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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Packing Yak: Some Tips from programs past

Hello from your instructor team! We hope you are all reading up about the places we will visit, thinking about what you want out of the semester, and generally getting excited for our incredible course together. To help you in your course preparation, this Yak post covers some packing considerations.

You already have an extensive packing list in your Course Preparation Manual (CPM), so please read that list thoroughly and refer to it when packing. This Yak is not an exhaustive packing list, nor is it the same one in your CPM, but simply some additional packing tips from our instructor team and instructor teams past. We hope this Yak answers some of your packing questions, but if you have other questions, please ask us on the Yak board.

THINK LIGHT! You will have to put whatever you bring onto the tops of buses and into the backs of trucks, and you may have to carry your bag for long distances. The lighter you pack, the happier you (and the rest of the group) will be! Pack your bag and then walk around the block three times… Anything you can live without? Ditch it.

As instructors, we pack super light. We travel with backpacks around 45 liters and we like to pack some empty space in case we might need it later.

Students who arrive at the airport over-packed will be asked to send extra items home at their own expense. We may be taking flights with weight restrictions of 15kg of checked luggage per person so please keep this in mind. And although there will be many opportunities to do laundry by hand, you’ll be happiest with light, wrinkle-free, quick-dry clothing that doesn’t easily show dirt.

Backpack: For your larger pack, a 45-liter backpack should be ample. Up to 60 liters will be OK. You will be carrying it around yourself, so the smaller the better. One cultural consideration is that your shoes need to fit inside your pack; they should not be hanging off it. In South East Asian culture, it is rude for anyone else to touch your shoes, so please keep this in mind. Nothing should really be hanging off your pack, everything should be inside it.

Toiletries: You can bring small, travel-size toiletries for the first few weeks, but you do not need to bring large quantities from home unless you are partial to certain brands. Most toiletries are available for purchase in-country. The Dr. Bronner’s 2 or 8 oz. bottles can be great options for travel, as you can continue to add water to dilute the soap, and can use it for almost our whole time on course.

If you are a person who may mensturate on course we will provide you with tips and tricks on how to manage that while traveling in remote and rural areas. The packing list in the CPM recommends bringing enough tampons and pads to last you for three months. We want to offer other options are well, which are reusable and easy to manage: the Diva cup, the Moon cup, and reusable menstrual pads. These items eliminate waste and take up less space!

Footwear: You really only need one pair of hiking/walking shoes and one pair of sandals. You will be able to buy shoes in-country, but note that it may be difficult to find particularly large sizes. We recommend that your sandals are full strap, so that they stay on when we are swimming or exploring. Some great brands to check out are Bedrock Sandals, Luna Sandals, and Chaco. It is easy to buy a pair of flip-flops once we are on course.

Clothing considerations: Past students have commented that they wish they brought fewer collared/formal shirts and more casual T-shirts with no writing on them, so please feel free to bring only one formal shirt

Electronic devices: Please refer to our soon-to-be-posted Yak post on electronics.

Weather considerations as it relates to packing: The Course Preparation Manual tells you that we will be climates that are hot and humid, and for the most part that is true. While in China we will be at high elevations which will require warmer layers, so please make sure to pack a warm hat and warm fleece. As for rain considerations, you definitely do need a waterproof rain jacket, not just a light jacket, as when it rains hard it is a soaking rain.

Make SURE to bring:

    • A headlamp: You will need this for night-time bathroom runs, power outages, and so much more. This might be the most useful single item on the packing list. Do not forget to bring a headlamp-with extra batteries!


  • A waterproof raincoat: Do not feel a need to purchase a Gore-Tex rain coat, but this should be more than just an inexpensive plastic poncho. We want to make sure you stay dry when necessary.
  • A warm upper layer (thick fleece, mid-weight puffy): As mentioned we will be in the mountains of China where it will be cold. This will likely be the only time you will need a thicker warm layer, but it is important you have it. Do not pack your heavy winter coat, as you do not want to have dead weight to carry the rest of the course.


    • Watch with an alarm that you know how to use: You will not have a phone during the course, so you will need a watch to be on time! Ideally, one with an alarm. If your watch does not have an alarm, bring a separate alarm clock. Often students arrive on course with a brand new watch/alarm that they do not know how to use. Practice and play with the settings on your watch and alarm so that you can use them immediately when you arrive on course.
    • Gifts for four homestay families: We will be doing four different homestays on this course (in China, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia respectively), so you will need to prepare small gifts for each of your homestay families. Don’t stress out too much about gifts. The CPM has some ideas, but gifts can be anything you find, make, or buy at home OR during our travels. Magnets of your home, blow up globes, coloring books, or something unique to your home (i.e. hard maple candies from New England or a small seashell, etc) are examples of things students have brought in the past.
    • At least one non-insulated water bottle: In China, people usually boil water to purify it. Insulated water bottles such as HydroFlasks are great, but they will keep hot water hot for a long time…not ideal if you want your water to cool down before you drink it! You can also buy a water bottle in-country if needed.


  • Sunglasses & Hat: Even if you are not someone who is used to using sun protection- hats, long sleeves, sunglasses–it is important to bring this along on course as we will be spending a lot of time outdoors and want to protect ourselves as much as possible. We will be at higher elevations in China, which can increase the risk of sunburn and other sun-related injuries.


You will NOT need:

  • High-top hiking boots or water socks
  • A sleeping bag
  • A mosquito net (these will be provided in the home-stays and guesthouses where we stay)
  • Water purification tablets or technology (we will have access to clean drinking water throughout our travels)


A NOTE ON SHIPPING: Due to the movement of the course, difficulties with customs, and unreliability of shipping methods, we do not recommend shipping items to students during the program. Please make sure you bring all necessary personal items and medications for the duration of the course.

Remember, this is all just stuff. Don’t stress too much about what you bring or don’t bring. When in doubt, pack light. If you forget something you decide you need, chances are you can buy it in-country. The most important thing is that you bring yourself and an open mind! We can’t wait to meet you next month!


Your (super excited) instructor team
Gai, Karlee, and Anna