Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not represent those of WorldTeach or its affiliates.
I’m really excited for this article because I finally get to reveal a big trip that I’m going on! In the month of February (so about two weeks from now, as I’m typing this out), I will be traveling to Japan, Thailand, and South Korea for my Spring Festival holiday! But I will be taking a lot of planes, trains, and automobiles with little time to drop off and pick up checked bags, so I’m going to do my best to pack everything I need in a carry-on.
Now, you might be thinking, “say whaaaaa? You’re traveling for a month, and you’re packing everything in a carry-on?” Well, I’m at least going to try, and I want to show you what I’m packing in case you’re inspired to do the same. (In other words, grab a snack and sit back—this is going to be a long one.)
Before I get into the list, I want to make a few things clear:
#1: This list may be different from what I actually take with me out my apartment door. In that case, I will make updates to this article, or do a follow-up article if I deem it necessary. I also have some caveats for certain items, marked with an asterisk (*) and addressed at the end of the article. (13 April 2018: Updates have been made.)
#2: This time of year, Japan and South Korea are rather cold, and Thailand is rather warm. I realize that traveling with only a carry-on to a colder climate can be very tricky. Luckily, I’ll be traveling from a cold climate (they’re predicting snow in Hunan next week), so I can wear a lot of my warmer layers on my flights to Japan, and back to China from South Korea. Outside of that, I’m depending on wearing the same outfit many days (ego and fashion sense be damned) and doing laundry while I’m abroad.
Also, a little-known fact about me is that I very much admire Japanese street fashion, particularly mori kei (also known as the “forest girl” style, you can find an article about it here). Part of the reason I’m packing light is because I’m expecting to buy some clothes or accessories while I’m in Japan (and possibly Thailand and South Korea as well), so I’ll be able to incorporate those pieces into my wardrobe as I go. I like to think I have enough self-control when it comes to shopping, but we’ll find out how accurate that is when I’m actually in-country.
#3: I included some pictures to prove that all of this can fit in a suitcase, a backpack, and on my person (with room to spare, might I add!) but some of the items listed are not in the photos. I use a lot of these items on a daily basis and didn’t want to put them all over the place, or I was wearing/using them when I took the photos. I’ll do my best to post photos of my travels on my Instagram (shameless plug!), so you’ll probably see some of the items there if you don’t see them in this article.
Are we ready? Then let’s begin with the basics:
Small rolling suitcase. Until I get my own ginormous trekking backpack, this will have to do. I got this for 99 kuai at Many, and I brought this with me to Inner Mongolia. This suitcase has 360-degree wheels, is fairly sturdy, and will fit in the overhead compartment of most airplanes.
Commuter backpack. This bag will be my small personal item, so it has to be small enough to fit under the seat in front of me on the plane. I love this backpack because it has an area for your laptop that can zipper all the way flat, so you don’t have to take your laptop out for security screening. Since I’m not bringing my laptop, I’m using that compartment to hold my day bag.
Small brown backpack. I was tempted to use this bag that I got in Cili as my small personal item; it would be big enough to fit my wallet, my water bottle, my MP3 player, snacks, and anything else that I would need en route to my destination. I decided on the commuter backpack for transporting everything (and extra room), but kept the day bag for being out and about.
Travel wallet. I have a travel wallet that can hold my passport, tickets, printouts for my Airbnbs, etc., so I can have everything ready to go for check-in and security.
Belt with pockets. I’ve been very lucky with my personal belongings being safe when I travel, but even though I’m going to places that generally have low crime rates, I’m not taking chances. (Update: I never needed this, but it was so small I didn’t care about the space it took. Better safe than sorry.)
Packing cubes. I got my packing cubes on Amazon, and they have been a godsend with keeping everything organized. I’m currently working with the idea of standing my packing cubes upright instead of laying them flat against the bottom of the suitcase, and it seemed to work out.
Prescription glasses and sunglasses. I have contact lenses, but I’ve been wearing my glasses almost exclusively. I tried to wear contacts for my trip to Inner Mongolia but that didn’t work out well, so I’m sticking with my glasses for this trip. (Update: BRING A BACKUP PAIR. I learned this the hard way.)
Clothing (in packing cubes)
Three pairs of (thermal) leggings. These will pull double duty as extra layers and sleepwear. I will wear at least one pair (depending on the weather) on the plane from Changsha to Tokyo. I brought one extra pair of lighter, capri-length leggings for coverage when I’m in Thailand. (Update: I could have gotten away with leaving the capri leggings behind.)
One thermal top. Again, extra layers and sleepwear. I will wear this on the plane from Changsha to Tokyo.
One pair of lightweight pajama pants. These are for Thailand, because wearing shorts may be an invitation for mosquitoes (which is not good; you’ll learn why later).
A week’s worth of “frillies”, as I like to call them. As I mentioned before, I’ll be doing a lot of laundry, so I plan to bring a week’s worth of undergarments and then wash them. (Update: next time, I would bring a few spare pairs, and/or bring some laundry detergent. Don’t do what I did and assume that you’ll have laundry facilities everywhere you go.)
Two sports bras. I practically live in sports bras during the winter because they’re so much more comfortable (something that’s making me consider wearing them more often as we get into spring and summer). Plus, I’m wearing mostly black and darker colors and a ton of layers (at least in South Korea and Japan), so they won’t show as easily!
Two regular bras. One downside of sports bras is that they hardly ever come in skin-toned colors like regular bras do (which seems counterintuitive, considering the popularity of white T-shirts for sports, but I’m veering off-topic). A lot of traditional mori kei fashion is based on light colors, so if I’m going to be shopping for mori kei pieces, it’d probably be in my best interest to bring a regular bra or two. They’re small enough to justify bringing as a backup. (Update: I can’t remember using these ones, so I probably could have gotten away with only bringing the sports bras.)
Black tunic top. This is one of my favorite tops from Lula Roe (I’m wearing it as I’m writing this article), and I’m expecting this to be a staple when I’m in Chiang Mai. (Update: it was a staple almost everywhere I went.)
Black cotton maxi skirt. I’ve gotten so much mileage on this skirt in the month I’ve owned it! I can wear leggings underneath it for warmth (which is how I’m wearing it as I’m writing this article), I can wear it with a tunic or tank top when I’m in Chiang Mai, and it just makes a lovely swish-swish when I walk. One downside: the one I bought is hand-wash only, which is why I’m bringing the other skirt so I can wear that one while the other one is drying (no drying machines in any of these countries, from what I’ve observed). I’ll wear this one on the plane to Japan.
Brown cotton maxi skirt. I’m aware I’m breaking a rule of having one color scheme for a capsule wardrobe; however, much as I love black (and it’s easier to find black and gray clothes I like in China), a decent part of my wardrobe leans towards an earth-toned color scheme. I’ve pretty much accepted that much of my time in Thailand will have a relatively separate, earth-toned wardrobe. :shrugs: Oh, well.
(Update: I ended up buying a pair of harem pants in Thailand after multiple wardrobe malfunctions involving the hems of my maxi skirts. These skirts were not the wisest idea to pack, at least for a travel-sized person like me.)
Brown dress. Thai people are very modest, so I would probably layer this over my brown maxi skirt or leggings, or as a cover-up for my swimsuit. (With a super-low neckline and a rather short hemline, there’s no way in Oblivion I’m wearing this by itself.)
Green one-piece swimsuit. Chiang Mai is in the northern mountains of Thailand, so I won’t be going to beaches like I would be if I were going to Phuket or Koh Samui. That said, I might get the chance to go to a pool or spa, so I decided this would be a small enough item to justify packing “just in case”. This could also come in handy if I’m able to visit an onsen (hot spring) in Japan that allows patrons to wear swimsuits (most onsen do not allow any clothing). (Update: I ended up using this only once. I have no regrets.)
Two modest tank tops—one olive green, one cream. I plan to wear these tank tops with either maxi skirt, and the olive green one can go under my brown dress for additional coverage. (Update: I could have gotten away with bringing only the olive green one.)
Wide-brimmed sun hat. Any porcelain woman will tell you this is non-negotiable, especially in Thailand.
Folding fan. (Clearly, this is for the Thailand heat.)
Black sweater. Another layering piece for when I’m in Japan and South Korea. I may wear this on the plane to Japan. (Update: I remember wearing this only once or twice. I probably could have gotten away with not bringing it.)
Black oversized cardigan. (I warned you, it’s easier for me to find clothes I like in black.) I’m wearing this on the plane to Japan. (Update: for space, I didn’t bring this, and I didn’t miss it.)
Green oversized cardigan. This is to go with any earth-toned piece I bring or purchase.
Winter coat*. The good part is that this coat packs down very compactly, but the downside is that it’s not the most insulating for the bitter cold I’m expecting in South Korea. I’ll make it work, though.
Flip-flops. I will be staying at Airbnbs that have shared bathrooms. I don’t think I have to explain any further.
Hiking boots. These are the warmest shoes I own, and I’m going to wear them on the plane. I plan to wear them loosely laced so I can slip them on and off through security, if need be (and possibly when I need to take my shoes off in Japanese homes). (Update: if you have warm boots or shoes that have zippers, or slip on and off, pack those instead. These shoes were warm and supportive, but they were a huge nuisance to lace and unlace.)
Cozy socks. I’m bringing tons of these. I will need them.
Brown sandals. I will likely be much happier with these in Thailand than my hiking boots, both for the weather and for comfort. (Update: I was much happier with these sandals, but I regret hiking in them.)
Toiletries (all under three fl Oz/100 mL, in accordance with carry-on regulations)
Toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, and orthodontic retainer. These are not optional, if I want to make friends and influence people. I put the dental floss and my retainer in a separate bag since they don’t need to be in my toiletries bag.
Body soap. I use a small bar of Crabtree & Evelyn soap in a pomegranate scent because I love pomegranate. This does not have to go in the toiletries bag.
Stick deodorant. Especially with the heat of Thailand, this is a must-have. According to TSA guidelines, any size of solid deodorant is acceptable in carry-on luggage; all the same, do your research for what is accepted as a non-liquid toiletry on your airline.
Argan oil. I intend to use this as a substitute for hair conditioner and possibly as a pre-shower moisturizer, especially when it gets really cold in Japan and South Korea. (Update: the bottle cap ended up breaking, and the oil got everywhere. If I had to do this again, I’d probably just bring regular conditioner in a small bottle.)
Night cream. I’ve put my night cream into a smaller pot because the packaging is just too bulky. I have been slacking off in moisturizing my face before bed, and it’s starting to show, so I want to keep this habit going when I’m abroad.
Eye cream. I should be able to put my eye cream in its normal pot since it’s only .5 fl oz.
SPF cream. Especially in Thailand for a fair-skinned woman like me, this is non-negotiable. I poured my day moisturizer into a small bottle, and I did the same for regular sunscreen. I heard a lot of stories that sunscreen is really expensive in Thailand, especially in the southern islands; if I need more, then I’ll get more, but I want to see how long I can go with my own supply first.
DivaCup. I’ll be traveling for a full month, and you can probably guess what that means. Of course, if you ladies use pads or tampons, adjust accordingly.
Shaving razor. Even if I didn’t pack a swimsuit, I feel more confident when I shave (even in winter), so I’m definitely bringing a razor.
Cleansing oil for removing makeup. I lost or used up the travel size bottle I had, so I had to pour my cleansing oil into a smaller bottle; I only need one pump to cleanse my entire face of makeup. I’ve tried using makeup remover wipes, but they don’t do anything for me (some makeup products these days are just impossible to take off).
Hand sanitizer. In case there is no soap in washrooms, and for being on the plane.
Nail clippers/file, hair comb/brush, eyelash curler, and tweezers. While I imagine these things are easy to find if I forget or misplace them, it would be a long month without them.
Concealer. These days, I use Urban Decay’s Naked Skin Concealer in Fair Neutral (it’s one of the only American-brand concealers light enough for my skin tone). I imagine that most days I will just wear concealer, maybe some powder, and brow product so I look put together but still low-maintenance.
Brow product. I’m not sure which one I’ll bring yet, but this makes me feel more put-together. Right now, I’m using Nyx’s Tinted Brow Mascara in Chocolate, but when I’m on the go, I might switch to Anastasia’s Brow Wiz in Caramel so I don’t have to put it in my toiletries bag.
Translucent powder. For when I want to wear makeup on humid days in Thailand, or to make it last all day. This will not have to go in the toiletries bag.
Lip balm. I plan to get a tinted lip balm with SPF before I leave so I can get moisture and a light sheen of color without having to worry about fading, feathering, or smudging. If I don’t find one before I leave, my normal lip balm will suffice.
Liquid eyeliner. I’m tempted to leave my (small, but rarely used) eyeshadow palette at home, so I want some way to dress up my eyes if I want to.
Waterproof mascara. I don’t think I need to explain why waterproof, at least for Thailand.
Generic lactase supplements. I’m convinced I have some kind of issue with dairy, so in case I run into that issue in my travels, I’ll have something to help out. (Update: I ended up taking these out and packing an anti-diarrheal instead. I regret that decision with every bone in my body.)
Generic Pepto-Bismol. In case I have stomach issues from food.
Band-aids. Just in case I get a cut or blisters from walking.
Multivitamins. To avoid getting sick while I’m on the move.
Bug spray wipes. Japanese encephalitis, a mosquito-borne disease, is common in southeast Asia, especially Chiang Mai. It’s too late for me to get the full vaccine (and even then, it’s super expensive), so I’m bringing Off! bug spray wipes with DEET (not the eco-friendliest, I know, but mosquitoes love me, so I’m not taking chances), and I likely will buy more anti-mosquito supplies while I’m in Thailand. If anyone has any suggestions, please leave them in the comments!
Antibacterial wipes. I don’t think I need to explain why, given the horror stories about cleanliness at 37,000 feet.
Medical masks. For the dry plane air, any air pollution, and in case all my health efforts fail and I get sick.
Electronics (in travel pouch)
iPad and charger. I thought about bringing my laptop, considering I will be gone for a month, but I can do everything that matters on my iPad and it’s lighter, so iPad it is! (Update: make sure you remember a USB wall adapter for your charging cable as well, which—shame on me—I didn’t do.)
Portable battery charger. Some of my flights are long (e.g., five hours or longer) so this will seriously come in handy.
Camera and charger. The camera I have takes slightly better photos than my phone’s camera function, so I’ll want to use this for a lot of my photos. (Update: I ended up not using this camera, but if I had brought my laptop, I probably would have used it more often.)
Ear buds. For listening to music or audiobooks on the go.
Travel hair straightener. This is more important for me than a hair dryer (also, most of my Airbnbs have a hair dryer, so why bother bringing my own?)
Selfie stick. Because I get nervous about asking people to take photos of me.
Travel adapter. For different power outlets.
Fitbit and charger. I’m going to be doing a lot of walking, so why wouldn’t I bring a pedometer to keep track of how far I’ve walked?
Reusable shopping bags. In case I’m overestimating my self-control with shopping. (Update: These came in great handy when I had to put only my in-flight essentials under the seat in front of me)
Travel pillow. For long flights and train/bus rides. (Update: I could have gone without this; I never slept on the flights.)
Eye mask. For sleeping on flights and possibly in brightly-lit areas.
Ear plugs. Need I say more?
Stuffed animal. This is probably the least practical thing to bring, but this is for my own peace of mind. I can’t be the only twenty-something that sleeps with a stuffed animal. (Update: I did not bring her with me, for sake of space, and that was a blessing in disguise, considering how stuffed my bags were when I got back.)
Compression socks. For the long flights to Chiang Mai and Seoul.
Binoculars. For seeing things from far away (they’re technically opera glasses, but who cares—they’ll get the job done). There’s actually a reason why I’m bringing those, but I’d like to keep that a surprise for a little longer!
Diary/writing notebook and pen. I learned in Hohhot how important it is for me to be able to write my thoughts down, so this might as well be non-negotiable.
Bullet journal. I don’t know if I’m going to bring this yet, but it would help me stay on track with my daily routine and some parts of my itinerary.
Tissue and wipes. Not all public restrooms in China have tissue. I don’t think I need to say any more.
Two elastic knee stabilizers. Because I’m going to be doing a lot of walking, and high school cross country has definitely taken its toll.
Winter hat/earmuffs, scarf, and gloves. I will wear at least some of these on the plane to Japan. (Update: I ended up bringing both my hat and my earmuffs—for space, I would have only brought my hat)
Fast-drying travel towel. I can’t remember if all of my Airbnbs come with their own towels, so I want to bring one as a backup.
Pocket umbrella. If not for rain, then to prevent sunburn. (Update: even if I only needed to use it one day out of the whole month, I have no regrets.)
Reusable water bottle. So I can stay hydrated on the go.
* Not all of these items are in my possession just yet. Some of the stuff I’m hoping to get during my travels include:
Small layer-able warm jacket. It’s projected to be mildly chilly (around 50˚F/10˚C) during the day in Japan, but it’s going to get colder in the evenings, and I don’t think I need to explain how cold it will be in Seoul. I love my winter coat, but it’s barely cutting it with the cold in Cili. I plan to pop into a UNIQLO in Changsha before my flight to Tokyo and grab an Ultra Light Down jacket to layer underneath my winter coat, because I’ve heard so many good reviews about them and how they pack down so small. I will wear one or both of my coats on the plane from Changsha to Tokyo. Also, when I’m in Thailand, I can roll up my coats compactly and put them in my bag until I need them again in Seoul. (Update: In Seoul and Japan, I ended up needing to use only one of my coats—I could have easily just packed this one.)
Antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl). I made a very unwise decision not to bring allergy medication with me to China (I hardly use it back home), so I’m hoping I can find this in a pharmacy somewhere (I know they sell allergy medication OTC in Japan, but I’m not sure about Thailand). I don’t know if it’s stress/culture shock symptoms, PMS, the cold weather, or what that is giving me allergy-like skin reactions these days; regardless, if this happens, or if I learn the hard way that I’m allergic to certain foods like shellfish (a constant fear of mine, especially with a language barrier), this is a “just in case” I’d like to be prepared for. (Update: I did not buy this.)
Pain/fever/swelling reducers (e.g., ibuprofen). Again, another unwise decision not to bring with me (for the same reason as the antihistamines), but I’ve noticed that my PMS symptoms now include flu-like symptoms (low-grade fever, headache, lack of appetite, and fatigue), so I’m going to be on the lookout for ibuprofen or sodium naproxen (the active ingredient in Aleve and Midol). If for no other reason, then I’ll use it if my knees act up from walking everywhere. (Update: I did not buy this.)
Cold medication/decongestant. In case the multivitamins don’t do their one job. Normally, I’d bring my own, but my go-to decongestant is generic Sudafed, which uses the active ingredient pseudoephedrine. This is important because pseudoephedrine, codeine, and (meth)amphetamines like Adderall are illegal in Japan (source). In addition, my other go-to decongestant is Mucinex (guaifenesin), which is legal and easily available in Japan, so I might just wait until I need it before I buy it. (Update: I ended up not needing to buy this.)
Shampoo bar (optional). LUSH is one of the more well-known stores that have these available. While I understand my Airbnbs have shampoo, I still feel gross not bringing any with me. I’d love to be able to have one of these with me as a backup, and not have to use space in my toiletry bag to do so. (Update: I bought one, but sadly, it didn’t work well for me.)
That wraps up what I plan to bring with me for a month of traveling in the rest of Asia. If you would like to hear about specific things in my travels, please leave any ideas and suggestions in the comments! I’m looking forward to my trip, and I hope to take you along with me! See you then! Zai jian!
13 April 2018: I added updates to show what I ended up adding or leaving out. I also included comments about what I found to be really important, and what probably could have been left behind.