Tailor Dortona: Should it Stay or Should it Go? What to Pack and What to Leave Behind (Part 1)

I struggled to pack for China, constantly rearranging piles of “Yes,” “No,” and “Maybe” clothing, shoes, toiletries, and miscellaneous items that I was convinced could come in handy. But now that I have gone through the complete agony of boiling down all of my worldly possessions to the items I thought I would need over the course of my fourteen weeks here in Chengdu, there is no reason for you to have to endure the same torture. This is why I decided to comprise a list of what to pack and what to leave behind (you’re welcome). This week will be a list of what should accompany you on your journey and my next installment will include what ought to stay back home. These lists are focused on the odd/unusual/easy to forget items, as opposed to the obvious (pack plenty of socks, bring sneakers, etc.). It should be noted that these lists are based on studying in Chengdu during the spring semester and that I identify as a female, so these lists are bound to differ for males, or anyone choosing to study here during the fall. Nonetheless, anyone traveling here for an extended period of time should be aware that contrary to what all of the “top” travel guides will warn you, many foreign products ARE available here. And on the adverse, the guides forgot to mention quite a few things that would have made my adjustment to Chinese culture a tad easier. So, without further ado…

Pack It!

You’ll Be Craving

  1. Boxed Mac & Cheese à I know this may sound crazy, but whether or not you like this traditional American dish back home, you will suddenly CRAVE it in China. And I am not alone in this sentiment either. A couple of boxes of Mac & Cheese would be like gold right about now because cheese (even fake, powdery cheese), is incredibly difficult to find here (as are most dairy products Americans are used to being a staple).
  2. Chocolate à Chinese chocolate isn’t bad, but it is limited in variety and expensive (compared to other snack food options available here). I packed a dozen of my favorite chocolate bars for when a choco-attack strikes and I wish I had brought more!
  3. Cheeseits/Goldfish à Again, cheesy products are not widely available here in Chengdu and their generic version of these delectable snacks do not compare to the real thing. I have found Goldfish sold in TrustMart (Walmart), but they were charging more than $7 a bag!
  4. Tortillas à We do have a kitchen here in the dorms and my roommate often cooks family dinners for the group, but although we have found ourselves craving authentic tacos, we cannot indulge in this tasty dish because we cannot seem to locate tortillas.
  5. Instant Coffee/French Press à I’m sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news for all you coffee lovers out there, but China is severely lacking in caffeine. But don’t let that stop you from coming to China. Simply pack some Nestle, Starbucks, or Maxwell instant coffee packets. Hot water is widely available here and you can find a quality mug in either Carrefour or TrustMart (Walmart), but instant coffee is not only extremely expensive here, but it is also subpar. And if instant coffee isn’t good enough for you, make room for a French press and a few bags of coffee grounds because you will not find those here either (trust me, I searched).

Dorm Room Necessities

  1. Photographs/Wall Décor /Tapeà The walls are barren and you will miss home, so pack posters, photos, and tape!
  2. A Blanket/Sheets/Mattress Cover à If you plan to purchase your sheets through g-MEO upon your arrival in China, you will receive a sheet, duvet, pillow, and pillow case. As you may have noticed, I did not list mattress cover, or a second set of sheets. There are no dryers in the dorms, so your clothes will air dry over the balcony. This means that if your sheets do not dry by the time you are headed to bed, you might have to cozy up with your roommate that night. So I would suggest brining an extra mattress cover, sheet (extra-long if you can find them), and pillow case. If you do not purchase your bedding through g-MEO, bring 2 sets of sheets, 2 pillow cases, a pillow (I purchased a new one from Marshall’s for less than $20), and a blanket. My first three weeks here were incredibly cold and I wish I had brought a blanket along.
  3. Extension cord à They are difficult to find, but not impossible. That said, you will probably need one because the amount of electrical outlets in the dorm rooms are limited.
  4. Wall Adapter à Purchase two on Amazon (they can be found for $3, plus shipping). For Apple products and most computers, you do not need a converter. For hair dryers/straighteners etc. you will need one, but I would not suggest packing these in the first place (which I will discuss in my next blog post)


  1. Medicineà Simply put, if you have EVER used it, play it safe and bring some with you. Excedrin Migraine, allergy meds, inhaler, ibuprofen, Midol, daily vitamins, etc.
  2. Tampons à Chinese women do not use tampons, so bring a supply for your entire trip. But don’t worry about packing pads, they sell them here.
  3. Towels à You can certainly purchase towels here, but I would bring 1-2 with you if you have room in your suitcase.
  4. Bathrobe à You will likely be sharing a room with one of your fellow students, plus your bathroom is located outside and there are dorms directly facing your balcony.


  1. List of Addresses à I want to send people letters and I have discovered that I do not know the mailing addresses of many of my relatives and friends. So before you leave, write them all down.
  2. DVDsà The internet speed in China, especially in a dorm, is often insufferable, so if you are used to falling asleep to Netflix or having a movie night on the weekends, I suggest you bring ample DVDs. Alternately, download movies prior to your departure.
  3. Reusable Grocery Bags à Like in Washington, DC and other parts of America, Chengdu stores charge you for every plastic bag you require, which is why you ought to bring a few reusable bags here. I have seen ones for sale, but they weren’t particularly sturdy for groceries and there was no selection of colors/patterns (as a result, I am stuck with a flimsy pink bag covered in strange geometric designs).
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