Packing List for China: Mandarin Service Adventure

Everything you need to know to be luggage-ready for your GLA China program

I. Love. China. I can’t say enough about this unique thoughtfully-planned program, but I’ll try: Peking Duck. Breakfast noodle bowls. Peaceful, rainy evenings. Colorful, bustling metropolis. Ancient relics and living history. Congrats-- you have chosen well!

Before embarking, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and upon arrival, there were a few items I wished I had brought (or regretted bringing). We here at HQ have painstakingly prepared this handy Packing List --please read it over carefully before you begin planning and be sure to adhere to it closely. If you’re needing some extra guidance, read on!

Get Organized

I am a light packer: typically, I will bring only a small bag and a backpacking backpack when I travel. In spite of my best efforts, I simply could not fit all of the necessary belongings into my trusty backpacking bag this time around. In the end, I had three bags in tow:

1) a small checked bag (carry-on size)
2) a medium messenger-type bag
3) a small backpack

Keep your packing simple! You definitely won’t need a blow dryer, electronics, or trendy outfits. Most days you will be getting sweaty, dirty, wet, or all of the above. Embrace it!

Be sure to check with your airline in regard to baggage allowances and weight limitations. Most airlines will allow one carry-on bag, one personal item, and one checked bag weighing 50 lbs or less on international flights. However, please verify this with your airline before you get started, or you could be facing an extra charge at check in.  

Personal Item

You’ll want to keep your essentials near and dear! While we’ve had good luck in the past with luggage arriving as expected, luggage delays do happen. Be sure that you have have your:

□ GLA Contact Card
□ Passport
□ Wallet
□ Flight Itinerary
□ Phone & Charger
□ Prescriptions or other crucial medications
□ PEN! You will need this when filling out your entrance forms on the plane

Carry-On Bag

Imagine the worst-case scenario: Your checked bag doesn’t arrive in Kunming with you, and is never to be seen again. What items would you absolutely want to have with you? The answer will be different for each of us, but here are the items I wouldn’t want to be caught without:

□ Full change of clothes
□ Sweatshirt
□ Rain jacket
□ Toiletries (travel size--you can see TSA guidelines here)
□ Instant coffee (for the coffee enthusiast!)

Checked Bag

This will hold the bulk of your belongings. Clothes, any full-sized liquids (like shampoo, conditioner, etc), rain gear, water bottles, snacks, etc. As far as what type of clothing is appropriate for your program, again, the Travel Portal is going to be your best resource. You can also take a look at the 2016 Blogs to get a good feel for the types of clothing that might be best. Please note that for the most part, tank tops and shorts are not encouraged--as a group, we’ll want to dress in line with local customs in order to be more welcomed into the community.

If this packing configuration doesn’t work for you, feel free to make substitutions. It’s all about what you’re comfortable traveling with. Just remember to bring only what you can maneuver yourself, and take into consideration that you will likely be lugging home souvenirs. It’s also worth noting that we will be trekking some rocky, craggy roads on foot that aren’t too accommodating to rolling luggage.


It may rain a lot, or it may rain a little, but mark my words: you WILL get caught in a downpour at least once while you’re in China. Because electric driers simply do not exist in Shaxi, it is important to make preparations against the sog. You will most certainly want ALL of the following:

□ Rain shell
□ Cheap rain poncho
□ Raincover for backpack (you can find these at REI or on Amazon)
□ *Umbrella
□ *Rain boots

*These items are plentiful in China; however, you may find yourself out in heavy rain before your first chance to shop!

The item I most regret foregoing is a waterproof cover for my backpack. These are relatively inexpensive and are a quick and easy way to avoid waterlogged books, electronics, and clothing. (You can find these at REI for around $20 USD. Amazon also has a selection, but be sure to read the reviews, as there are some not-so-effective models out there!)  Raincoats and ponchos are great for keeping a body dry, but even my water-resistant backpack could not withstand the torrential downpours of the Yunnan province unassisted.

On a related note, it can take up to four days for laundry or drenched clothing to dry indoors when the weather is wet, so plan accordingly. I would recommend bringing at least 10 pairs of undergarments in the event that laundry takes longer than anticipated to dry.

Other Tips

Fiber supplement

Rice with every meal tends to take its toll on a body, and you will be glad to have something to “help things along,” so to speak. I am a big fan of fiber gummies, as they work like a charm  and are a delicious (tiny) snack to boot. 

Hydroflask or Other Thermos

Water in China must be boiled prior to drinking, and there is no refrigeration available for student use at the Home Base; thus, you will end up drinking a lot of lukewarm water. If this doesn’t bother you, you can skip this tip. If you’re a bit of a water snob (guilty!), you might want to bring a hydroflask or other insulating container in addition to a regular water bottle. I packed one like this and it kept me in hot tea for the duration. In Beijing I purchased an icy water at a convenience store and my thermos kept it nice and chilly until the next day.

Water-enhancing Powders (coffee, tea, flavoring packets, etc)

For those who are accustomed to a cup of joe in the mornings, this might qualify as an essential. Emergen-C is one of my favorites, both hot and cold!

Adapter - Don’t Bother!

Each place we stayed was fully equipped with American-style, two-pronged outlets, so I didn’t end up using my adapter at all. Feel free to skip this item!

Keep it Loose

Looser clothing is the norm, especially in more rural areas like Shaxi. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be floating in your clothes, but avoiding spandex bottoms and tight tops for the day to day really did make me feel like I “blended in” when out and about in the community, and even at the Home Base with the local staff.  I was glad that I had moisture-wicking leggings for the hike to the temple, and did sleep in tanktops a few extra warm nights, but regretted not packing a few more pairs of loose pants.

Jenica's Words of Advice

Don’t sweat the small stuff! Just follow the packing list and try to bring only the necessities. This is a great opportunity to live simply, to reevaluate what you actually need and what you can do without.

You can take the GLA China Packing List with you!