China · Random Musings

Packing tales of an anxious traveler

In 2012 I spent six months backpacking through South-east Asia, with nothing more than what fit in my 30lt backpack. Yes, I had mastered the art of traveling light and I loved it. I seriously had everything I needed and couldn’t imagine carrying more stuff. Inwardly I scoffed at all the other backpackers with their huge and irksome 60lts or more backpacks.

But when a month after returning home from my south-east asian adventure I had to pack to move to China for a year I was suddenly so distraught I overpacked.

I seriously overpacked. I had two large suitcases!!! How could I, the master of traveling light, end up with two big, burdensome suitcases? To this day I’m still not 100% sure… looking back a word stands out as the main culprit, ANXIETY. Although I’d travelled extensively before, China seemed like a different planet instead of a just another country.

Anyways, I have some ideas which I’m here to share with you so you don’t make the same mistakes. Because, trust me, you DO NOT want to lug around two suitcase across China. If for nothing else but that most buildings in China don’t have elevators so the probability of you ending up living in an apartment with no elevator is huge (i.e carrying your big suitcases up 7 floors is not fun). Not to mention the hostel you’ll stay in for a few days or weeks before settling down in your own apt. Or if you have to change locations halfway through your contract (didn’t happen to me but it did to a few of my friends).

So k, here goes what hindsight has taught me.

1- My main problem was of a personal nature and probably wont affect you half as much. i.e. I’m terrified of the cold. I grew up in sunny tropical Mozambique so the idea of spending winter in China terrified me. Consequently I packed way too many coats, scarves, etc. I did use them all but I could  just as easily have used half and still be more than sufficiently warm.

2- My other problem was I wasn’t sure how formal or not the working environment would be. Turns out it was pretty relaxed – jeans (not ripped) and a shirt were more than appropriate – so all the  formal skirts and pants went completely unused.

3- Medicine. I have nothing against traditional Chinese medicine but I suffer from migraines and I have tonsillitis at least twice a year. So the idea of going to a doctor in China and having to explain what I needed to someone I probably wouldn’t even be able to communicate with properly didn’t sound very enticing to me. Consequently I carried enough aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen and antibiotics to cure a small army. In the year I spent in China I didn’t even use a third of what I took. and once there I learned that acetaminophen/paracetamol and ibuprofen is quite easy to obtain in the local pharmacies.

4- Deodorant.  Before heading for China I was repeatedly told I would find no deodorant in China. This is both true and false. Let me explain. you can only find deodorant at select places, and even there it will probably be from brands you’ve never heard of and a bit more expensive than you are used to. But this does not mean you have to take enough for a whole aerobic class to use for a year…

In conclusion: Anxiety is your worst enemy when packing so unless you look forward to the exercise provided by lugging around huge suitcases don’t ever let it get the best of you!!!


5 thoughts on “Packing tales of an anxious traveler

  1. So true about anxiety. When you’re packing, something comes to mind and you think: “What if I will need this?” And even though you know you probably won’t, you don’t want to feel silly when you’re actually there and you realize that you actually will need it. 😀


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