How to Plan, Pack, and What to Wear on Your China Trip

Packing luggage
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Happily, China is a very casual place, which makes making a packing list for a holiday here very easy, even if you want to include going somewhere fancy for dinner. Chinese people have wholeheartedly embraced casual Western-style clothing. Fancy embroidered jeans are considered appropriate for weddings. In fact, the white Western dress is as popular as a red qipao for the bride. In any event, your casual, comfortable travel-wear will be perfect for everyday sightseeing and a nice smart casual outfit is all you need for a nice dinner out on the town.

Packing Notes

Form follows function. Wear comfortable clothing for sightseeing, an activity which can involve not only a lot of walking but also sitting on buses and/or other transportation. So, think about it before you go and by all means, lay out your wardrobe and piece together outfits so that you can get a lot of wear out of each item.

Do Laundry

If you are going away for two weeks, don't pack a different outfit for every day. Utilize laundry services in hotels, or alternatively, carry some laundry powder with you so you can wash out some things in your room and leave them overnight to dry. Quick-dry clothes are a good idea, especially for daytime sightseeing wear. It’s worth it not to be lugging around a huge suitcase full of clothes you might – or might not – wear. Save the extra room for treasures you’ll pick up along the way.

Day to Night Dressing Ideas

I have an aunt who travels quite a lot and she always looks amazing. Her secret? Brooks Brothers’ non-iron shirts for women in white, with khaki trousers and flats during the day. She adds a scarf or funky necklace with the shirt at night and pairs it with dark trousers and dressier shoes. If you think about it, it’s brilliant. You could easily pack five white shirts, two pairs of pants and two pairs of shoes with accessories (a cardigan if it’s chilly, a pashmina, different scarves or necklaces). That could be a week’s packing right there and think how little room that would take up in your suitcase. Guys, all you need to do is add a smart jacket over your daytime khakis and a polo shirt to be ready for the evening. If you want to make it dressier, bring along a button-down shirt. Ties and suits, unless you’re in China on business, are wholly unnecessary.

Tourist Walking on Great Wall of China
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Do bring along enough of the right shoes to wear. Buying shoes in China can be difficult if you have larger feet. Make sure you have at least one pair of good, comfortable walking shoes. Don’t buy brand new shoes to break in while you’re on your trip. Make sure you break them in before you go. The last thing you want to be doing is nursing blisters on the Great Wall.

A Word on Being Conservative

Young Chinese people tend to be a lot less conservative than the older generations (isn’t that the case everywhere?). But some of the local women who wear short shorts or skirts, coupled with high-heels and other revealing wear are of a certain profession. Be respectful of your hosts and don’t wear anything that you wouldn’t wear home for dinner with your folks. And topless bathing is definitely frowned upon.


Finding the right day bag is important for traveling. I recommend a backpack only for keeping bulky non-valuables. Petty thievery is common in China so don’t keep passports, money or any valuables in a backpack that can easily be picked. Backpacks are great for maps, guidebooks, water bottles, and purchases. Use an over-the-shoulder bag for wallets and valuables or a money-belt. Men should not wear their wallets in their back pockets.

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