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Packing Fun – An important course-specific update


Today’s topic–A Yak about the pack. This is going to be a long, rugged journey. Good gear can be your best friend, and a bulky pack with too much stuff, your worst. Below is a customized list of what to bring and what to leave behind. As you lay out your belongings, think long and hard about the difference between what you want and what you need.

First and foremost, pack light! We will arrive at a different airport (Xi’an) from the one we’ll depart from (Urumqi). Your stuff will need to come with you. All your things must fit inside a backpack and a daypack, and you need to be able to carry all of it comfortably for a long time. Besides a few crucial items we will list below, the less you bring, the more you’ll enjoy this intense travel itinerary (we’re talking upwards of 3700 miles). Remember, virtually everything you might need or want can be found in China for cheaper than at home.

A good trick is to pack your bag, carry it around your neighbourhood, then unpack and make some cuts.

Clothing Notes: Appropriate clothing is important. What is the definition of “appropriate”? We are going to be hiking, staying in local people’s homes, hosting guest speakers, visiting places of worship, etc. We’ll all see each other at our dirtiest (and stinkiest), and overdressing won’t hide that.

Modest clothing is essential. We will be traveling mainly through the countryside in Muslim and Buddhist areas, often visiting conservative communities and places of worship. Cultural norms in these areas ask that women and men show less of their bodies in public. Our goal as respectful travelers must be first to observe and to minimize culturally inappropriate behavior. When we put locals at ease, it’s easier to engage in meaningful interactions; when people are made uneasy by our appearance or actions, it’s more difficult. If you think about putting the multiple generations we’ll encounter at ease, we’re sure you’ll choose wisely.

  • Clothing should be loose-fitting rather than body-hugging.
  • Shirts should completely cover the chest, shoulders, back, and midriff. No spaghetti straps, deep V-necks, halter tops, tank tops, etc.
  • Pants should continue to cover your butt when you are bending over, so you might want a belt. Yoga pants and leggings are only acceptable if worn with an oversized shirt that goes down to mid-thigh or shorts over the leggings, and even then only sometimes.
  • Shorts ought to come down to the knees and be loose-fitting.

The Environment and Clothing: We will be traveling mostly in high elevation, arid regions. These places tend to be extremely dry and hot in the day (70’s to low 100’s) while cool at night (upper 30’s to 40’s). Your best bet will be to pack clothing that you can layer so that when it is hot, you can remove layers and when it’s cold you can add layers to be warm. Expect the full range of weather from harsh sun to rainy. We’ll also be spending significant time in both urban and rural areas, so one city outfit may be nice to have.

You’ll often be washing your clothes by hand as we travel, so quick-dry clothes are ideal. Cotton clothes take a long time to dry, so minimize those. Past students have suggested bringing a short length of cord you can use as a clothesline for drying. Go for that won’t show dirt easily (or look good dirty).

The pack: Go for a hiking pack of around 70 liters maximum. Smaller (30-45 liters is what’s mentioned in your Course Preparation Manual) is even better. Ideally, all of your stuff should go inside. Please also have a small, lightweight daypack that you can fit your water bottle, headlamp, journal, raincoat, and other essentials into for daily use. You’re welcome to split your gear between the two packs, but make sure it can all fit into the larger one.

Toiletries: No, not toilet-trees! (Although we’ll be using those too…) You can buy most toiletries at any corner store in China. Don’t bring large quantities unless you have special reasons. For students who only use tampons, please bring enough for the whole trip as they are not easy to find; pads can be found in every convenience store. Instead of hand sanitizer, consider liquid soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s or Camp Soap; it gets your hands cleaner than hand sanitizer and won’t dry and crack your them (which lets bacteria in). Liquid soap can also be useful for doing laundry. No need to weigh your pack down with extra shampoo or toothpaste. You’ll be able to buy all that in China if you run out.

Trekking Gear: We’re going to be doing a whole lot of walking and some hiking. You’ll want a sturdy, tough pair of shoes with a good tread that you can use while hiking. Hiking boots offer more ankle support and prevent injuries, so it’s worth considering. Also, they’re usually water and mud resistant. If you buy a pair of new shoes, wear them around as much as possible in the coming weeks to break them in so that when we step out onto our first trail, you don’t end up with blisters. As we will be sleeping in tents at times, please bring a sleeping bag – down or synthetic is fine. Placing it in a water-proof compression stuff sack is a great idea that will save room in your pack. A pad is optional but most students find them to be too bulky to warrant it. A self-inflating Theramarest would be a good choice if you do bring one because it’s very compact.

Travel Journals: A journal is essential for the kind of self-reflective course this is. For your travel journal, consider buying a sketchbook instead of a lined journal—this opens the possibilities to paste in leaves, take a rubbing of a memorial, or play with your ideas through writing but also through art, diagrams, mind maps, and anything else you can think of.

Medications: Once we all gather in LA, you will notice two fully (fully!) stocked medical kits that we carry around all the time. The kits are stocked with a large selection of over the counter medications, certain prescription meds, and a range of antibiotics. If you have prescriptions or over-the-counter medications you take regularly or emergency medicines such as epi-pens and inhalers, bring enough for the trip in clearly labeled packages. If you get bad motion sickness from windy roads, bring medication for that. Most of the things a travel doctor prescribes, we’ve already got.

One small tip: Taking probiotics and prebiotics or eating unpasteurized yogurt are great ways to encourage a healthy gastrointestinal tract while traveling. As your system is exposed to new bacteria, you’re more likely to be able to cope without becoming ill and needing to resort to antibiotics. You can pick up probiotics and prebiotics at most health food stores and pharmacies.

Watch: A watch with an alarm is going to be essential, and we’ve been told by past students to emphasize the need for one. Remember, you’re not going to have a phone.

Do Not Bring: Please don’t bring knives. Don’t bring lighters. These things are not allowed on the buses and trains we’ll travel on extensively. Also, pants or skirts that drag on the ground are a disaster in China.

Essential Clothing:
In addition to what’s listed below, men should ensure one of their shirts has a collar and looks more formal as is appropriate for entering mosques and other places of worship. Women should bring a modest dress or skirt that goes well bellow the knees and covers shoulders (light weight, dries quickly). Important for visits to monasteries, mosques, and remote areas; also remarkably comfy for hiking.

  • Rain coat
  • A warm fleece or puffy
  • Long underwear (top and bottom, no cotton)
  • Warm hat (synthetic or wool are great)
  • A sun hat (preferably that covers your neck)
  • Hiking or sturdy shoes and flip-flops or sandals (knowing you’ll wear your hiking shoes most of the day and sandals at ends of days)
  • 3 short-sleeved shirts (synthetic tend to dry faster)
  • 1-2 light-weight long-sleeved shirts. Try to find something cool that can cover you and dry quickly. Most button downs should do the trick.
  • 1 warmer outer layer shirt to be worn between long underwear and fleece/puffy.
  • 1 pair of modest shorts (should go down to the knee)
  • 2 pairs of long pants good for hiking and walking around the city (durable, light weight, dark in color). Some people like pants that zip off into shorts.
  • Rain-proof or rain-resistant pants are optional.
  • 4-6 pairs of underwear (preferably quick-dry that you can wash quickly and easily in a sink)
  • 2-3 pairs of wool or synthetic socks
  • 2-3 pairs of regular socks

Other Essentials:

  • Polarized sun glasses
  • Glasses and contacts: bring an extra set
  • Headlamp or flash light. Headlamps are more useful.
  • Sleeping bag-if you have to make a choice, it’s always better to have a bag that’s a little on the warm side.
  • A watch or timekeeper with an alarm
  • Earplugs
  • A small towel (preferably a quick-dry towel such as the camp towels available at REI)
  • A small bottle of sunscreen
  • Any essential medications
  • Two 1-liter water bottles, such as Klean Kanteen or Nalgene. These are possibly the most important item on this list. Make sure at least one bottle is not insulated.
  • A travel journal and a few pens
  • Student ID for discounted tickets
  • Copies of your passport photo page and visa (two copies each). Also make sure your parents have a copy.

Last but not least…bring a healthy body. This is going to be a great journey, but a challenging one. Eat healthy food, get good sleep, and be sure to do some exercise in the lead up to the trip.

Weigh your pack, ditch those last few inessentials, and get ready for an adventure of a life time.

Happy packing!

Shuier, Gong, Noam, and Grace