China: What You Need to Take

Beijing Street Food

1. Loperamide
Lopermide is the generic form of Immodium. If you’re used to North American cooking and sanitation, and you go to China, you’re going to get the runs. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. So plan on two loperamide for each day you’re in China. You may not need them, but it’s a guarantee someone else in your group will.

2. Antacids
You know, Tums. Because even if you don’t get diarrhea, you’re going to eat the street food (it’s amazing) and you’re going to want something to settle your stomach so you can keep snapping pictures and gawking at the splendor of Asia.

3. Travel packs of bathroom tissue
Yes, they have toilet paper in China. Most of the time. Except where the toilets look like this.

Squatty Potty

No, it’s not a hole in the ground. Yes, that’s a place you’ll need to take care of business. Okay, you’re right, it is a hole in the ground. And guess what, it doesn’t come stocked with TP. Bring your own.

4. Melatonin
Jet lag is a real thing. It took me about four days to get over it when I traveled from the US to Shenzhen. Doze on the plane a little, and when you land in China try to stay up until 9:00 PM so you can get on a Chinese schedule. And while you’re at it, don’t plan your trip to the Great Wall on the first day you’re in the country. You’ll be too tired. Go see the local sights for the first couple days, and don’t push too hard.

5. Nyquil / Dayquil
You’ll get sick. Or someone in your group will. Pack some flu medicine just in case.

6. Bandaids and Neosporin
At Mutianyu there’s a toboggan and it’s awesome and I totally fell out of my little chair and scraped all the skin off my left knee.

Mutianyu Toboggan

It was a really shaky chair, okay? I’m sure they have bandaids and Neosporin in China, but they won’t have them wherever you actually get injured.

7. A Book
Yes, you’re in China, and yes there’s plenty to do, but the plane ride from Chicago to Hong Kong is 16 hours. The selection of movies was surprisingly good, but you’ll still want to take a break from staring at that tiny screen.

8. Snacks
If you have kids, bring some familiar snacks. Granola bars or fruit chews or whatever it is the kids like. Chinese food in China is not the same as Chinese food in the US. (Caveat: I’m in a moderately sized city in the Midwest; there’s real Chinese food on the coasts.) You will not find the General Tsao’s chicken you expect. And while this is fine for adults, any kids–especially ones that are picky eaters–will appreciate something familiar, even if it’s a snack.

And seriously, so will you, Mr. Grown Up that thinks you can handle Chinese food. Give yourself a week a week in China and see how you feel after you get grease stains on your two favorite pairs of pants. See how you feel when the bird flu (i.e. minor cold) you caught on the plane really takes hold. You’ll be happy for that package of Fruit Roll Ups you stashed in your bag.

9. The Google Translate app with the Chinese language pack installed
The ability to type in “cold water” and have it come back with 冷水 is a life saver when you’re exhausted and thirsty and a tiny glass of hot tea just won’t do. Don’t be a horrible tourist and assume that saying something louder in English will make the non-English speaking Chinese waitress understand. Just whip out the phone and show her what you want.

If you install the language pack over wifi (or before you leave), there’s really no need to get the expensive overseas data plan if you have Verizon or AT&T back home. And while you can get a SIM card for cheap, keep in mind that mainland China and Hong Kong use different cell networks, so if you’re visiting both you’ll need two sets of SIM cards. And you’ll need your phone to be unlocked.

10. A sense of adventure
You’re in China. Things are different. Embrace the differences and enjoy the experience. Try the street dumplings. Gawk at the scorpions on a stick. Just be smart and be prepared.