Both Mandy and I are organized and prepared people. She is more organized than I am (which really is saying something) but I enjoy a useful checklist and feel more confident when I know that I have done my research on an upcoming trip. Based on this, it is not surprising that I found myself researching packing lists online as we prepared for our trip to China to pick up Molly Kate. After reviewing several that I found, I created a consolidated list that Mandy and I used to shop for the things that we did not already have and organize those that we did (Here are links to two versions: Excel and PDF).
I purposefully left off of our list things like clothing and electronics because those are specific to each individual person that will be traveling. I also left off what we packed for Molly Kate because you may be adopting a little boy or a child that is significantly older or younger that she was when we traveled (22 months). Regardless, it was a packing list that helped keep us straight in the last few days before we left. Here are also some more detailed thoughts on topics or items that stuck out in my mind.
Must-haves and -knows:
- Invest in a good backpack. Both Mandy and I used backpacks as our carry-on bag and then used them on a daily basis around Hong Kong and Guangzho. Mandy did not take a purse with her to China so my backpack was used as a combination shopping bag, purse, diaper bag and general carry-all. I bought the Marmot Ledge and, while it could have been just a bit bigger, I really had a great experience with it. I also purchased some ditty sacks from REI that I used to keep things organized.
- Invest in good water bottle. If you have not been told yet, you cannot drink the water anywhere in China (or in Hong Kong for that matter). We braved the ice but that was it. Most hotels will give you two bottles of water a day for free but we also bought a six pack at a 7-Eleven (yes, those are all over China) and went through two to three bottles a day. I bought both Mandy and I an insulated water bottle from Camelbak and they were well worth the money. We also bought three boxes of the single serving mixes from Crystal Light and used almost all of them. Our Camelbak bottles were a fixture in our backpack every day.
- Pack smart but not necessarily light. We were lucky in that we did not have an in-country flight so the limit on baggage imposed on domestic flights did not apply to us. I am confident that we could have packed a bit smarter (did I really need three sets of work-out clothes?) but not much lighter. We took three medium-sized suit cases with us on our trip and still ended up sending out laundry twice over the 15-day trip. We traveled in July, which is one of the hottest months in China and stayed in sub-tropical areas our entire trip. Often we would go through two changes of clothes a day because you would sweat through your shirt just walking around outside. Less clothes = more laundry = more expense but less baggage. I am OK with the trade-offs we made.
- Check all of your power cords. China (and Hong Kong) run on 220v, which is double the 110v that is used in America. Most modern electronics have a built-in power transform in their cord that allows you to plug in to either, however (it is the “box” in the middle of your cord that you have always wondered about its use). Check all of your cords before you leave to see if you even need to worry about a transformer. Of everything that we brought (MacBook Pro, iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire, two cameras, a video camera, razor, etc.) only two could not handle the 220v: Mandy’s curling iron and my electric toothbrush (both hotels we stayed in provided a blow dryer, another common item that cannot handle the higher voltage). We were told that our hotel could provide us with a transformer, which they eventually did but not until we had three false-starts. If I had to do it all over again I would probably bring my own.
- Bring food from home. In case no one has told you yet, the food is REALLY different in China. You will not find a Pei Wei anywhere and even the westernized food is just off enough to make you second guess venturing out too much. You cannot expect to be able to pack all of your food for your trip but bringing a few select comfort items will go a long way. We brought mostly snack items but also packed a box of granola bars and quite a few protein bars (for when you miss a meal waiting in line for yet another piece of paperwork). We also bought some cookies at Walmart when we made our supply run. The Oreos were great but the Chips Ahoy Cookies definitely tasted different.
- Invest in an e-reader. One way Mandy and I did pack smart was that we minimized the amount of books we each brought on the trip (me: zero; Mandy: two). We are both avid readers but did not want to weigh-down our bags with a bunch of relatively heavy books. I loaded up on a few free and discounted e-Books on my iPad and Mandy loaded a few on her Kindle Fire (a multi-purpose Mother’s Day gift from me). E-readers take a bit of time to get used to but once you do they are much more convenient than lugging multiple books half-way around the world.
Leave it at home:
- Odds and ends. Several of the packing lists that I found online while doing my research had a quite a few odds and ends on them that we packed but never even came close to using. One was plastic zip ties (which I already had at home) and one was metal d-rings (which I had to purchase). Now, I can certainly imagine circumstances in which both of these items would come in handy but I also know that you simply cannot pack for every event you may encounter. Mandy bet me that I would not use a single zip tie (I do not remember the terms of the bet) and she was right. They never even came out of the package. And the d-rings? I guess they will make good toys for the boys when we get home. You do need to plan for some circumstances (see the medicine section of my packing list) but leave as many odds and ends at home as you can.
- Electric adapters. Electric outlets overseas are different configurations from those in the states, and those in Asia are different than those in Europe. Our adoption agency recommended that we bring electric adapters with us (we actually borrowed two from my father-in-law who has traveled overseas extensively for his career) but the reality is that both hotels we stayed in had them available from the concierge desk. Granted, electric adapters are small but you can feel pretty confident in leaving yours at home or, worst case scenario, you can purchase them once you arrive at your destination for a fraction of what you would pay in America.
- Travel books and journals. We had an Internet connection in each hotel that we visited so Google was only a few clicks away, which rendered travel books all but irrelevant. Additionally, most travel books that I have purchased in the past are OK but it often feels like you need an instruction manual on how to use it properly. We stayed in nicer hotels that had very knowledgeable concierge staffs that were able to give us all of the information we needed and also protected us from going places we ought not go simply based on a review in a travel book. Finally, both Mandy and I bought journals from home to write in on our trip. I know that she wrote in hers some but mine was never opened. My guess is that if you do not journal at home, you will not journal on your trip so save the space and weight and try to pick up that discipline once you have returned home.
My guess is that if you have traveled internationally for an extended period of time (especially on an adoption trip) you have a similar list of thoughts on what was critical or unnecessary to pack. I would love to read your thoughts and comments below.