What to Pack for a Summer Adventure To China?

Di (on the right) is off to China and asks, “What should I pack?”

Hi Deborah!

My husband, a college professor, was just offered a summer teaching opportunity in Nanjing, China!  We will be there for 6 weeks and I understand the weather will be very hot!  This will be an adventure!  I will definitely be packing my workout clothes – but beyond that I’ve got to start working on a plan!  I’ll turn 59 while on this trip (July/August) – so maybe this birthday won’t count?  Here is a picture of me at my recent 40th high school reunion (on the right).  My friend with me is Robin – we’ve been best friends since we were 13!!

My thoughts are lightweight summer, easy care dresses, skirts and tops.  We will probably have several functions as well as trying to sightsee and tour.

Can you brainstorm on my packing challenge?  Thanks!  Di

Hi Di,

First of all I’d like to compliment you and your best friend on being true Glam Gals. You both look terrific!

Now, back to business….What a wonderful opportunity and for sure it will be an adventure of a lifetime!  You certainly will want to be picky on what you bring but the good news is that warm weather clothes are not bulky and you will be able to sneak more into your suitcase!  Your thoughts about lightweight dresses and skirts are just perfect.  These are certainly the coolest option and it can be really hot and humid there.  Here are a few more ideas:

The #1 space buster is shoes!  So you will want to start with what shoes you want to bring and make sure your outfits work with them.  2 sandals, tennis shoes, and one pair of heels should be all you need.

Color:  Make sure you pick a color theme and stick with it.  You will get tired of black so make sure you have a few shots of color that will mix and match to keep you from feeling totally bored with your outfits!

Thin fabrics that won’t wrinkle:  Jersey knit will be your best friend.  You look like you are nice and tall so you can wear a wrap dress with some flat sandals and look terrific!  These can roll up in your suitcase and take up no room at all!

Lightweight wrap:  Evenings can still be hot so when you are off to an event you will want a lightweight wrap for the air-conditioning.  A pashmina will work well and you can take it on the plane for an extra “blanket”.

Messenger bag:  You will be doing a lot of walking and I’m sure some sightseeing while you are there.  Instead of the dreaded  fanny pack, bring along a messenger bag that you wear across your body.  It will lighten the load and look stylish too!  This should once again work with the style of clothes you are wearing, so it can be either super casual or a little more dressy.  We will do a post on some different styles this week, so check back!

Ladies if you have any other ideas…please comment below!

Have a wonderful trip and please send me photos so I can share them!



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  1. Hi Deborah! I was wondering if you still have Di’s email in your records. Maybe you could email her and ask how things are going for her in Nanjing? I would love to see an update from her while she is there. Or perhaps I should say while she is ‘here”, as I happen to be in Nanjing on business yet again.

    It is actually quite warm here at the moment, but less rainy than I normally find at this point in June. Much more pleasant than I had prepped myself for. I have been living in cotton or linen cropped pants and bright, short sleeved or sleeveless tops. Today I am wearing a knee length floaty dress in a bright color (You would be proud of me, I know.) I brought only two pairs of shoes, my faithful Naot “Michelle’s” and my fav black Anne Klein slingbacks plus my workout shoes, which I don;t even ‘count’ as shoes anymore.

  2. Sheena Burnell says:

    Hi Di, I currently live in Shanghai where I’ve been for three years. The advice you’ve been given is good, I’d only add that if you want clothes copied or footwear made, I strongly advise you to get some local knowledge as to where to go to do this. Although it’s possible to get a lot of things copied in places like Shanghai and I imagine Nanjing, the results can be very variable and even though it’s relatively cheap you still don’t want to waste your money on something poorly-made or as is likely, of poor fabric quality. I’ve had some very disappointing results as have most expat girlfriends here.
    Clothing-wise don’t even think about bringing jeans or anything tight-fitting for summer in China, you’ll want dresses, very light pants etc as you’ve been advised. I can’t remember ever using a pashmina indoors at that time of year but as Wanda suggests you can buy them cheaply (and of variable quality) by the bucket-load everywhere in the larger cities, along with designer knock-offs of every item you can think of from bags to scarves to iPad covers, so just buy one or three here if you find you need it.

    Although some of the girls seemed to be quite dressy here three years ago when I arrived, I think it’s become more casual, and I always tell my friends to just wear whatever they’d wear at home and don’t worry about getting too dressed up, no-one here will know or care whether you have the latest bag or shoe, the main thing is to be comfortable – and chic, of course!

    Hope this is helpful and please let me know if you’d like more input or advice! :)

  3. Cindy Rutledge says:

    Hi neighbor, Di,
    This was a great way to get ideas! Although I’ve never been to China, I’m more than willing to help you shop for your trip!!
    From all these great postings, it sounds like simple and cool, natural fabrics, and wrinkle-free clothing are the way to go. And, you’re so tall and slim, you can make any outfit look classy!!
    We’re excited for you. Let’s get shoppin,
    Neighbor, Cindy

  4. Thank you all for the great suggestions! The more information I have – the better prepared I’ll be for this adventure! I’m looking forward to the messenger bag post with some fashionable options! And, any other tips will be most welcome! I’m very much a visual person so your pictures will help.

  5. Oh, I forgot to comment on the handbag idea. I think the advice about the messenger bag was perfect. My go-to bag is a black Longchamps canvas handbag that I bought in Shanghai at the Longschamp boutique on Huahai Rd near Xintiandi. It is light as a feather, has lots of exterior pockets with a messenger-style flap that covers two of them and a strap that can be lengthened to cross your body or shortened to make a great handbag. I now take that bag everywhere I travel. It always looks appropriate. The only other handbag I travel with is a small black leather Liz Claiborne bag that I bought 16 years ago on 5th Avenue. It will hold a wallet, lipstick, passport, a small digital camera and reading glasses and is all I need for a evening out.

    The person who said you will be invited to many banquets knows what she is talking about. She is also correct in saying that you will rarely need a wrap. That said,. I always take one with me, even if the airplane is the only place I use it. Good quality pashmina wraps in a range of candy colours can be found at the markets. (Don’t always believe the fabric content labels, though.) I have a drawer full of them and regularly wear them all, but almost never in the summer in China. However, they come in supper handy on the plane and they roll up into a small roll that you will barely notice in your carry on.
    Leave heavy handbags at home or any handbag that will soil easily. And do consider a strap whose length can be changed. You will find it much easier to shop in the markets if you have your handbag strung across your body rather than carrying it on your shoulder.

  6. I travel frequently for business to Liyang City, approximately 1 hour from Nanjing. I fly to Hong Kong and then fly on a domestic carrier into Nanjing. Everyone who commented is right – it will be VERY hot and humid there from mid-May through the end of September. Go with natural fibres – you will be very uncomfortable in polyester. One exception that I find works for me is a flowy dress in that “Slinky” knit fabric. Stay with loose clothes. At 59, you are going to feel uncomfortable in shorts that are any shorter than golfing shorts. Only the young women wear shorts, even in the heat of summer.
    You appear to be tall. You will have trouble to buy clothes off the rack in much of China unless you go to upscale stores, where you pay roughly the same price as you would in the USA.
    I do however often have clothing made for me in Liyang. I am sure you will find competent tailors in Nanjing, as well. In fact, several of my colleagues live in Nanjing and I could ask them for recommendations, if that interests you.
    One of my favourite dresses was made from fabric I took to the tailor along with a magazine photo. I have also had dresses and suits made from nothing more than a rough sketch that I provided to her. The cost of a tailor-made suit is a fraction of what a good quality off-the-rack suit would cost in Canada or the USA. It is best to go to the tailor with a local Chinese person, otherwise you will end up with a ‘western lady” price.

    Nanjing is about 2 – 2 1/2 hours from Hangzhou and/or Suzhou where you can buy outstanding silks. However, unless you want the care of silk, you might be better off to bring your own natural fibre fabrics with you or buy some of the sumptuous cottons available in Hong Kong.
    I also buy fashion jewellery in Shanghai and Suzhou. In many of the market stalls they will even make something for you on the spot. I have great necklaces and bracelets that I had made there. I also have one lovely brown necklace that I wear at least twice every week. By market standards, it was not cheap. I paid approx $15 for it, but I loved it. I was at a “jewellery event” at Costco just before Christmas and saw my necklace selling for $294! So do not think that just because you are tall, you cannot come home with some lovely additions to your wardrobe. Custom made clothing and custom made jewellery – what better souvenirs could there be?

  7. Rather than a pair of sneakers, how about walking shoes that aren’t athletic? I’m guessing that most of your exercise will be exploring new areas by walking around, rather than visiting more conventional gyms. There are so many cute, versatile, supportive flat shoes out there now, that would be my pick.

    I love the idea of buying bargain clothes in China, or having things made. But either way still takes some time, so having comfy and stylish items with you seems smart. I love silk scarves to brighten up an outfit: they pack super small and wash easily in the sink. Larger scarves can be tied so they don’t wrap around your neck but rather loop like a longer necklace. This adds color without feeling too sticky in hot weather. In a pinch, you can tie your hair away from your face with the scarf.

    What a great adventure! Have a wonderful time!

  8. I am was born in China, and spent my college years in Nanjing! Pack light, and there is not very many air-conditioned places. I like sleeveless tops, with shorts or capris and comfortable walking shoes. Linen is comfortable, but you would have to iron it every time. I’m sure there will be many banquets you would have to go to, since your husband is teaching. Nice sleeveless dresses would be perfect. Chinese people are pretty dressy, although it is still different from American style. Nanjing is brutally hot, so be prepared! If you would like to contact me with any questions, please feel free to do so!

  9. Having lived in China (Shanghai) for 1.5 year I would say to just bring your favorite clothes for the trip. It’s true that I would usually pack a travel capsule but as Lynn says, it’s great fun to be very creative in China. 6 weeks is quite long to just wear the same clothes all the time. Why not think about all the clothes you would like to have? And then make it a challenge to have them made in China. Start cutting out your favorite designs and styles. It requires quite a bit of hustle, and good quality checking, but I ended up with some fabulous custom made boots, jackets and skirts. This is also the time to copy your favorite outfits in your favorite fabrics, so be sure to take your best fitting outfits!

  10. Hi Lynn, Thanks for that tip! That is a good point, they will have lots of tempting things to buy that will be cheap.
    One thing to remember, you won’t want to waist money on things you don’t need even if the price is really low! Is a silk blouse something you would ear a lot or need? Personally, I don’t buy silk blouses because they wrinkle so easily, have to be dried cleaned (which can be expensive) and don’t travel well. China will have lots of fun open air markets that will be selling all sorts of items. Set your budget and be picky or you will come home with things you might not get much use out of!

  11. I suggest that you pack very little. Clothing in China can be very cheap if you know where to look for them. The quality may not be the best, but you can find some well made stuff for very reasonable price. Nanjing is in an area that is famous for silk, you can spend around $20 to $30 for a nice silk blouse.