The Great Wall Of China: Which section has public transport?

When we think of the Great Wall of China, we know it’s a long snaking wall that extends for thousands of miles, yet 90% of tourists go and see the same crowded part! This article will cover the main sections from Beijing, how to get to them (including public transport) and which is best.

So there are actually four main areas of the Great Wall of China which are most accessible to tourists from Beijing. The most popular and easiest to reach are Badaling and Mutianyu. There are also Jinshanling and Simatai sections but it is harder to see those because they are further away.

There are other sections as well, but as these are further from Beijing you would need an overnight stay somewhere else to reach them, and this guide only covers sections of the wall you can do in a day trip starting from Beijing.

Overview of the four sections of the Great Wall accessible from Beijing in 1 day:

BadalingMutianyuJinshanlingSimatai
Distance
(from Beijing)
1 hour1.5 hour2.5 hour3 hour
Reconstruction?In 1957In 1569ADIn 1570ADIn 1987
Busy?Very!A bit.A bit.No.
Length of a day trip4-5 hrs5-6 hrs8 hrs8+ hrs
Public transport?YesYesNoYes

Picture this: You are standing on a four metre wide section of wall, elbow-to-shoulder with dozens of other tourists. You try to take a selfie of you on this once-in-a-lifetime experience but someone knocks your arm and when you get back, you have one blurry shot and a couple more pics of the hundreds of tourists surrounding you, all chattering away on Wechat to their families telling them that they have visited the Great Wall.

That’s basically what Badaling section of the Great Wall is like. Most organized tours of the Great Wall will take you here as part of your itinerary and it is so crowded. Every photo I’ve ever seen from any trip to Badaling is the same. It’s just packed with people in every direction. After ten or fifteen minutes, you go back onto a big bus and are whisked to the next sight for more of the same.

It is also a very recent reconstruction from the 20th century, so mostly what you are seeing is a re-visioning of what it originally looked like.

Having said that, if you’re interested in heritage studies, you might like to visit Badaling because it was the first section of the wall to be opened to tourists in 1959.

If you shuddered at the thought of being stuck in such a big crowd, you’ve come to the right place. Now picture this instead:

You climb a hill to some ski lifts which slowly propel you to the base of the Great Wall, where you disembark and climb the steps to the top. There are watchtowers ahead and behind you. Free to move, you look out at the view. You climb to the top of one of the watchtowers and look out from its roof. Although there are plenty of other tourists around, when you take a photo, with a little effort, you can get pictures with no one else in the shot.

That’s better, right? I think so, too. That’s Mutianyu section of the wall. If you get to choose which part of the wall to visit, and it’s your first (or only) trip to China, I absolutely recommend Mutianyu over Badaling.

For our trip, we hired a car, driver and tour guide via our hotel’s travel agency. We were staying at the Marriott hotel in Central Beijing so they offered a range of different day trip itineraries and they organized everything, all we had to do was show up and pay at the end of the day.

Our guide discussed the history with us on the way to the wall, and he came on the wall with us. We spent about an hour up there, and he also took us to the Ming Tombs, which were about an hour’s drive away, and the Sacred Way Dongbeikou.

It was a full day out of Beijing and we started at 8am and returned to the hotel at about 6pm, although there were a lot of road closures and very heavy traffic around the edge of Beijing that day because Donald Trump was doing his presidential visit (we had bad timing).

Getting back to the car from the Great Wall of China, we had another surprise. Remember we got here by ski lift? Well to get back down again, there was a fun slide which you go down on some sort of kart! It would have been a lot more fun if this middle aged Spanish woman in front of us hadn’t got scared and kept hitting the brake on her slide kart.

Getting to the Great Wall of China by public transport:

Badaling has a very easy-to-get tourist bus which will take you there. Currently, it is the bus 877 which leaves from Deshengmen Bus Station. If you miss the last bus back you may have to get a Didi (taxi) back, so be sure to download the Didi app.

The Mutianyu direct bus departs from Dongzhimenwai bus station in the city centre at 8:30am. However this is difficult to find and the 916 from the main Dongzhimen transport hub (easy to spot–subway, buses etc) takes you almost all the way, then you can get a second bus or a Didi to the wall. Overall, getting to Mutianyu by public transport relies on you being able to follow a multi-step process with lots of chance of failure (and apparently, so-called “black” buses wait around near Dongzhimenwai, “black” not being the colour, but named from the black hearted people who tout these fake tourist traps, aka scammers), so personally I would try to book onto an organized trip instead unless you either speak and read good Mandarin or are really broke; if it’s the latter, you would be better going to the Badaling wall in my opinion as it’s easier to get to.

Jinshanling wall is accessible by tourist bus from Beijing during the summer. It is at the same bus stop as the Mutianyu tourist bus so I’m not sure how you would know which bus to take to which section of the wall, except this bus departs at 7:40am. There is technically a train, but it’s a 5 hour ride which is a 10 hours round trip! There’s also a way to get there by public bus but it’s frankly complicated.

I would honestly not recommend taking the public bus to Jinshanling out of season unless you speak and read good Mandarin because there’s too much chance of something going wrong, which would leave you stranded quite a distance from Beijing where you will struggle to even get a Didi home. However, if you are braver than I, and quite competent at Mandarin, the lure of being able to walk this 10km stretch of wall unaccompanied is strong.

Simatai is the same tourist bus as Jinshanling and you just go east instead of west when you get off the bus as these two sections are side-by-side. Next time we go to China, I look forward to hopefully taking my Chinese driving test (foreigners may not use or transfer their driving licence to China) and being able to drive to the Simatai and Jinshanling sections of the wall so we can spend a day there on our own itinerary.

The advantage of the Simatai section of the wall is that most people travelling out there are actually going to see Jinshanling section of the wall, meaning Simatai is almost empty.

Best time to see the Great Wall of China

Beijing is still quite warm in November and I would recommend September-November to see the Great Wall as there’s a lot of walking (and if you take the bus, a lot of waiting around and sitting in a bus) and I can’t imagine it’s comfortable in the height of summer’s heat.

It’s also the time of year when there will be the fewest tourists, although if possible, you should avoid the Mid-Autumn festival as Beijing city is quite busy at this time (Golden Week is fine, though). Other times to avoid are Chinese New Year as all of China is busy that fortnight, and all of July/August, as that’s when most westerners come to China.

Come join the NEW Weekly Friday Photography Challenge: Beginnings

Announcing… the new weekly Friday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

So the Weekly Photography Challenge used to be an amazing way for photographers (amateur and professional alike) to take a prompt and turn it into a piece of artwork. You could search your files or go out and specifically take a photo for the weekly challenge.

“Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring.”

Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I was scared of participating at first, because I knew nothing about photography (I still don’t know as much as many people, but enough that I’ve sold pictures to national news outlets) but I enjoyed taking pictures and I knew what I liked seeing in a photo.

I was away in China, where I couldn’t update my blog as our internet in our apartment was too slow, when the final WPC came and went, and I only found out earlier this year that the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge has now passed.

Obviously it’s a big commitment, to put out a challenge for everyone every single week without fail and to go and look at everyone’s contributions, but I am going to take it on. I hope this new one will be one of many challenges to inspire people to share beautiful photos and to bring together the strong community we used to have a few years ago on WordPress.

Beginnings

From endings, there are always beginnings. Leaves fall to the ground at this time of year and in decaying, they become the nutritious soil that nourishes all plant life.

Late Autumn is a time for new beginnings, as the lifecycle of the earliest plants begins, months before we see anything happening above the ground.

This week’s challenge, then, is beginnings. Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Friday, I will post the next challenge!

10 things I discovered while living in China

1. You can buy almost anything in China.

Need a Valentine’s rose with panties folded up in the middle of the flower? Taobao. Need an oboe? Taobao. Need a Doraemon wedding tea set for a wedding tea ceremony? Taobao. Need 5000 personalised corporate pens with diamonds embedded in the barrel and your company name engraved in it? Taobao. Don’t understand Mandarin? Baopals! There are literally translators working at Baopals who will talk to Taobao sellers for you and ensure you can shop with confidence! Taobao is often touted as “Chinese eBay” but that’s not entirely true. Taobao sells literally everything and it’s all brand new.

2. There are no launderettes.

I never saw a coin-operated launderette anywhere in China. But everyone knows someone who can do your laundry or ironing for you and they’ll give you her WeChat so you can connect.

3. Milk is the next big fad diet.

They put milk in almost everything in China! Even sorbet! The “translate” function on WeChat will help if you’re dairy free, but it’s a LOT easier to just learn the Chinese character for milk (or anything else you’re allergic to) and scan the packet for it. Milk is seen as the next big thing over there, and if it comes from Australia or New Zealand, Chinese shoppers will pay top price for it.

4. You can fit a lot of stuff on the back of a bike.

Here are some stellar examples of this from Xi’an:

funny things on bikes in China mamaadventure

funny things on bikes in China mamaadventure
funny things on bikes in China mamaadventure

5. Everything is caused by “heatiness” or “coldness”.

Chinese medicine boils down to two things: Hot and cold. If you’re ill, you have an excess of either one or the other (or both, if you have bipolar). I lost a baby once and got taken to a traditional Chinese hospital, where I was told in all serious by a qualified doctor that I’d eaten too much cold food.

6. They have their own type of sushi.

If you’re a fan of sushi, you’ll know sushi is actually the name of the type of rice. China grows its own, which is called Jilin rice, because it comes from Jilin province, which borders North Korea. It’s identical to sushi rice and a fraction of the price in China. I got 10kg of Jilin rice as a free gift for spending over 700RMB ($70) on groceries once. That would be like $30 for 10kg sushi rice in the UK, so getting it free with $70 of shopping seemed crazy, but that’s how cheap it is. And I really liked cooking with it.

7. Pregnant women are treated like queens


It’s probably a hangup from the now-defunct one child policy (now a two-child policy), but pregnant women and new mothers are treated with great care. Old ladies stop elbowing you in the ribs in crowded areas, men give up their seats on the metro, airports let you sit in the priority seats and the doctors expect you to rest. You also get a legal minimum of 6 months maternity leave from work and they legally have to give you your job back when you return. And everyone stops to adore a baby! There are entire shopping centres just for children like Coco City in Changzhou.

8. Eggs boiled in tea make a great breakfast.


The first time I saw it I was like whaaaat? Why waste good tea? But somehow it delicately infuses the egg with tea flavour and makes such a nice start to the day.

9. Umbrellas have two uses

Many Chinese women don’t like getting a suntan because they want to look refined (and not agricultural) so they use their umbrellas on hot days to keep the sun off them when they’re walking down the street.

10. Family is everything

This stems from the Confucianism on which China’s society still functions, even if 60% of the population are now atheist. Confucianism is a “humanist religion” which believes in no God, but which values hierarchy and prosocial values, especially respect for ancestors (including living ones, e.g. your parents, aunts etc). This is so ingrained into Chinese culture that you will almost never hear anyone in China criticizing their parents or going against their family’s wishes. Conversely, children are also precious, although this is sometimes expressed in ways we don’t understand very well in the west.

To sum up…

Culturally, China is difficult to pin into a box because it’s one huge country, with so many nuances across the different regions, but these are the things that sum it up for me!

How to get a flight over Everest for 1/10 of the price of a charter plane

After our first trip to Xi’an, we headed to Kathmandu, Nepal. We completely didn’t expect to see Everest until we arrived in Nepal.

We boarded our flight, and I was feeling a little better after having quite a bad fall in Xi’an. To help with the travel sickness I often get, I’d asked for a window seat at check-in and we were near the front of the queue so I got my wish.

Our plane took off and on the ascent, we went straight through a thick, white cloud that stayed with us throughout our journey. We were travelling in early July 2018. Summertime in Nepal is the height of the rainy season. There are few tourists at this time of year, since most go to Nepal in the (northern hemisphere’s) winter months in order to capitalize on the dry, cooler temperatures for mountain expeditions to Everest and Annapurna.

FYI, rainy season = cloud cover. All the time. The skies are SUPER grey in Nepal at this time of year and it rains pretty much every afternoon, you can almost set your watch by it.

We hadn’t gone to Nepal with any intention of doing the infamous Everest Base Camp trek. We just wanted to see Kathmandu, for itself, as a destination in its own right, so there was no real plan to see Everest at all on this trip. Some people will be outraged by that or see it as a waste of an opportunity.

What can I say? As I said in my article on 17 things to do in Xi’an, I’m not a fan of box-ticking travel, to go somewhere just to do one thing then to leave again without taking in the culture. I had to go to Xi’an twice before I saw the Terracotta Warriors, haha.

I had hoped to see Tibet from the air, as we hadn’t been able to organise travel there, due to needing time to apply for the travel permits (even with a China residence visa, you still need a permit to visit Tibet as it is a conservation area).

The whole flight was cloud cover. But as we got to the border between China and Nepal (which is exactly at Mount Everest), the pilot made a surprising announcement.

“This is your captain speaking. We are about to fly past Mount Everest on your right,” he said.

There was great excitement. And by some incredible stroke of luck, we were sitting on the side of the plane that passed Mount Everest.

At first, little cones of mountaintops poked through the clouds like puppy noses. Then, into view came this huge behemoth, surrounded by the little puppy noses but dwarfing them.

The mountain was almost as high as the plane, and we got so close, I felt like we could have stepped out of the plane and glided over there if we’d only had a hang glider. The distance was probably an illusion caused by the sheer size of Mount Everest.

People say it’s the highest mountain in the world, but from the ground, every mountain looks huge. It’s difficult to explain how different they looked from the air, especially since the clouds were so thick.

But if the clouds hadn’t been covering the ground so much, we wouldn’t have been able to see Mount Everest projecting so clearly and majestically out of the biosphere, with a background of delicious blue sky.

Fun fact: Mount Everest is the only part of the Earth in the whole world that occupies the troposphere, the layer of sky above the biosphere, where no mammals can actually survive.

The total cost for two plane tickets from Xi’an to Kathmandu was about 3300RMB (about £350) one way for two people. When we arrived in Kathmandu, we saw several “travel agency” places advertising a chartered flight over Everest for the equivalent of £1000 (8000RMB) for ONE person, so our flight over Everest was about 1/10 of the cost of the chartered planes.

It was one of the greatest travel experiences of my life. Here are some of the incredible photos I took:

10 things to do with a baby in Belfast this week

Lockdown with a baby is making me stir crazy! I need to do things with the baby. Northern Ireland’s lockdown (bizzarrely) lifted today. For seven days. Then we’re in another, much harsher one, until December 11th. So I have to HAVE TO get out with the little one. Feeling the same? Here’s all the stuff you could do in the Belfast area.

Okay so this is partly a personal to do list and partly a list for anyone else in Belfast area looking for ways to make the most of the (brief) lifting of the lockdown.

  1. Soft play: Some soft plays are opening again! Others are not. Check out Roar and Explore in West Belfast or Funky Monkeys in Dundonald as both say they’re open this week.
  2. Crazy golf: Pirates Adventure Golf in Dundonald is open-air and open doors.
  3. The beach: Of course. Like usual. Holywood Sea Park is open and so is the play area… for now. I’m sure the council will close the playground area next Friday because this whole lockdown thing seems to be orchestrated by Puritans.
  4. Library: Return your library books, Mama Adventure! So I may have had three overdue books since March. :O I hope the libraries are opening this week because I really don’t want to still have these books when we emigrate.
  5. Belfast Zoo: The zoo will be open this week but you have to book in advance to manage the numbers.
  6. The Great Light on the Maritime Mile, Titanic Quarter, Belfast
  7. Titanic Sculpture on the Maritime Mile, Titanic Quarter, Belfast
  8. The Buoy Park on the Maritime Mile, Titanic Quarter, Belfast
  9. The Mo Mowlam play park (part of the Stormont estate), Stormont, Belfast has SO MUCH to do, for children of all abilities.
  10. CS Lewis Square, Strandtown, Belfast. A great place to take babies in their “zoo animal” phase, my little one loved the giant lion Aslan sculpture.

Further afield (driveable from Belfast):

Bangor Castle Walled Garden: A beautiful flowery garden with fountains and walls. Free entry.

Pickie Fun Park Bangor: Does what it says on the tin. Playgrounds, pedal swans, mini-railway and more!

Mount Stewart: The Natural Play Area is open! Book in advance (not always necessary during weekdays though). Entry £10 for adults. Under 5s go free.

Castle Ward: Visit Winterfell (or at least, the gardens and stables, the main building is still closed). Entry £10 each for adults. Under 5s go free.

Got any more ideas for things to do around Belfast this week before our new lockdown starts again? Let me know in the comments!

Lockdown running

At some point during the first lockdown, I think it was June, I took up running.

I’ve always been the worst at long-distance running. I have no stamina for it at all, and I get very breathless. This has been the case my whole life.

In February of this year, I was diagnosed with asthma. I’ve been diagnosed before, as a child, but I stopped taking inhalers and generally convinced myself I didn’t need them when I turned 18 and was no longer eligible for free prescriptions in England. It’s easier to tell yourself you’re not asthmatic than to face the truth that you are and you can’t afford your inhaler.

One of the good things about living in Northern Ireland is that ALL prescriptions are free, for everyone. So when I got rediagnosed with asthma, I got inhalers.

They were life changing.

For the first time in my life, I can run.

At first, it was hard going. I couldn’t even do 60 seconds of running without stopping, tired. I had my breathing right, but my ankles, my knees and my back had no idea how to do cross-country.

Not to be deterred, I signed up for my first of several run challenges. Some were better than others. Race At Your Pace and Run Challenges were both fairly decent, but for my first challenge, I signed up with another company and they didn’t send any sort of explanation about how to get a medal, so I missed their 3-day “evidence submission” window. I emailed them after to ask how it worked, and received a snotty reply that implied I ought to have known how to submit the evidence.

Their system used this idiotic and unnecessary online portal that they didn’t send you an emailed link to access.

I hate portals. My former psychiatrist now uses one and it’s hopeless. Good thing I don’t need to see a shrink anymore.

Actually, I can (partly) thank running for that, too.

After 1 month of running every second day, I didn’t need my antidepressants that I’d been taking for post-natal depression. Once that layer was peeled away, we were able to discover that my underlying mental illness wasn’t bipolar, as I’ve been misdiagnosed with for 5 years, or borderline, as was suggested in August, but PMDD – Pre Menstrual Dysphoria Disorder – and ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

PMDD isn’t really improved by running, but I find my ADHD is. When I run, I get the energy out that builds up and can turn in on itself during the afternoon. When I run, I take time to focus on my breathing, so it’s inadvertently a mindfulness exercise. And when I run, I am doing self-care. I am also increasing my confidence.

In February, I read in a leaflet about someone who had “beat Post Natal Depression” by running. I was extremely scornful of this idea. I don’t think mental illnesses are invaders that we should approach with a “fight” mentality, they’re part of us that we need to accept in a self compassionate way while ameliorating symptoms.

My opinion on self-acceptance hasn’t changed, but I do think there’s mileage (no pun intended) in running to help with mental health symptoms, and I can understand why other people feel that way.

It’s also given me confidence in my own body. After pregnancy, I felt weak and tired all the time, whereas now I feel strong and (dare I say it?) powerful in a way I never have felt in my entire life.

The hardest thing about running was the first month. About two weeks in, I hurt my knees due to not warming up enough and not taking enough rest days. I had to rest completely, but I still had several kilometres to go before completing my challenge. I made it, at a limp, but because I hadn’t rested fully or recovered entirely, I carried those knee problems into my second month.

Three months into running, in August, I was working with a very unethical self-styled psychotherapist who I later found out had faked her credentials.

She questioned why I was going running and denigrated it as inappropriate and boring. She told me I should do ice skating instead (she was utterly oblivious of Covid and she also contributed to me getting another borderline misdiagnosis so I’m a bit annoyed but because she has faked all her credentials, there’s no one to report her to).

I thought she was full of crap and yet somehow, it got into the back of my mind and I stopped running. For two months.

I also got too invested in my stats, and when I couldn’t beat my distances and speeds, I felt like a failure. My new (ethical, qualified, and registered) therapist encouraged me to try again, without timing myself or logging my runs.

It was great advice.

I started again in October and I’ve been going ever since.

I no longer have any idea how far I’m running in any given run, but I have been doing the same route since March (lockdown… there’s literally only one lane to run down here) and I know I can get further down the lane without stopping. And my knees are no longer struggling to keep up, nor are my ankles.

I’ve realized running is all about incremental progress, not trying to do everything at once, or perfectly first time. Sometimes you don’t meet a particular challenge, for whatever reason.

Who cares? Challenges are constructs, they’re not real, and they’re not a true measure of your running ability.

So to anyone else looking to start running, I suggest you try it! With an inhaler in your pocket, if you need it.

I hope the featured image inspires you that almost anyone can start running; it’s all about the mindset.

How to travel with cosmetics: Complete guide

This guide to travelling with beauty products is going to cover every different type of travel, including taking cosmetics on airplanes (carry on only and checked luggage, domestic and international), high altitude travel with cosmetics, including mountaineering, and protecting cosmetics from extremes of temperature, especially during overland travel with beauty products or flights to/from hot countries.

My cosmetics go nearly everywhere I go, and you’d expect nothing less since I’m a travel and beauty blogger. I’ve had to make up my own solutions to some of my travel-with-cosmetics problems because the hacks most people came up with only work for very specific situations. I’m in the process of writing a separate article on how to decant literally every cosmetic, and will update this article with links when that one is done.

This article contains:

Carry-on beauty hacks for travelling light.

Checked luggage beauty hacks to protect your cosmetics (and your other stuff).

How temperature and altitude affect cosmetics: Read before going ANYWHERE (especially overland)!

Carry-on beauty travel hacks:

When you’re travelling with only a carry-on, your cosmetics need to be as pared down as possible. I know when I pack for a longer getaway, I’m always in a dilemma because I want to travel light but my cosmetics case could easily fill half a normal-sized suitcase, never mind a little carry-on bag.

All airlines worldwide have limits on how much liquid you can take onto planes these days, which makes it even more complicated for women to travel and look their best.

Here’s how to pack cosmetics for 7 days with a carry-on:

  1. Shampoo: Instead of a bottle of shampoo, take a shampoo bar. You could make your own, using one of my recipes such as my green tea shampoo bar, or buy a ready-made one. When you only have one sandwich bag at the airport in which to put all your liquid cosmetics, a bar makes sense.
  2. Conditioner: Another unnecessary liquid. The way I see it, there are three ways to solve the conditioner issue. Either buy some when you land (potluck as to whether you’ll find any as soon as you need it, so not great if you’re going long-haul), make your own conditioner bar such as my easy natural hair conditioner bar recipe, or forego the conditioner completely and use coconut oil instead.
  3. Deodorant: Take a deodorant bar. The only good one I’ve found (ever) is the Lush Aromaco bar which is unisex and actually works as advertised, unlike most natural deodorants. Unfortunately, I don’t have a homemade alternative yet.
  4. Toothpaste: If you can get to a dentist before you travel, they almost always have free samples from toothpaste companies, and these are perfect for travel. If not, a full-size tube will use up your liquids allowance, but you may have to suck it up or buy a new tube when you land. No one wants dirty teeth.
  5. Lotion: If you’re staying in a hotel, you’ll usually get a new tube of this every day. If not, my conditioner bar, above, doubles up as an intensive on-the-spot treatment for very dry skin (use sparingly).
  6. Face cream: If you’re going to South Korea, absolutely under no circumstances take face cream. They have face cream. And it’s better than anything you have at home. Otherwise, decant your face cream into a smaller pot such as a mayonnaise pot (these tend to leak less than the cheaper “travel cosmetics bottles”) or a miniature jam jar. Remember to label it.
  7. Sunscreen: Take a travel mini if your face cream doesn’t contain an SPF. You can also make powder sunscreen using zinc oxide but it’s not suitable for dry skin like mine.
  8. Foundation: Take a cushion or a powder foundation, or boldly go natural with no foundation. A cushion with a high SPF is great for hotter countries.
  9. Eyeshadow: An eyeshadow pencil is your best option so you don’t have to worry about powder breakage on the flight or use up that precious liquid allowance!
  10. Eyeliner: Is very small, so unless you’re seriously pressed for space, just take liquid eyeliner if that’s your go-to, and put it in the baggie at security. Otherwise, an eye pencil can double up as a brow pencil if you choose your shade wisely and take a makeup pencil sharpener.
  11. Highlighter and contouring kit: Ditch. Not worth the extra space in your makeup bag. If you want to contour, very lightly apply your brown eyeliner or eyeshadow pencil to the areas you need to contour and blend, blend, blend until it’s looking natural. White eyeshadow or concealer doubles up as highlighter if needed.
  12. Lipstick: These are often classed as liquids. I prefer a tinting balm with an SPF unless I have a very formal occasion or a cosplay to attend.
  13. Mascara: Get a miniature sample of your favorite mascara either from a store like Bloomingdale’s or from Amazon. It takes up way less space than a big chunky plastic mascara tube. I prefer waterproof brown mascara for travel, and I pair it with Mascara Melt-Off by Too Faced.
  14. Perfume: If you can’t get a travel miniature, just leave it at home. It will only attract unwanted stray men.
  15. Blusher: I use the Benefit Do the Hoola miniature.
  16. Pore strips: If you’re prone to blackheads, especially if you’re traveling to a hot country, take some Bioré pore strips.
  17. Concealer, if you use it. The Urban Decay ultimate holy grail concealer travels REALLY well and covers up tattoos (ideal for travel to Japan).

And here’s what you don’t need when travelling with a carry-on:

Spray Deodorant: Buy this when you land. A big spray bottle will use up your liquids allowance with carry-on luggage.

Dry shampoo: It’s actually really bad for your hair and unless you’re going for an interview when you land you could just shower, instead.

Setting spray: Seems useful, but if you’re in a situation where your makeup won’t stay put, consider whether you need it on your face or not. In the sort of heat that makes makeup migrate down your face, your pores are open, leaving you undefended against blackheads and spots.

Lip plumper/lash growth serum/false lashes: I love all of these, but unless you’re travelling for a big event, you can live without them for a week.

Hair spray/mousse: Use coconut oil (or a small amount of my homemade conditioner bar applied to dry hair) instead to fix flyaways.

Checked baggage beauty hacks

The first time I travelled with a checked bag, we were moving to China. I stared at my open suitcase thinking I could take anything at all and it would all fit in this ginormous case.

Unfortunately, I soon learned that wasn’t true. I also didn’t know about excess baggage, so I thought I could only take this one case and a carry-on. In case anyone else has never been on a long-haul flight, you just pay for more suitcases and it’s not an abominable amount (about $80-ish with the US airlines; about half that in China).

On the plus side, I’m not a huge fan of traveling with tons of bags and, if you’re a solo female traveller (or a lone female heavily-pregnant traveller, as I was on one infamous long-haul flight from China to Helsinki to Heathrow), you will absolutely want as little crap to carry as possible because you will have to lift your bags at various points.

  • Take all cosmetics out of their boxes/packaging. If you’re Youtubing, film the unboxing video before you pack! Remember to keep any applicators/spare parts and photograph any instructions in case you need them later.
  • Decant unwieldy products into smaller, lighter containers.
  • To avoid leaks, wrap any cosmetics in cling film/saran wrap and put them in a waterproof cosmetics bag before putting them in a checked bag. Especially ampoule type sleeping packs!
  • To minimize damage, keep powder cosmetics and any container that won’t easily wipe clean in a separate waterproof cosmetics bag to your liquid cosmetics! Store these in another part of your case.
  • Put anything like books, electricals, clothes that may stain, etc, in packing cubes or supermarket bags to protect from cosmetics or food leaks. The supermarket bags can then be used to go food shopping when you reach your destination! I had a carton of wine explode in my suitcase once because I packed it wrong on a 17 hour flight, and the mess was not pretty! I was gutted because it was the nicest wine I ever tasted, too (a Californian Pinot Noir, if you’re curious).
  • Protect your cosmetics from damage in checked luggage by wrapping them in (bagged) clothes, so if your bags are dropped or crushed, your cosmetics are safe.

How heat affects cosmetics during travel

The issue with taking cosmetics in checked bags isn’t so much space, but whether the conditions your bag will be in are safe for cosmetics. For example, at Dubai Airport, temperatures can regularly hit 45 degrees celsius, sometimes reaching higher, and while your bag is on the tarmac waiting to be loaded onto a plane, things could melt.

Most cosmetics are intended to be kept between 10-25 degrees celsius, so any major divergence from this could cause the active ingredients in anti-ageing creams to become… well… inactive. Essential oils also have problems when they get too warm.

Collagen in our bodies degrades even in average room temperature, although in cosmetics it’s safe to about 45 degrees celsius (120F to be precise) when collagen breakdown’s reaction rate increases [reference] to the point where it can be broken down within about 6 hours.

Hyaluronic acid is even more susceptible to heat damage – just 30 minutes at 50 degrees celsius causes 81% of the hyaluronic acid in a product to break down [reference – PDF download of research paper]. This actually happened to me when I took my By Nature New Zealand eye cream on a long round the world trip including Kathmandu, Dubai, Istanbul and Athens in the August heat during the 2018 European wildfires. By the time I got back to China, the creams were no longer effective and when I looked into the science, I found out it must have been all the airports where my bag sat waiting to be loaded onto/unloaded from planes. Anything with hyaluronic acid should say home or go in your carry on.

Peptides like Matrixyl are the most resilient to heat exposure. Even at temperatures of 100 degrees C, they won’t break down! [reference]. Peptide creams with no other active ingredients can go in your checked bags with no problems!

Vitamins fare even worse! Vitamin C breaks down from 30 degrees C (86F) [reference]. That same reference states pro-vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), found in many haircare products, is also very heat sensitive.

Vitamin A (a retinoid that converts to retinol) is partly affected, too – after 3 months at 45 degrees C it degrades by about 30% [reference], which isn’t an issue for anyone in transit, but will be a consideration for archaeologists and aid workers, and anyone else camping out in warm climates for prolonged periods who uses retinol cream. On your return to a cooler country, you may need to replace retinol-containing cosmetics. The same reference shows Vitamin A also loses 10% of its potency when stored at 13.5 degrees C for 3 months, up to 34% loss of potency after 9 months.

On the other hand, most other cosmetics can stand to be frozen – in fact, they will often reach freezing temperatures during transport. When I worked for Avon (cosmetics company) my deliveries would regularly arrive frozen.

The main exception to this is Coenzyme Q10, aka Q10, a well-known anti-ageing ingredient which is actually very difficult for your body to absorb. It won’t absorb properly if it’s anything other than body temperature and at low temperatures, it forms crystals and becomes ineffective. In fact, it’s less effective at any temperature below 48 celsius (10 degrees hotter than body temperature), although this is likely to be a temporary effect that will go away when the cream is warmer [reference].

So using this science, we can see that most anti-ageing creams need to be carefully packed in a stable temperature to protect them. For this reason, I reiterate they must be taken to hot countries as carry-on luggage to maintain their effectiveness.

Anything containing Q10 or retinol also needs to be in your carry on when travelling to or from very cold countries. Anti-ageing creams are usually expensive and packaged in bulky or heavy containers so I recommend leaving the container at home and decanting your product into a smaller jar with enough for your trip.

How does altitude affect cosmetics?

There was very little published research about the effect of temperature, I had to cross apply studies on food or other biological applications of certain ingredients, and there’s even less work done on altitude.

Kinetic theory tells us you can increase the effectiveness of any chemical reaction by increasing temperature or pressure (or both) of a reactant. This is why products break down in heat.

But this means they will also break down under very high pressure (e.g. when diving, but who takes their cosmetics SCUBA diving?) and that low pressure (e.g. at high altitude, on mountains or high cities like Lhasa, Kathmandu, or most parts of Peru and other areas in South America) will usually make things less reactive. Except for one issue…

The boiling point of water is lower at altitude. All other liquids are affected in a similar way. This means the temperature at which ingredients will denature will also be lower at altitude (the pressurised cabin of an aircraft doesn’t count here).

Most high-altitude areas are quite cold, but some, such as Kathmandu, can get hot at certain times of the year, so don’t leave your cosmetics on windowledges or anywhere without air con. This is especially true of Lhasa, which is over 3600m above sea level (that’s 11,800 feet).

Cosmetics also have a bad habit (due to the low-pressure environment) of working their way out of jars at high altitude. This is more likely in the low pressure cargo hold of some planes rather than on land but if you’re doing Everest, the last thing you need is to faff with cosmetics (my recommendation for cosmetics to take up a big mountain like Everest or K2? Just SPF 50 sunscreen, chapstick with an SPF or coconut oil, and some soap for hygiene).

If you’re overlanding, you might not even know you’ve reached high altitude, so pack your cosmetics well and don’t take any big expensive ones, just in case they get ruined.

Humidity

Humidity is another consideration for travelling with cosmetics. Powder cosmetics suffer most from this. They can go hard and difficult to get onto an applicator or brush, or they can even dissolve. You could keep powder cosmetics in a makeup bag with a sachet or two of silica gel to protect them. Keep silica gel away from babies and pets.

Humidity will also affect electricals. Beauty devices are more robust than a lot of devices, however, so are unlikely to stop working unless they actually get wet (aka 100% humidity).

If your bags are likely to get wet, e.g. travelling in a rainstorm or typhoon, put beauty devices in a plastic bag and surround them with clothes to absorb any potential liquid. Also keep them well away from any part of the zippers as these are the weak point in most bags and suitcases, where water is most likely to get in.

In a campervan or other long overland adventure, humidity is the biggest danger to your cosmetics because you’re breathing in your vehicle and causing the air to become saturated with water vapour. This becomes very problematic at night (you’ll see the windows steam up from it).

You can get a non-electric dehumidifier which uses crystals, they’re available at most bargain stores like Home Bargains (UK) or Dollar Tree (US). It could be worth taking one of these with you and putting it somewhere where it won’t get knocked over (they get messy and then they cause more issues than they solve because the crystals are toxic). Keep these well away from children or pets.

Conclusion

So there you have it, the science behind exactly how to pack to take the best care of your cosmetics while travelling, which cosmetics travel well and which ones you can do without! Some cosmetics are seriously expensive, so if in doubt about whether you can safely pack them, leave them at home (especially if they’ve been discontinued and are therefore irreplaceable).

Visiting the Terracotta Warriors

The first time we went to Xi’an, we thought it would be easy to organize a trip to see the Terracotta Warriors. Unfortunately, a catalogue of bad luck meant we had to return to Xi’an–when I was 7 months pregnant–to see the terracotta warriors.

On our first trip to Xi’an, I didn’t know I was pregnant (I just thought I was… late, y’know?). We’d flown from Nanjing Lukou airport, and stopped by the amazing Hello Kitty store, where I’d bought this beautiful (and VERY expensive, and totally unnecessary at that point as we were embarking on 2 months of wandering around the world and didn’t need more crap to carry) Hello Kitty carry-on suitcase.

When we arrived at Xi’an airport, the driver came to meet us and I took my Hello Kitty case but my husband insisted on carrying it (sweetly). We reached the airport’s underground car park and my husband was struggling to figure out where to put my new case. I tried to explain from inside the car but he couldn’t seem to understand, so in a hurry to stop him damaging this new case, I jumped out of my side of the car, ran around to where he was trying to put it in the car… and on the way, my foot caught on a 4-inch-high metal bar that served no purpose whatsoever and wasn’t marked or really visible in the dim car park. Because of the way my foot caught, I flew up in the air and landed hard on my hips, which were straight across the bar.

At first I thought I’d broken something. My hips were screaming in agony, the impact had reverberated through my spine and my hands, which had hit the concrete at speed, were also making a lot of noise. I have sensory processing issues so I shut down and couldn’t move because everything hurt too much.

When I could take in anything at all, the Chinese driver and my husband were both trying to talk to me and help me up but I couldn’t stand the idea of anyone touching me right then. I dragged myself to my feet and stumbled to the car and on the forty-minute drive to the hotel, I cried all the way because, aside from the pain, it felt like something was really wrong inside me and I couldn’t figure out what.

I couldn’t walk properly for three of our five days in Xi’an. Add to that, the ladies running the hotel didn’t speak any English at all and my Chinese wasn’t enough to ask them if they had any contacts through which to book a trip to the Terracotta Warriors (almost everything in China gets done by someone who knows someone who will introduce you).

I know a lot of people will roll their eyes and wonder why we didn’t take a bus, but I don’t do coach trips because I get very, very bus sick and the amount of travel sickness pills I’d have to take would make me too drowsy to do anything when we arrived, so we only really do things we can walk, train or car to (please don’t email me with “cures”, I’m 33 and I’ve tried them all, thanks, so I won’t respond).

So we spent the whole week in Xi’an just exploring the city itself (which had some great finds in it) and never saw the Terracotta Warriors.

That story ended a week later in Kathmandu when I got rushed to hospital in the early morning because I was losing a lot of blood, and it turned out we had lost the baby. I know that if the fall in Xi’an had been responsible, the baby would have miscarried a week earlier, but I never quite got it out of my mind that this happened in Xi’an.

That made it very, very difficult to contemplate returning to Xi’an, especially now I was heavily pregnant with a baby we’d conceived exactly three months after the one we lost in Kathmandu.

When my husband got an unexpected vacation week in May 2019, about 14 days before I was due to leave China and fly to Ireland (with the intent of giving birth there), I was 27 weeks pregnant and we needed to pick one thing to do.

There were dozens of things I hadn’t done yet in China which I wanted to. But really the choice came down to two main things that were important to me: The Terracotta Warriors, or the pandas at Chengdu. I even looked at how viable it would be to do both in one week (the answer is you can, but not if you’re heavily pregnant because you will have less energy, move slower, and need more breaks).

We decided we couldn’t leave China without seeing the Terracotta Warriors (I’ve wanted to see them ever since we did about the First Emperor of China in school when I was 11), so even though I never wanted to return to Xi’an, I found myself planning this trip.

By this point, we had learned that we enjoyed our travels best when we did luxury travel, so we booked a Marriott (the Sheraton was our other fave). Some people think you miss out on the “real” destination by doing luxury travel but I disagree. I do truly believe you miss out on a lot of what a country has to offer when you don’t sample the haute cuisine or any of the high-end amenities that are on offer.

There’s a balance to be had, but China is a trip of a lifetime. I’ve said before I don’t think people who spend days and days on cheap coaches being zoomed from one place to another with no freedom to roam or explore gain a great perspective on this mysterious country.

When we arrived at the hotel, we asked the Concierge to book us a driver to take us to the Terracotta Warriors. When you’re pregnant, you really appreciate leather seats, air conditioning, extra legroom and someone to open your door for you.

The warriors were left where they’d been found, and someone has built a protective cover over them. There are three main buildings of them. Then there’s a nicely-landscaped area between them. I was very surprised to see few westerners there. I would have thought it was the number one destination in China for western tourists.

Getting around when pregnant was hard because the site is ENORMOUS! It took a full travel day to see everything. We had to keep stopping for me to sit down, and my ankles had done this thing where they wouldn’t do stairs properly so I had to take them very slowly. And there are a LOT of places where you need to go up or down stairs, here.

Throughout my travels while I was pregnant, I never experienced anyone pushing, shoving, or touching me at all until we went to see the Terracotta Warriors. The rest of Xi’an was completely fine, but here, the usual suspects (middle aged women, mostly, but also teenage boys) were pushing and shoving like their lives depended on it. Several times, I had to shout “excuse me!” (sarcastically) or “I am pregnant!” at people in Mandarin who were trying to walk through me, and I was glad I’d learned those phrases.

I will stress that this isn’t normal for China. Everywhere else, people were so lovely about the fact I was pregnant. For example, I never had to ask for a seat on the Xi’an Metro. People in China usually treat pregnant women better than a librarian would treat an original Shakespeare document.

Disabled access to the terracotta army

There is also some disabled access to parts of the Terracotta Warrior museum site, but you won’t be able to get the same views of all the warriors if you can’t do stairs, and you will absolutely need to take a carer with you to do basic things like open doors and get you up and down entry steps.

Seeing the Terracotta Warriors with a baby or toddler

With a baby or toddler, this is definitely a place to take a baby carrier or an umbrella pushchair, rather than a heavy buggy, so you can just carry your little one up and down those stairs.

Honestly, I don’t think this is a great experience for very young children, they won’t know what they’re looking at and there is basically nothing here for them to do and there aren’t any brightly lit or colorful displays.

Taking a newborn would be best, for you to see the Terracotta warriors yourself, or wait until your children are at least five years old so you can explain what’s going on (they will probably still get bored with the indoor areas at this age but you could manage this by doing them in chunks, mixed with time spent outdoors). The barriers around the warrior pits are quite high so anyone under 10 probably would struggle to see into the pits without help from an adult.

Overall, I had a blast in Xi’an aside from getting hurt. But if we returned to China now, with our fourteen-month-old baby, and we had only one week of vacation, I would go to Chengdu to see the pandas, or Beijing, Shanghai or Shenzhen, where there’s tons on offer for little ones.

Conclusion

I am glad we returned to Xi’an. Our luck was better the second time we went and I was able to get closure on the baby we lost, by safely exploring the city while I was pregnant. I highly recommend seeing the terracotta warriors if you are childless or taking older kids; what happened to me at the airport was just a very unlucky accident. I don’t think it’s a place with a lot to do for very young children but China in general is very kid-friendly so I can foresee this area changing in the future.

Photos

Packing list for China

Here is a complete packing list for China including specific things you can’t get in China so you know what to take — and what to leave behind!

Going to China is a huge adventure, and you can make it even more awesome by packing the right things. After living in China for two years, here is my list of exactly what you should take to China.

Shoes

You will struggle to get shoes in large foot sizes so if you’re above a men’s 8 (US 10), or women’s 5 (US 8), take at least two pairs of shoes. In China, people value smartness, so be sure to pack a pair of dress shoes or smart women’s sandals alongside a pair of trainers (sneakers).

Socks

Same as the shoe issue, grab yourself some socks before you go. You’ll want some comfortable ones that keep your feet warm in Beijing and wick away the sweat in Shanghai.

Gloves

If you have freakishly large hands like my husband and I both do, get yourself some gloves before you go if you’re travelling in winter or if you expect to go skiing. These lightweight ones will keep the chill out in the city, or for adventurous travel, these bad boys are the top choice.

Phone

If you’re not tech-savvy, don’t buy an Android phone in China, because you will have to do a lot to it to make it work in English and it’s very hard to get all the essential Google Play apps such as maps (or any English equivalent) inside China, and you may want all these when you leave China. There’s a good selection on Amazon. Personally, I use an iPhone but my husband is android to the death which makes for some interesting discussions, haha.

Camera

If you’re into taking good pictures, something like a Canon Eos DSLR will work great. The current top ones are the Canon Eos 4000D and the Canon Eos 800D. If you’re new to DSLR cameras, check out my page on photography which has lots of articles on everything from choosing a camera to setting up a shot. Don’t forget to take a couple of 64GB SD cards to store all your photos. You can get very cheap spare batteries in China so don’t worry about those but do remember your battery charger.

Bras

If you have boobs, take at least 2 or preferably 3 bras with you. Unless you’re elfin in height and width, you will not find bras that fit you and the sizing of bras in China is completely different to the US or UK sizing. If you need something while you’re in China, Victoria’s Secret have an excellent store in Shanghai with western sizing on the labels.

English-language books, or a Kindle

If you’re a big reader, buy a Kindle or pack a few English-language books to take with you. These are almost impossible to find in China and if you try to buy them on line, it takes months for them to get through customs because someone will read them.

Imodium

Take 3 or 4 packets of Imodium with you for a long trip to China because you just can’t get loperamide or Imodium anywhere in China and you will need it.

Paracetamol

Again, take a big packet (32 or more tablets) with you, especially if you have periods and need it for “that” time of the month.

Coffee powder or ground coffee

Take coffee if you’re backpacking or renting an apartment and planning to cook your own food rather than eat out all the time (which I recommend, you miss some of the China experience if you never go to the supermarket or try and cook food here). There are lots of coffee shops in Chinese cities but making coffee at home hasn’t caught on, yet, and buying coffee to make at home is difficult and expensive (over £7 or $9 for 100g of coffee when I was there, and that was for cheap low-quality instant coffee granules). You can’t get decaf coffee at all in China.

Swimwear

Swimwear is available in China but I find choosing swimwear half the fun of travel.

A warm coat

China gets cold in the winter, even down in Shanghai. Geography 101 tells us the further away from the coast you get, the more seasonal extremes the weather has.

An umbrella

China gets a lot of rain all year round. Sometimes the sky just seems to go for it and it’s pelting with fat drops of water for days. They also get typhoons. I’ve written about my experience getting a flight in a typhoon here. Umbrellas are easy to come by in China in all sorts of cute designs, but if you want a lightweight heavy-duty one, check out this windproof one.

A shirt

Something smart to wear, such as a dress or shirt (or even a shirt dress, haha). This is essential for getting a table at a restaurant.

Shampoo bar

It’s so much easier to travel with shampoo bars than to carry around all that excess water in a bottle of shampoo. You can make your own following my recipe here.

Conditioner bar

This is another essential. It’s easy to buy shampoo and conditioner in China but if you’re moving around a lot and want to keep your luggage lightweight, check out my easy vegan hair conditioner bar recipe and use it VERY sparingly on your hair.

Sunscreen

There’s a lot of sun in China, even in the north, and you need to protect your skin. You can buy sunscreen readily when you arrive (and it’s excellent) so don’t waste valuable luggage space on it.

Aloe vera gel

This stuff solves literally every skin issue like sunburn, hemorroids, chafing… Grab some aloe vera gel and decant it into a little mayonnaise travel pot to take with you.

Camellia Oil

Camellia oil is my other travel skincare holy grail product. This will solve every skin moisture issue. It also gets rid of stretch marks, face redness, it’s a great nipple balm for breastfeeding and a little bit works wonders as a hair serum. Put it into a pump bottle to take in your luggage.

Silver shampoo and hair toner

If your hair is silver or blonde, and you use either toner or silver shampoo, you will need to take it with you because it’s impossible to find in China. It’s not even on Taobao.

Lush do a conditioner bar that’s supposed to be a good silver conditioner but I took a bar of this to China and I was very disappointed, it not only didn’t condition my hair, but it didn’t have those essential violet tones either. It was just a very expensive purple bar of nothing. One star.

So I recommend taking a liquid silver shampoo or conditioner (or both), whatever you usually use, and a bottle or two of Crazy Color Platinum if you need to tone up while you’re out there. The Crazy Color ones are small enough to go in hand luggage if you only travel with a carry-on.

You will also struggle to do your roots as hair bleach suitable for western hair is not available. China was the end of my silver hair because it grew out and then I got pregnant and couldn’t color it.

A couple of DVDs for quiet evenings.

Chinese TV is… in Chinese, surprisingly. And when the internet goes down, the nights can be looooong, especially if you’re travelling with kids. A nursery rhyme compilation DVD (or five) like Little Baby Bum would sure come in handy, and don’t forget something to play it on, such as an external DVD drive for your laptop!

Earphones

On the very long journeys between different parts of China, the ability to tune out the middle-aged women watching whatever noisy viral video is the current big thing will save your sanity. Invest in some lightweight, high-quality noise-cancelling earphones. Wireless are the best, but on a budget, even a wired set will make a massive difference.

Earplugs and eye mask

On the topic of blocking out sound, a really good pair or two of reusable silicone earplugs are worth their weight in gold. If you’re not a heavy sleeper, add in an eye mask to keep the light out of your face.

A VPN

This may help you get work done. Conversely it will slow you computer and internet speeds down considerably so I recommend only using it when you really need it. The top VPNs for China are Express VPN and Nord VPN, both are in the region of £100 for the year so for shorter trips to China, it makes more sense to just live without Facebook and Google for a couple of weeks unless you have a boatload of cash. #facebookdetox

While I’ve seen a lot of travel bloggers recommend VPNs to western tourists, in my experience, you can spend hours trying to get a VPN to connect and often at key times of the year they all get taken down, so if you travel at those times and take a VPN, you may find you’ve spent a lot of money on something that won’t work. It’s really more of an expat solution.

In the short-term, it’s better to just find alternatives (you can even set something up so you can still access your Gmail account without a VPN). Here’s my article about English-language alternatives to Google services, news and other sites in China.

Have I missed anything essential? Let me know in the comments!