Now that our tentative itinerary is up, we also want to share some final packing notes with you as you gear up and get ready for the journey ahead! The packing list in your Course Preparation Manual is very thorough and that should be your main point of reference, but we have a few comments to add based our specific itinerary and suggestions from students and instructors of courses past!
YOUR BAG: We highly, highly suggest bringing a backpack instead of a suitcase. We will be moving frequently and you will often be carrying your bag moderate distances across surfaces that are not especially friendly to wheels. A bag that is 55L or less should fit everything you need. If it doesn’t, you’ve probably packed too much. Walk your full pack around the block a few times and be honest with yourself about how it feels. Overpacking is a much more common problem than underpacking!
DAYPACK: Your daypack should be small, lightweight, and able to fit your water bottle, headlamp, journal, raincoat, and other essentials for daily use. You will be using this bag for hiking and days out in the city so make sure it is appropriate for both. A backpack with two straps instead of an over-the-shoulder bag will be much more comfortable when walking long distances in rural and urban areas.
WATER BOTTLES: Bring two one-liter water bottles. There will often be times where there is only boiled/hot water to drink, so you need a container that can safely hold hot water or tea. Durable plastic (like Nalgenes) or stainless steel is good. Bottled water is widely available but we are committed to reducing our single-use plastic waste.
TOILETRIES: You can buy most toiletries at any corner store in China. Don’t bring large quantities unless you have a special reason (for example, contact lenses). Notable exceptions are deodorant and tampons, so please bring what you need for the whole course. Neither are commonly used in China and they are very difficult to find. Pads are widely available. You might also want to consider bringing hand sanitizer. It is difficult to purchase and public restrooms do not usually provide soap. 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!
MEDICATIONS: When you meet us in Beijing, you will notice a fully (fully!) stocked medical kit that we carry around all the time. This kit is 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. If there are any changes to your prescription medications before your departure, please let us know so that we have it on file!
SHOES: Ideally all of your footwear needs are taken care of in two pairs of shoes: a walking/hiking shoe and flip flops/shower shoes (available for purchase in China)! Your main pair of shoes should be something that is comfortable for hiking and doubles as a street shoe. The best option is a light, low top, hiker or mountain running shoe that you don’t mind getting dirty.
SLEEPING GEAR: You do NOT need a sleeping bag or sleeping mat. We may camp infrequently, but will always rent gear on these nights. We will definitely not be doing so often enough to justify bringing your own.
ODDS AND ENDS: Since you will not have your phone, a watch & alarm clock are musts. Make sure to bring a headlamp as well (preferable to a flashlight) as some of the rural areas where we will stay may not be well-lit at night.
Temperatures: There will be a wide range of temperatures across the locations and changes in season we experience this semester. Weather will likely still be warm when we arrive in Beijing. During our time in Xining, at a higher elevation, nights may be cold. Towards the end of our semester, temperatures will be cooling down in some parts of Yunnan (never to the point of freezing, but by December, temperatures in the 40s are possible) but still warm, even hot, in tropical regions in the south of Yunnan. In short, be prepared for changing temperatures. Make sure you have a good rain jacket and layers that can be worn across these changing temperatures.
Bring more urban wear than the packing list suggests! Other than some short overnight and day hikes, we will spend most of our time in the city and rural homestays, so bring clothes you want to wear there.
Laundry: You will have regular opportunities to do laundry (sometimes hand washing), so you don’t need to bring a ton of clothes! Dryers are not common in China so quick-dry fabrics are helpful. Don’t bring your nicest or favorite clothes–things will get dirty and will come home quite well-worn.
Appropriate clothing: Clothing in China’s urban areas is not especially conservative, but we will be spending a good amount of time in rural areas where you will notice that local people do dress rather conservatively. We think that shorts, skirts, and dresses are fine, but keep them at about knee-length. If you want to wear leggings, bring a pair of shorts or a long shirt to cover your butt. We recognize that this is an evolving conversation in the U.S. and that many schools and other institutions are changing their policies to respect an individual’s right to choose how they dress and to not shame or sexualize (particularly women) for more or less revealing clothing choices. This is not to ignore the importance of that conversation, but to say that we want to be mindful of the norms of the very different cultural context we are stepping into.
Spending money: Dragons will cover all normal expenses on course, but if you want to buy personal items like souvenirs, postcards, etc., you should bring some of your own money. It is easy and safe to take out cash through ATMs in China using an international debit/ATM card (this is much easier than exchanging cash), but make sure to let your bank know you are traveling to China so they don’t freeze the account. Credit and debit cards are not widely used in China.
Gifts for your host families: Refer to our earlier Yak for homestay gift ideas!
And remember, this is all just stuff! Don’t stress too much about what you bring or don’t bring. We can figure out the details. The most important thing is that you bring a healthy body and an open mind.
If you have any questions, please share on the Yak Board or shoot us an email!
We can’t wait to meet you soon!
Marcus, Pei, Maddie, and Tindy