to your sweaty body during a 21 km walk up a mountain.

Venezuela is also a poor country and there were a lack of toilett paper in the whole country so we could use the wet wipes in case we had ran out of paper during a visit to "the ladies room" One of my friends who travelled to Indian said the same thing about lack of toilett paper there.

2. Flip Flops - Because I was going to do so many different kind of activities in totally different kind of natures I needed many kind of shoes: - Hiking booths for climbing Mountains and long hikes. - Sneakers for normal day use, walks and adventure activities such as canyoning (don't use big thick hiking booths, they take forever to dry and don't use sandals, the shoes need to cover your toes so you don't get hurt) - A nicer pair of shoes for going out on bars and stuff like that when you dress up. Some places don't let you in if you wear sneaker or flip flops. - Sandals or flip flops for normal day use during warm Days and at the beach. I prefer flip flops because they are easy to just step in to when you are taking them on and of all the time, work perfectly at the beach and just chilling around in the city. In a country that warm, thoes were the shoes I used the most. At least 80% of my stay in Venezuela.

3. Head torch - We were living the true adventure Life. Sleeping outside in hammocks or tents all the time. We spent a lot of time out in "now where" where there's no electricity at night so you needed a torch when you were searching for stuff in your backpack when it was dark, if you needed to go to the toilett at night or if we ate dinner after 6 pm in the djungel (the sun sets at 6 and then it's completely dark). We even partied with them, to see anything at all. To have your hands free makes thing a hell of a lot easierso head torch is the best one!

4. Spray deo - When you can't shower for a couple of Days but still wants to feel fresh. First freshen up with wet wipes and then spray som deo over you. A normal roll on deo is not as practical because you can't put it on your clothes and use it like a perfume when you feel extra Dirty.

5. Leggings - they are soft and nice to wear when you sit for hours in a bus (jeans are much harder and unconfy), the take less space in your bag than jeans, they dry faster, you can sleep in them, you can wear them to a dress, under a pair of pants if it's Cold or just as they are during the day. Multi-purpose is the key!

6. Diary - to write down your trip. Every Place you visit, what you are doing, the people you meet, how you feel. It's fun to save those special memorys.

7. waterproof, dustproof and shockproof camera - Often small but good quality AND holds for the activities you're planning to do. It's fun to be able to bring your camera with you under the water while diving, to a waterfall or up the Mountains without having to fear it will break.

8. Tiny travel towel - Takes minimum space, dries both you and itselfs fast

9. A nice dress if girl and long pants if boy. - You will want to go out partying sometime and then you need to dress up a Little. In many places o the World guys won't be let in at the club if you wear shorts. And girls, you will want to dress up once in a while. After climbing mountains in training shorts and booths you don't want to go like that to the fancy club.

10. water bottle - you don't have to bring one from back home. But after bying a tiny 500 cl or something like that bottle of water or soda in the country you're in. Save it and fill it up with water and Always bring it with you. While traveling in warm countrys you sweat a lot and NEED to drink a lot. (I drank at least 5 bottles of water a day in the beginning) Also, you can use the water to wash your hands if there's no tap water, do the dishes in, cool your self down etc. Of coures you don't need to have water in the bottle. Alcohol works just fine as well while partying at a Place where you ring your own alkohol and you don't have a cup or glass ;)

While packing I was putting all the big stuff in the bottom of the bag to have the Heavy stuff low on the back and then I put the tiny stuff all around it in small open spaces, into shoes etc.

Roll the clothes, they take much less space if rolled than folded.

Use a lot of plastic bags to kind of categorise your things. Shoes in one, medicines in one, Electronics in one. Also bring some empty ones to put wet and Dirty clothes in so you don't ruin the Clean ones if you have to put Everything back in the bag Before ´washing or drying.

If you're bringing hiking boots or sneaker but don't wear them at the moment. Tie them on the outside of the bag to leave more space for other things in the bag.

If you have to bring your own eating set (I did) bring one cup, a plate (not a bowl) so you can eat meat and stup like that on it but is also a Little Deep so you can eat soup in it as well instead of bringing two. Also, bring a spork. (combined fork and spon).

Sorry for my bad grammar and Spelling. English isn't my mouther toung. Swedish is...

Goos luck everyone!

Lake of Stew

Friday 16th of May 2014

Howdy! This post couldn't be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate!

He always kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him.

Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

Tammy on the move

Tuesday 17th of April 2012

Great blog and great tips. Having just spent 6 months in Cambodia, I'd also take body lotion with me from home. In most Asian countries you can only buy whitening lotion, which if you are almost blue like me, is not a good look. :)


Monday 16th of April 2012

Yesss, can't wait to get some Jackie Chan shampoo...


Wednesday 29th of December 2010

Traveling light - I love it - you did good! The size and wieght of toieties drivs me nuts. I agree about taking leggings and fleece items; good quality sarongs and T's are also light wieght, space friendly and extremely versatile.

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