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!

10 things to do in Xi’an, China (and 7 more I wish I’d done)

Xi’an in Shaanxi Province is one of China’s most interesting cities, and a mixing bowl of old-fashioned and modern city life. I’ve been there twice, now, and these are my top 10 things to do in Xi’an! These can be divided into “touristy” things and “local” things, to give you a flavor of some of the more authentic things you can do here.

bell tower xian china mama adventure

Some of these are things you can do in other cities in China, too, but if you’re in Xi’an there are excellent versions of some things they have in other parts of China, as well as the big tourist staples such as the walls and drum and bell towers which is probably what you came to the city to see, along with the Terracotta Army.

1. The drum and bell towers

These are a really spectacular sight right in the centre of Xi’an, so really easy to get to. You probably heard all about them already but if not, here’s what you need to know:
Almost 40m high, the bell tower was built in 1384 in the Ming Dynasty and is one of Xi’an’s most recognizable landmarks. It was originally in a different location, but in 1582, the Shaanxi local government ordered it to be taken apart, piece by piece, and rebuilt exactly as it was but in the place where you can find it today. The bell tower contains several Tang dynasty bells as well as the Jingyun bell.

2. The underground walkways

Beneath the bell tower is the biggest underpass I ever saw. It goes between the metro system, the towers, the shopping malls and the roads. During the Boat Festival, it was so busy, they had police officers doing crowd control! It was literally like being carried along in a tide of people.
You can get to them by taking the Xi’an Metro to the bell tower then following the subterranean passageways to your heart’s content.

3. The Terracotta Army Museum

This is not technically in Xi’an, it’s about a 60 minute taxi ride. It made me feel all cultured and historical. The place is absolutely crammed with Chinese tourists who will elbow, shove and barge through you. It’s glorious! Respect the one way system inside the big buildings full of warriors, and don’t get mad at middle-aged Chinese grandmas when they elbow you in the ribs; they do it to everyone.
You can get here by taking a taxi (use the Didi app if you’re living in China or the Uber app if you’re a tourist, or get your hotel to book you a taxi). There is no train here. When you leave, there are a ton of Chinese taxi drivers waiting to give you a ride home, just have your hotel’s address card handy in Mandarin so they know where to drive you.

4. Walk the historic city walls.

I did this walk on my first trip to China and it was excellent and made me feel all historical and cultured.
This is a fun thing to do if you are not pregnant. You will get fantastic views of the city. Give it a miss if you are 6 or more months pregnant because there are serious steps to get onto the walls and breathlessness, loose joints and swollen ankles in 35 degree July heat is not funny.
There is at least one shop selling drinks up there and you can hire bikes to cycle around if walking isn’t your thing. Just be aware there are a LOT of reckless American tourists going around on their bikes shouting and having no consideration for other people. Don’t be that guy.

xi'an walls mama adventure

5. Go past a hospital.

You will see a fascinating slice of local life as you walk past any of the traditional Chinese medicine hospitals. On the footpaths between the hospital and the city walls, elderly people walk around following rituals. I saw some people walking backwards, while others were thumping themselves or clapping. I’m not entirely sure what they were doing but it was an experience. I didn’t take any photos as it seemed inappropriate. This is a pregnancy-friendly activity.

6. See the light show and artistic features at Starry Street mall.

The malls in China are stunning, and Xi’an has some really beautiful ones.
This one has two parts, a long thin section (which is the official Starry Street mall) and across the way, a ginormous mall, much of which is underground. It has this water mist that gets dropped down from the top of the covered walkway and they project patterns onto it with lights. It’s amazing. And there’s a reading corner, some modern art sculptures, and some really good eateries. Well worth a trip if you’re nearby. There’s also a Godiva if you’re peckish for expensive chocolates and there’s a Bread Talk if you want to enjoy authentic Chinese baked goods from a clean, reputable chain store; I recommend the Hello Kitty cake for utter creamy decadence or the donuts for a taste of really good sugary fluffy deliciousness. Pregnancy-friendly especially for those eating for two!

7. Visit the little amusement park for kids

If you have kids, there’s also a mini amusement park outside that mall, in a pedestrianized area. I’m not sure if that was permanent or whether it was only there when we visited the first time, as there’s so much to see and do in Xi’an, we went to a different part of the city for our second visit.

children's play area xi'an china mama adventure

8. Go to one of the many parks.

I especially liked Xi’an Huancheng Park which is a long thin one running north to south alongside the western walls, the Children’s Park, which is near the Xi’an Children’s hospital complex. The Revolution Park, near West 5th Road, one of the main roads in the city centre. The Daming Palace National Heritage Park is also ginormous and well worth a visit.

9. See the terrarium shop at Ocean Towers mall on FengCheng Second Road.

This is really hard to find because it’s not marked properly on Google but in real life it’s the shopping mall next to the Marriott Xi’an North (which is not where it claims to be on Google maps, but is exactly where it claims on Apple maps, another reason to use Apple maps in Xi’an). Oh, my, goodness, if you can find it, you absolutely have to see the terrarium shop, it sells terraria like nothing you have ever seen before. Basically, some artistic masters have created miniature ecosystems complete with rockeries, waterfalls, bonsai trees, plant life and ponds with tiny living fish in them. If I hadn’t been moving away from China four weeks after my last trip to Xi’an, I would have bought one and had it shipped to our apartment in Changzhou for sure! The children’s bookshop on the top floor of this mall is fabulous, too. Pregnancy-friendly activity.

giant fish terrarium xi'an china mama adventure

10. Grab some street food on Muslim Street… maybe.

This is last on my list for very good reason as I have a controversial opinion on it compared to other westerners. Lately, this has become so touristy, and the food hygiene is not good.

Everyone I know who ate there in the past year was stuck on the loo for days, and you cannot readily get Imodium (loperamide) in Xi’An (although they will sell you creosote tablets at most of the traditional Chinese pharmacies… they were sort of effective, but not as good as Imodium).

Avoid eating anything here if you are pregnant or otherwise delicate of digestion. Severe diarrhea can cause miscarriage.

But do go there to soak up the atmosphere and buy cheap non-food souvenirs in the side streets; even if you’re eighty, this area will make you feel like a twenty-year-old backpacker when you walk down the street.

For excellent and authentic modern Chinese dining, choose one of the fantastic restaurants in a shopping mall instead (I 10/10 recommend the eateries in Starry Street mall), which is how all the locals eat. Don’t make the mistake of thinking because the customers at the stalls in Muslim Street are all Chinese, that they are locals. China is a huge, beautiful country with a lot to see, the Chinese year offers a lot of time off for holidays and hardworking Chinese residents love nothing better than a good staycation.

And a few things I wish I’d had time to see:

  1. The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
  2. Little Goose Pagoda and Gardens
  3. Tang West Market Museum in Datang Xishi (on Xishi Bei Luo, which on Google maps is half-translated to Xishi North Street).
  4. Shaanxi TV tower, because it looks a lot like the Shanghai pearl tower.
  5. Shaanxi History museum beside the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.
  6. Tang Paradise Gardens around the corner from the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.
  7. Qu Jiang Chi Yi Zhi Gong Yuan (aka Quijiang Chi Relic Park), just below Tang Paradise Gardens (see a potential entire travel day you could spend in this area? I got quite bad asthma during my last 3 months in China as I was heavily pregnant and the pollution disagreed with me so I was not up to walking very far and had to miss out on this amazing part of Xi’an on our second visit).

We spent a total of 10 days in Xi’an across two visits, and it wasn’t enough time to even scratch the surface of what this fab city has to offer, and yet we saw very few westerners beyond the main sites, whisked between the big tourist attractions by buses! This is one city that’s crying out for off-the-beaten-track independent exploration adventure travel and like all of China, it’s a very safe city, although some people are very surprised to see westerners walking around because most just go on coach tours and never see the real China! Go there and walk around, taking in the surroundings and seeing what modern Chinese city life is really like.

Have you been to Xi’an? Did you see any of the things on my wish list? Let me know in the comments!

Purple Circles Under Your Eyes? 5 Ways To Kill Them No Make-Up (and one quick fix) Updated 2020

Looking to permanently fix those under eye purple circles?  I discovered there was no real information about how to permanently get rid of purple circles under the eyes, after I wrote my article on how to get rid of blue circles (you might want to read that too)! To fix that, I’ve written about how to cure under eye purple circles here and hopefully you’ll get here BEFORE you’ve wasted years on Google on unhelpful articles about getting rid of dark circles which are to do with ageing! Purple under eye circles affect anyone of any age and getting rid of purple circles without using make-up doesn’t take a lot of work. Update 2020: If you DO want to use makeup, I finally found the Holy Grail concealer to ditch purple circles!

Purple under eye circles are different to dark circles under the eye because dark circles are caused by hyperpigmentation due to ageing. Purple under eye circles have similar causes to blue circles but they are more responsive to permanent remedies!  So here are five ways to permanently solve the problem of under eye purple circles and one quick fix for in the meantime while you wait for the purple circles to heal, all without using make-up.

First, let’s talk about the quickest fix to get rid of purple under eye circles without using make-up (why no make-up? Because 50% of people with purple and blue circles under their eyes are men, and they don’t really want to be using make-up; a lot of women don’t want to be covering their purple under eye circles up with make-up either).

All links take you to Amazon as I’m an associate and find Amazon very convenient, and every product I mention on this page is one I’ve actually used to get rid of my own purple and blue circles under my eyes and have used and recommended to help other people with the under-eye purple and blue circles problem too:

If you want a quick fix:
Fake (or real) tan: Getting a product with a small amount of fake tan in it, and building it up over the face is a subtle way to get rid of those under-eye purple circles – it works to a moderate extent but it’s not a permanent fix because as soon as you wash the tan off, the circles will come back. However, it is the fastest way to get rid of purple under eye circles without make-up because as your skin darkens, the purple circles under the eyes become much less noticeable! It’s basically the same as blending them out. In addition, the orange and yellow base pigments in most “hint of a tan” type products does the same job as under-eye colour corrector to get rid of those purple circles under your eyes. My favourite is the Dove Summer Glow with a hint of sunless tanner and even though it’s a body lotion, I just use it on my whole face morning and night for a full weekend, then go back to my normal skincare routine because it’s not a face cream, then I make sure to reapply the Dove summer glow once every couple of days, to get a circle-covering glow. About four applications should start to reduce the purple circles (but remember to use it on the rest of your body occasionally as well, so you don’t just have a darker face and whiter everything else).

To ditch those circles permanently:
1. Eat more broccoli and kale: These are both extremely high in vitamin K, the vitamin everyone forgets when they’re planning their diet. Vitamin K is the one that gets rid of redness and helps with chapped lips, and it also helps get rid of purple circles by preventing your blood from being too thin. This is the cheapest but slowest way to get rid of those circles, but they should be improved within 6 months.

2. Try Vitamin K Cream for your face: Vitamin K cream is the wonder solution to get rid of all sorts of dark under eye circles; purple circles, blue circles and brown circles. At $9.99, it’s also the very cheapest cream you can try so I would try this vitamin k cream first before any other permanent solution for purple under-eye circles.  It also works to fade out bruises!  You should get results on purple circles under the eyes in 2-4 weeks.  This vitamin K cream is also safe for children, making it perfect for pageants.  If you’re on blood thinning medication such as warfarin or aspirin, you need to be careful with vitamin K and consult your doctor.

3. Take a vitamin K supplement: Vitamin K supplements are fantastic for people who don’t like eating their greens. It works internally to ensure all your blood is the right thickness, which will also make you bruise less easily! Vitamin K supplements cost more than the cream but the results last longer, so this one is good value, but it will take a month or two to work so keep at it.  As above, consult your doctor if necessary.

4. Check your iron levels: Another huge cause of purple circles is low iron levels. When your iron level gets too low, it’s clear in your face because you start to get dark purple or blue circles under the eyes, usually more of a navy blue line than a purple circle. The only long-term solution to an iron deficiency is to eat more iron-containing foods (hot chocolate made with pure cocoa is the most overlooked source of iron.  Vegan? Use soy milk) on a regular basis. Covering up purple circles under the eyes caused by iron deficiency is not a good plan, you need to solve the cause or they just get worse.

5. Sometimes the skin is the problem, rather than what’s underneath it: When you’re sure it’s not a deficiency, it’s likely that you just have thinner skin under the eyes. Luckily, there is a solution for this: Regular use of any face cream containing Matrixyl will help get rid of blue circles permanently. The Olay Regenerist 3 Point Cream (which I talked about in my article on blue circles) is the absolute best cream I’ve tried for getting rid of purple and blue circles under the eyes (only use a TINY bit because it’s powerful stuff). How does it work? The Matrixyl actually helps to thicken the skin so when it’s applied to the under-eye area it helps the skin to grow thicker and when it’s thicker, it’s less transparent and less delicate, meaning this cream gets rid of the cause of the purple and blue circles under the eyes. If you don’t have $30 there’s a cheaper alternative here from Cos De BAHA at $10; although I found it was slightly stronger as it contains hyalauronic acid (so use a really tiny amount), it did still work to reduce my dark circles, so it’s up to you.

After living for years with blue circles that turned purple on a regular basis, my own method was to do all of the above together to really kill those blue and purple circles, and now they only come back if I stop doing all of those things for several months (such as when I was pregnant – I have no idea if any of these things are safe for pregnancy and had bigger things to worry about than purple or blue circles so I’m working on getting rid of my under eye circles again now, which is why it seemed like a good time to write another article about this).