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Packing Tips and Tricks

We now present you with a trusty guide to packing! 

Along with an open mind, a positive attitude, an eagerness to explore and learn, and your passport… there’s a handful of things you’ll want to pack up for our journey ahead.

*Please refer to your Course Program Manual for other notes on what to bring and what not to bring. This packing guide serves to give you some more detailed information, tips/suggestions, and reasoning related to your gear and what to bring along.

Tip number one: pack light! We will be moving around a lot and everything you bring must come with us on a long journey from the South to the North and all places in between. Your gear should fit inside a backpack and a daypack. You need to feel comfortable carrying them around cities, villages, on and off of trains and buses, and be ready to walk up to a mile with all your luggage. For hikes, we’ll be able to store/split luggage; but please be prepared to carry all your stuff under your own power if that’s what we need to do.

Consider packing, then unpacking, and packing again a few times (don’t forget to try on your backpack and walk around with each new packing). When you do this, reconsider what you’ve packed and ask yourself if you really need it.

Here are some notes on what to pack and what not to pack…

Water Bottles:
You are going to need two one-liter bottles. Bottles should be durable plastic (such as a Nalgene) or stainless steel (such as Klean Kanteen). Keep in mind that tap water is NOT drinkable in China; which means we’ll be drinking boiled water. Because you’ll be pouring boiling hot water into your water bottle, you should choose a good brand that will survive the assault. You’ll learn that hot water is popular throughout China; so learn to love it! It’s also great to drink hot water because it’s easy to make delicious tea! Dragons students travel light and travel lightly—this means we minimize our impact on the environments we have the privilege to travel through. By bringing our own water bottles, we minimize the disposable plastic water bottles we have to purchase and discard.

You can easily buy most toiletries at any corner store in China. Don’t bring large quantities unless you have a special reason, such as allergies. For students who only use tampons, please bring enough for the trip because tampons are not easy to find; while pads can be found in every convenience store. Deodorant can also be hard to find in parts of China; so if fragrant pits are important to you, throw it in your bag!

  • We also recommend bringing a small bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap. You can use it for all kinds of washings and it may come in handy if you need to wash clothes.
  • A quick dry towel will be easy to pack and necessary for showers.
  • It is a good idea to have travel size packs of tissue with you. You can buy these anywhere in China, but it would be nice to have a few in your bag for the first few days just in case. Bathrooms are not all well-equipped with toilet paper and you’ll be glad to have some ready to go!


First and foremost, please pack clothes that are appropriate. We are going to be hiking, staying in local people’s homes, visiting places of worship, etc. We will be staying places where people tend to dress more conservatively and we don’t want any of the multiple generations we’ll interact with to be made uncomfortable by our clothing choices. If you think about it this way, we’re sure you’ll choose wisely (and respectfully). We ask you to follow these guidelines…

  • Yoga pants, leggings, and other tight pants are not acceptable unless covered with a skirt or shorts.
  • For shorts, skirts, or dresses: Please keep them at least knee-length.
  • Shirts that reveal cleavage (V-necks), shoulders, or midriff are not acceptable for men or women.
  • Although the weather will be quite warm, pack a light jacket/fleece. A good, lightweight rain jacket is also a necessity. Not only will this keep you dry, it’s a great outer layer if it is windy or chilly at night, in the mountains or on transit.
  • A hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen for all the summer sun!
  • We aren’t sure how much swimming we will be doing, but we recommend that you bring a modest swimming suit for if the occasion arises!

Laundry – There should be opportunities to do laundry in Kunming. However, be ready to wash clothes by hand if necessary. Clothes that dry quickly are great. Plenty of socks and underwear or underwear that dries quickly will extend how long you can go between big loads of laundry, which are time-consuming when done by hand.

We will be hiking! From parts of the Tea Horse Road, up to Yi and Naxi villages, and along the Great Wall, your feet will thank you for bringing a good pair of hiking shoes. Hiking boots often offer more ankle support and prevent injuries, so it’s a good investment. 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 a bunch of blisters. When considering shoes, think practical. Another footwear recommendation is a sturdy sandal such as Chaco’s or Teva’s. These shoes are good for walking, slipping on in courtyards at your homestay, or even wearing in water.

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 up the possibilities to paste in leaves, create sketches, or play with your ideas through writing but also through art, diagrams, mind maps, and anything else you can think of. Don’t forget to bring pens or pencils!

Please pack all of your things into a backpacking backpack and a daypack. In terms of backpack sizes, we recommend that your camping backpack is between 30-55 liters. Remember, you need to carry it by yourself without toppling over. Practice walking around your neighborhood with your fully packed backpack on to ensure you can carry your weight well.
No rolling suitcases (they are too clunky, difficult to move around with, and wheels don’t always survive the more rugged terrain). A third bag that former students have found useful is a compact duffel bag, which can be used to split gear prior to a trek.

Having a waterproof pack cover can be nice in case it rains.

Spending Money:
Do not bring traveler’s checks because they do not work in most parts of China. You will need some spending money for souvenirs, snacks, post cards, etc. The best approach is to bring one credit or debit card that can withdraw money from ATMs and a backup in case you lose your card. It is quite easy to access an ATM in China and withdraw Chinese currency as long as the card is associated with a major bank. However, you do have to call your bank to let them know you’ll be using the card in China so that they do not freeze your account (before leaving the U.S.). If you bring some cash from your home country, do not bring a ton—use your best judgment and you will be able to convert it to Chinese currency in banks in big cities.

Please bring a student ID. It may be useful for getting into certain places for a discount. If you don’t currently have a student ID, then bring a picture ID like a driver’s license as this often also works. It’s a good idea to scan and print two to three copies of your passport photo page and visa page. Two to carry with you and a third to leave at home with a guardian. Then, email yourself and your parents a copy of the scans so that you can access them online if necessary.

We will carry with us a fully stocked medical kit that we carry around ALL THE TIME. The kit is stocked with a large selection of over the counter medications, certain prescription meds, and a range of antibiotics. There’s no need to bring a lot, but if you have prescriptions or have over-the-counter medications you take regularly, by all means bring those. If you have any questions regarding medications, please post here or send us an email.

If you have a travel-sized instrument such as a ukulele, harmonica, flute, finger piano, etc., we encourage you to bring it. Music is one of the best ways to make connections, especially in places where you don’t speak the language.

Power Adapters and Converters:
The best solution would be to buy a standard power strip once in China. Also you can buy a world adapter from REI or another outdoors/travel store. China runs on 220 volts with a variety of plug types. The most common are the 2 prong straight plug (USA style) and 3 prong angled (Australia style). Generally cameras and other electronics may need an adapter to fit in the plug but not a power converter (an adapter helps your plug to physically fit into a wall, while a converter changes voltages so the electricity from the wall won’t ruin your device). If you have 3 prong USA style plugs you will need to buy an adapter or buy a power strip once in China.

A Watch:
A watch with an alarm is going to be very useful, and we’ve been told by past students to emphasize the need for one. It’s important to be on time to activities, wake ups, and meet up times so it will definitely be handy!

A Headlamp:
A headlamp will be super useful while in the village homestay and in other rural places. It may also be useful for reading or journaling at night.

Other Electronics: An entire post devoted to just this topic is coming very soon, so hang tight.

Gifts: There will be an entire post dedicated to this as well… stay tuned!

A tip on organization: Consider investing in some packing cubes or stuff sacks to sort your gear and clothing. This makes it easier to find things in your bag. It also keeps your things clean and protected.

Again, pack light! You may want to leave a bit of space in your bag to pack gifts and anything else you might buy to bring home.

We hope this answers some of your questions for now. If you still have any concerns, please post them here or email us.

Happy packing and see you all super soon!


Kristen, Ting Ting, and Tony