What Should I Pack for China?: My Best Attempt at a Comprehensive Packing List

July 29, 2015 China trip, July/August 2015 Feature - Going to China!, Mandy, packing list, travel tips 9 Comments

One of the questions I see most often in China Adoption Facebook groups is “What should I pack for China?”

Naturally, I had this question the first time I adopted from China. When I approached this task, I did what I always do: I researched. Every time someone posted in a DTC Facebook group a “must have to pack,” I added it to my list. By the time I was packing my bags for our China adoption trip, my list of “must haves” was so long, so ridiculously long, that I had to pack, remove a lot of what I packed, repack, unpack again, scratch many “must haves” off of my list, and repack again.

And so here I am, again. In the next few months, my husband, three-year old daughter, and I are going back to China to adopt our two-year old son. Because I am going back to China, I thought I would share our packing list with you.  

Disclaimer – I know that others might disagree or want to add to the list. Please feel free to do so. This list contains some of my comfort items, and reflects my family and my personality. Some people travel in the heat of summer, others travel to two completely different climates, and some travel when the weather on any given day varies. We are headed to Guangxi and Guangdong provinces around December, so the weather should be comfortable and mild. This will be our fourth trip to China.  


Research Luggage Restrictions

Make sure you research the carry-on and checked luggage restrictions for your international and domestic flights in China.  For example, my Cathay Pacific flight out of Chicago had strict weight restrictions for carry-on luggage.  While waiting to check my bags, I was trying to stuff everything imaginable in my pockets so that my carry-on was below the weight restriction.  

My Favorite Apps

There are lots of great apps available to make travel easier.  My favorite apps are —

  • VPN
  • WeChat – a great way to reach your guides free. WeChat is very popular in China.  
  • TripIt
  • 兔宝宝爱听歌 – most popular children’s songs in China
  • TripAdvisor
  • iTranslate Voice, Google Translate, Pleco
  • AroundMe
  • Accuweather
  • Google Maps
  • MyTube (with Elmo in Mandarin loaded on it)
  • Free Wifi Finder
  • XE Currency
  • Skype
  • Facebook

Ask in DTC groups online which VPNs you need on your devices to access your favorite sites more readily.  

Laundry Service

We do laundry in country by sending it out to be cleaned via a service arranged by our guide.  Just like in the USA, hotel laundry service tends to be expensive. Often, I’ve found it is too humid in certain provinces for the laundry to hang dry. In addition, during our last adoption trip, our daughter was grieving so much, I am thankful we didn’t need to worry about washing our dirty clothes ourselves so that we could focus on attending to her. In an attempt to avoid negative surprises, we asked our guides to let us know approximately how much the laundry service was per item before we sent out our laundry.  


Accuweather is my favorite weather site (and app) for travel. I like that I can find historical weather forecasts in past years for the month we intend to travel. This time, we plan to travel in December or January, likely.  

Packing Cubes

I swear by packing cubes – all of our items will be packed in packing cubes. I’ve traveled all over the world, and packing cubes are my personal must have. It gives everything a designated space. Packing cubes keep your items organized, and seem to compress items. Also, neither of my hotels had a dresser or drawers for us to store our clothes, so packing cubes make the best of living out of a suitcase. Each person in my family has their own designated color of packing cubes because we pack for multiple people per bag. Many families have found these for affordable prices at IKEA or TJ Maxx. Our packing cubes are from ebags.  


We pack enough snacks for the flight and for a late night snack when we arrive. We tend to wake up in the middle of the night the first night because of jet lag, and we are often very hungry. During the first day, we find a grocery store and buy local snacks and lots of water. Although some of the flavors and textures are different, this is part of the fun and the adventure. Lots of families adopting small children pack puffs and similar snacks. Last adoption, our daughter only preferred Chinese snacks because the flavors and textures were familiar and comforting to her.  

A Good Attitude, An Adventurous Spirit

There is nothing that can spoil your trip to China like a bad attitude. Yes, your bed at the hotel might be rock hard. Your room might be really hot. Yes, the food tastes different and those textures are foreign to your palette. Yes, the smells are different. Yes, the potties are different.  

For a few weeks, some of you may feel stretched out of your comfort zone.  

Embrace this. Choose to see this as an excellent opportunity to put yourself in your child’s shoes (in a very small way).  

When the new member of your family enters your home, your food will taste different. They might be disgusted with your favorite food. Our daughter would only eat congee for two months, so we made her congee for two months. Your home, as lovely as you think it smells, will smell different to your child. It won’t smell like the home they are familiar with. And the potty at your house, that potty might be very different and slightly scary for your child.  

Embrace the challenges and take on an adventurous spirit. Remember, covering your nose or making a disgusted facial expression translate cross-culturally.  

We get to go back home to all that is familiar, but our new family member does not.  

Packing for Your New Family Member

Packing for your new family member can be tricky. For example, with our son who we are adopting, we don’t have updated measurements and I am not confident we will get these before we travel. Measurements can also be inaccurate. The shoe measurements we received for our daughter were very off.  I am so glad I did not bring shoes. The shoes the orphanage brought her in were so big, they kept falling off her feet. We bought shoes at a Walmart in province. Though it was very cold, the orphanage did not bring her in the coat we sent her, so we also bought her a coat in province.  

If you aren’t confident in your child’s measurements, pack accordingly. For our trip this fall, I will likely pack only a few clothing items for our son, and this will include clothes that are adjustable like overalls. I will buy anything else we need in province or in Guangzhou. For our daughter, we packed leggings and tops that could be dresses or tunics.  

Last adoption trip, I took way too much stuff for my daughter we adopted. She wanted to stay in her orphanage clothes the first week, so we let her. Were her clothes dirty? Yes, but they were familiar and it brought her comfort during a traumatic time.  

Comfort Item

What do you really enjoy after a long, stressful day? I wish I had answered that question, and packed it. Some adoption trips are smooth, other adoption trips challenge every fiber of your being. My husband is not much of a crier, but he sobbed those first several nights after our daughter fell asleep. Her “family day” was excruciating, terrifying, and traumatizing. We brought items to comfort our daughter, but we also needed to practice some good self-care after she was asleep. We needed comfort items.

This trip, I am packing my favorite Yogi Positive Energy Tea and some good dark chocolate. My husband is loading his favorite comedy on our iPad.  

I am also glad I had my favorite devotional and worship songs on my iPhone to focus us on truth during such a difficult time.  

An International Data Plan

I know it is uncomfortable for people to think about, but what if something goes horribly wrong at home while you are in China? What if there is a tragedy that happens while you are in China? One item in our budget that my husband and I consider essential is adding an international data plan for our cell phones so that family can easily reach us, and so that we can easily reach family. Yes, there are apps that can allow you to call home via wi-fi for free, but what if you are at a Chinese hospital without wi-fi?  

On this note, we also make sure our family has phone numbers for our travel agent, our adoption agency, our guides, our hotels, etc.  

Pack Formula and Diapers or Buy in China?

If your child is still taking a bottle, you might be tempted to pack formula. We decided not to, because we did not want to upset our daughter’s tummy by changing her formula. We bought formula and daytime diapers in country. I did not see nighttime diapers when I was in China almost two years ago, so I am very glad we packed these. My daughter also refused to use the Playtex Drop-in Bottles I brought with me. She wanted the bottles she was accustomed to.   


An International Adoption Physician

Online, I often see families say that their pediatrician won’t write them a script for the family to take with them to treat scabies or an upper respiratory infection. Even though several members of my immediate family are physicians, my husband and I sought the expertise of an international adoption physician to review our daughter’s file when we were matched and to call prescriptions out for her to take with us. Our international adoption physician was in touch with us several times while we were in country because our daughter was ill and not sleeping. I am so thankful we used this service.  Ask your agency for a list of international adoption physicians that they recommend. We used the International Adoption Clinic at the University of Alabama Children’s Hospital. I love that Dr. Chambers is a mom with three children adopted from China. She has first hand experience.  


We are taking a cheap umbrella stroller for our daughter who is traveling with us. We will buy a second one in China for Barrett.  


I am not a medical doctor, so I felt uncomfortable providing a recommended medication list. Meet with your physician early to discuss immunizations and whether he or she will write prescriptions for travel. We received a medication list from the International Adoption Clinic for our daughter and talked with our physician for our own. Because our doctor was familiar with international travel to China, he was comfortable providing us with prescriptions for traveler’s diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, sinus infections, etc. My doctor knows that I often throw my back out, so he was comfortable prescribing prescription pain pills in the event I needed them. Depending where you are in China, Western medications can be difficult to access. There is a western medical clinic at the Garden Hotel in Guangzhou. If you take required prescription medication, make sure you take more than you need for your time in China. Visa slowdowns happen and you do not want to be stuck without.  

Mandy’s Carry-on (Bag: eBags TLS Motherlode Weekender Convertible)

  • Adoption Paperwork (supplied by our agency)
  • Passports (also had scanned copies on electronic devices and emailed to our family)
  • Emergency contact numbers
  • Itinerary (also make sure your family in the US have your China adoption itinerary and guide contact numbers in case of emergency)
  • Empty water bottle (to be filled during the flight)
  • A few large ziploc baggies in case someone gets ill
  • Sunglasses
  • Essential medications (with enough if we get “stuck” in-country beyond the expected departure date)
  • Travel size Clorox wipes
  • One change of clothes and a one day’s worth of undergarments
  • Sweater, sweatshirt, or fleece jacket in case the flight is chilly (I wear this on flight)
  • Travel size Gold Bond Ultimate Healing Lotion
  • Compression socks (because I swell during long flights)
  • Portable charger
  • Snacks for the flight (beef jerky, cashews, dried apple slices, dark chocolate, gum)
  • Cell phone and charger
  • iPad and charger
  • Toothbrush and travel size toothpaste
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Tissue pack (sometimes, I have been on flights that ran out of toilet paper)
  • 1 container of baby wipes – buy more in province
  • Deodorant
  • Eye mask, ear plugs
  • Money belt
  • Headphones/ear buds

Mandy’s Diaper Bag/PursePetunia Pickle Bottom Sashay Satchel (can be held like purse or backpack)

Bryson’s Carry-On (Tom Bihn Tri-Star Bag)

  • Snacks
  • Money belt
  • Camera and charger
  • Children’s thermometer  
  • Tissue pack
  • Toothbrush and travel size toothpaste
  • One change of clothes and a one day’s worth of undergarments
  • Empty water bottle (to be filled during the flight)
  • Sunglasses
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Noise canceling headphones

Lydia’s Carry-On – (BackPack from the Disney Store)

  • Two changes of clothes and a two days’ worth of undergarments
  • AquaDoodle Travel n’Doodle
  • Melissa & Doug Water Wow
  • Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Pad
  • Wikki Stix
  • Toddler Headphones
  • Empty water bottle
  • Snacks

Mandy and Lydia’s Shared Checked Bag

Mandy’s Items

  • Gifts for officials, guides (Last time, I made the mistake of buying gifts that weighed too much. This time, I purchased items that are extremely light, and take up very little space (art print bookmarks from a museum and Chinese New Year Stamps from USPS). If you are looking for a place to buy gifts, we found the best place was at the gift shop at a local art museum because almost everything was made locally).
  • Comfort items – Yogi Tea, dark chocolate
  • Red bags and red/gold tissue paper for gifts
  • 4-5 trash bags (use as laundry bags, for hotel room, or in case of serious blowouts from parasites)
  • Febreeze travel size spray (rooms can smell like cigarette smoke and stools from children with parasites are extremely foul)
  • Toiletries
    • Feminine products (must pack)
    • Travel size dry shampoo (for my greasy hair on the flight home)
    • Tissue packs
    • Facial cleansing wipes
    • Make up – mascara, lip gloss, eyelash curler, blush, powder
    • Travel size hair gel
    • Travel size perfume
    • Floss
    • Comb/brush
    • Chapstick
    • Razor
    • Tweezers
    • Children’s Nail clippers
    • Dove unscented soap (daughter adopted last year broke out in rash from all other soaps)
  • Mandy’s Clothes –
    • 3-5 pants or shorts – Lands’ End Startfish Knit Pants (1), Athleta Capris (1), Athleta Bettona Classic Pants (1), Jeans (1), Zella Live In Pants (1)
    • Nike running shorts
    • 7 tops or tunics
    • 3 bras
    • 1 casual dress that is comfortable
    • 1 cardigan
    • Rain jacket (if umbrella needed, buy in China)
    • Two pajama sets (that aren’t bulky)
    • 7-10 pairs of underwear
    • 7 pairs of socks
    • Nikes (wear on flight), Keen Sienna MJ’s
    • Swimsuit and swim cap (some hotels won’t let you swim without a swim cap)
    • Baseball hat

Lydia’s items (almost 4 years old at time of travel)

  • Clothes
    • 4-5 casual dresses/tunics
    • 3 tops
    • 7 leggings
    • Fleece jacket, fleece pants, fleece cap if cool
    • Rain jacket
    • Keens, New Balance shoes (wears New Balances while flying)
    • Swimsuit and swim cap
    • Socks, 10 panties
    • 2 sets of pajamas
    • 20 overnight diapers vacuum sealed to compress size


Bryson (my husband) and Barrett’s (son we are adopting) Shared Checked Luggage

  • Toddler Tula for Lydia
  • Ergo for Barrett
  • Large duffle bag folded flat in suitcase for return trip (will hold Barrett’s extra clothes, items bought, etc.)
  • Paper bowls, paper plates, plastic utensils (because we have two toddlers, we might eat a lot of meals in our room)
  • Over the counter meds for adults and kids
  • Bryson’s Clothes –
    • 5 pairs of pants, jeans, or shorts
    • Fleece jacket (worn on flight)
    • 7 t-shirts
    • 1 collared shirt
    • Keens, New Balance shoes
    • Swim trunks and swim cap
    • Pajama pants
    • 7 – underwear
    • 5 socks
    • Rain jacket
    • Baseball hat
  • Toiletries
    • Kids’ toothbrushes and toothpaste
    • deodorant
    • razor
  • Barrett’s clothes
    • Safety pins (in case clothes are too big around his waist)
    • Overalls
    • Fleece jacket, pants, cap
    • 3 Toddler knit pants with drawstring
    • 5 t-shirts
    • Rain jacket
    • Two pajamas
    • Anything else he needs, we will buy in China
    • Nighttime diapers (vacuum sealed)
  • Toys
    • Balloons (great for hitting back and forth for attachment)
    • Playdoh (travel size containers)
    • Bubbles
    • Stickers, temporary tattoos
    • Crayons, coloring books
    • Plan to buy other toys once in China
    • Lydia’s lovie from home
    • Lovie for Barrett
    • Two books
    • Stacking Cups
    • Toy that lights up for the day we meet Barrett

9 responses to “What Should I Pack for China?: My Best Attempt at a Comprehensive Packing List”

  1. Great info! We are a long way from traveling, still in the home study process, but I love thinking and planning ahead! Congrats on your second adoption!

  2. Rebecca says:

    Great blog! We are anxiously awaiting TA for our first adoption so this is exactly the type of info I am obsessing, er… uh… I mean researching right now!

  3. Amy says:

    What a wonderful list! Thank you! Packing to leave in 5 days and had completely forgotten to think about comfort items for myself…loved the reminder to load up on some dark chocolate and hot tea! 🙂

  4. Helen Kokkol North says:

    Hi Mandy,
    Thank you for a ll the really truthful, honest and insightful writings you have published here. I am wondering about your “carry on” … I was told we can’t use that size as a carry on for international flights and that we needed to use the Jr. size. Have you experience with the larger size? Thanks 🙂 and many blessings on bringing home your son… we are hoping to meet our son before CNY… we shall see…

  5. Tanya says:

    Thank you for posting this! We hope to be traveling in late January. This is an amazing list! I would have never thought about comfort for my husband and myself. Thinking only about what would be good for our 3-1/2 year old.

  6. Staci says:

    This has been extremely helpful!! Thank you for taking the time to write it out.

  7. Jennifer Spaulding says:

    I am going to China with my sister when she adopts her daughter. My list looks much simpler than when we adopted in 2003 & 2004. The packing list suggestions you have are fantastic ones.

  8. Will says:

    Awesome list. We are headed over for our second and this was so useful

  9. Just got back in November, the one thing I found was that, especially for an older child, translation apps were very hard to use well and communication was hard and caused several melt downs. My day job is in software, so when I got back home, I started making the app I wish I could have had. Its basically a list of questions / commands / comforting statements / praise / etc, all organized in groups. I then found a native Mandarin speaker with the requirements – 1. must be a mother of small children, 2. must record as if talking to a young 2-6 year old child. The app lets you navigate to a phrase, see it in pinyin, mandarin, and also plays the audio in a real recorded voice.
    It finally made it through review on android and apple should be done tomorrow. If you have a chance and want to review it and if you like it, add it to your list, you can find it on google at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mandarinforadoptive&rdid=com.mandarinforadoptive
    and apple when it launches by searching Mandarin For Adoptive Families

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