To bring or not to bring—that is the question. Preparing for a trip is always the most nerve-wracking part of a trip for me, and my preparing for my year abroad in Hunan Province was no exception. Almost everything from a fancy formal dress to my knitting projects were up for debate. Ultimately, I decided that I would do my best to avoid my habit of being a serial over-packer, and packed only what I knew I would need for my adventure of teaching spoken English for a year in Hunan Province, China.
I purposefully packed lighter than I usually would for this trip for a few reasons: 1) I was going to be in China for a year so buying extra things would likely be inevitable, 2) this was sort of a kick-start for me to practice minimalism, and 3) I would likely be so busy planning lessons and going on trips with my cohorts that I wouldn’t have much time afterwards to do things like knit, paint, or cross-stitch. Along with the guidance from WorldTeach about what to pack, I used guidance from the blog Lauren Without Fear; the link to her post about packing for a year in China is here.
Things one can buy in China:
Shampoo and conditioner. They have brands like Pantene and Head & Shoulders in China. Bring a travel-sized one to get you started, and then buy a full-size bottle while you’re here.
Makeup/beauty supplies. For some reason, I was under the impression that I wouldn’t be able to find nail polish remover while I was here. I was able to find some at a local convenience store, as well as at a local Watson’s (a convenience store chain that sells Western products like Neutrogena).
Laundry supplies. Most convenience stores I’ve been to in Changsha have some kind of laundry detergent for sale. I’ve also found a lot of drying racks at local supermarkets, so I’ll likely buy one when I get to my site (clothes drying machines, in my experience, are virtually nonexistent in China). If you must bring your own laundry detergent, bring a small amount of powder detergent; a little goes a long way. (Be advised, though: one thing I haven’t been able to find here are color catcher sheets like these.)
Toothpaste. This falls under a similar concept to the shampoo and conditioner. Unless you have a brand that you absolutely love or need to use, bring a travel-sized bottle and buy a full-sized tube when you’re here.
Things one should bring with them:
Deodorant. Roll-on deodorant is relatively hard to find in China, from the accounts I’ve read. I’ve seen some spray-on options for ladies’ deodorant, but I’m not sure how well they work. I took no chances and brought a year’s supply.
Feminine hygiene products. Ladies, if you use tampons, bring them with you. From what I see in Chinese supermarkets and convenience stores, most if not all Chinese women use sanitary pads. I don’t even remember seeing tampons in the Watson’s nearest to us in Changsha. If you use a menstrual cup, you should have no problem; if you’re worried about washing the cup with tap water (which is not safe for drinking in China, though I’ve been brushing my teeth with it and have had no problems thus far :knock on wood:), use bottled water, which one can purchase for three kuai (about half a US dollar) at any convenience store.
Dental floss. From the accounts I’ve read, decent-quality dental floss is not as easy to find in China as it is in the U.S. Again, I took no chances and brought some with me.
Medications for digestive issues. If you’re going to be in China for a while, bring medications for diarrhea, gas, and other digestive issues. La duzi (“pulled stomach”, or traveler’s diarrhea) is common among travelers that aren’t accustomed to greasy, spicy food, and Hunan food is both. I remember having la duzi while I was studying abroad in Beijing, and that made homesickness worse (I remember I had some medications like Pepto-Bismol, but I was being stubborn and didn’t take them that much—that’s another issue). Worst case scenario is that you have it but you don’t need it; it’s better than the other way around.
After reflecting on my previous long-haul flights from China to the U.S., and also flights from the U.S. to other countries, here are my tips for surviving the flight to China (or any other long-haul flight you may take):
On the flight
Stock up on entertainment. I don’t sleep easily on most flights (and if I do, I can’t do so for the entire flight), so for me, a full iPad with TV shows, movies, and Kindle books is essential. If you fell behind on your favorite podcasts, now’s a great time to catch up. I meant to catch up on “Welcome to Night Vale” on my flight to Beijing, but I forgot to download the episodes. Oh, well; it gave me the opportunity to finish Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. (As I’m typing this, I’ve just started A Court of Thorns and Roses.)
Pack a good portable charger. Especially if you don’t have an in-seat charging station (or you do, but a not-so-courteous fellow passenger is monopolizing it), this is practically invaluable, especially on long-term flights, or if you have multiple stops and can’t take a break to recharge. My dad let me borrow his for my time in China, and it’s been practically invaluable with us being on the go so often.
Bring slippers. To save on space and weight in my suitcase, I wore my bulky hiking boots on the plane. Sure, they were comfy and supportive for walking through four airports, but they’re not comfy enough for sitting on a plane for thirteen-plus hours—also, they’re not the most convenient going through security checkpoints, despite my reasons for wearing them. Slip off your shoes and put on some slippers (over your compression socks, if need be). Your feet and legs will thank you later.
Layers, layers, layers. On a recent trip to Europe, I think my family expected the stereotype of a super-cold airline cabin. That was not the case; especially on our flight back to the States, we were miserably warm. Layers that are easy to take off would likely be your best bet, especially if you’re going from a cold climate to a warm one (or vice versa).
Bring a bottle of water. Especially on long-haul flights like my most recent flight from New York to Beijing, hydration is key in the very dry airplane air. Get a large bottle of water to carry onto the plane with you, and avoid ordering sodas, caffeinated beverages, or alcohol on the flight. Some airlines might even refill reusable water bottles! If in doubt, just ask the flight attendant.
Bring a sheet mask. This ties in with bringing a large bottle of water, but because I get really bad anxiety when I travel, it also ties in with the idea of reducing stress. I like to imagine that as my skin absorbs the moisture from the sheet mask, the sheet mask is absorbing my stress. If nothing else, your skin will thank you after a long flight of dry airplane air. My mind goes back to when I packed my lip balm in my checked luggage for a flight from Beijing to Houston, so I spent thirteen hours with dry, chapped lips. Oy vey.
Resist the temptation to over-pack your carry-on. I didn’t know how much we were “expected” to pack for the fellowship, and I didn’t want to be that person that ridiculously over-packed (Galinda in the musical Wicked comes to mind). So, I ultimately decided on one rolling suitcase that would be my checked bag, and a large duffel that would go in the overhead bin. After lugging a decently-sized backpack and an at-least-thirty-pound duffel bag through four different airports, I regret that decision with every bone and aching muscle in my body. If I had to do it over again, I would have likely swallowed my pride and forked over the money for another checked, rolling suitcase.
Around this time next week, I plan to be in my placement of Cili, Zhangjiajie District. Until then, we’re practicing teaching in a Chinese classroom setting with trial lessons before we start at our schools, so my time is mostly spent planning lessons, having classes and group discussions, and exploring Changsha with my fellow cohorts before we all disperse throughout the province. I hope to be back here with another article next week! See you then! Zai jian!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates.