When Buck and I were first going over the logistics of how to carry 4 – 5 months worth of stuff on a single motorbike, I had some serious doubts about my ability to adapt to this kind of traveling light lifestyle. It was the little things that would get to me, like “how am I gonna manage with only 3 pairs of socks?” or, “my hair will look greasy in phtotos!”. 45 days into this trip and I can say with confidence that I needn’t have worried so much. These things sort themselves out once you stop worrying and start living in the thick of it, so to speak. So I wanted to write about packing light from a female point of view, especially for first-timers like myself, as I feel this is an area that is underrepresented. I also wanted to share with you a few items that I’ve brought along that have been invaluable, as well as some common words you can use to buy meds in pharmacies.
Because we started our trip in the summer and will be on the road for a good 4 to 5 months we had to pack for 3 seasons. As space on a motorbike (especially with me being a passenger) is rather limited, once you factor in repair tools, spare parts and camping gear, you really have to carefully choose what items of clothing you will want to live with for the next few months. As a rule cotton is a bad idea. It’s heavy, it doesn’t pack well and it doesn’t dry easily. Smartwool / Merino wool and synthetics like nylon and polyester are the best, just make sure you are happy with the fit and feel as you will be wearing it almost every day.
1 set of top and bottom protective riding gear – we both use Rev’it which has both men’s and women’s riding gear includes an inner waterproof lining as well as a cold weather lining, both detachable. (We took our waterproof lining out and opted for separate waterproofs as that way you can wear them independently on one another.)
- 1 full set of waterproofs to go over your riding gear, which also keeps me surprisingly warm when needed.
- Cooling vest – also by Rev’it – which you wet and wear over your shirt inside your riding jacket in hot weather.
- 1 pair of sports shorts (polyester) to wear under the riding gear so that you can take off your riding trousers whenever you stop in hot weather.
- 1 pair of hiking trousers with zip-off lower legs to double-up as shorts.
- 2 riding t-shirts, both of them polyester sports shirts.
- 1 long-sleeved hiking shirt for days off, I recommend Karrimor’s 100% nylon shirts.
- 1 t-shirt to sleep in.
- 1 set of Merino wool thermal underwear (leggings and long-sleeved shirt) that can be worn under riding gear in colder weather as well as to sleep in when camping. I learned from Buck that Merino wool has some great properties such as being quick-drying, odor repellant and keeping you extremely warm which make them invaluable items for trips like these.
- 2 sets of quick-dry underpants, also nylon. Unfortunately not the most flattering, but I’ll take quick-dry over appearance at this point.
- 1 pair of sleeping underpants (my sleeping clothes are the only thing made of cotton and I do suggest it for nighttime).
- 3 pairs of wool socks. Tip: keep one pair for days off only so that you always have a relatively clean pair to change into.
- 1 tan t-shirt bra and 1 dark sports bra (no white).
Head Gear and Cold Weather Gear
- Pashmina scarf that can double as a headscarf for when you visit religiously-sensitive areas.
- 2 headbands – they’re great multi-purpose bands that protect your hair from getting knotted, your helmet from getting sweaty and your face from getting dirty.
- Woolly hat.
- Waterproof, warm weather gloves if you don’t have riding gloves (I don’t).
- Light wool gloves that will allow you to still do stuff like set up camp in cold weather.
- A fleece, absolutely invaluable, especially when camping.
- Waterproof, reinforced riding boots.
- Soft-shelled trainers / hiking shoes which pack down well and flip-flops for showering, essential.
Other Essentials and Feminine Hygiene (Men, you’ve been warned)
I feel it’s a little tougher on girls when traveling and camping days on end without showering. I know I worry about staying clean all the time, whereas Buck is totally happy not showering every day. All I can say is:
- Wet wipes are lifesavers. Get the antibacterial kind as well as the gentler baby wipes. It’s tough to find alcohol gel here but both kinds of wet wipes are everywhere.
- Ladies, cotton panty-liners are the way forward, especially when you have less opportunity to swap out underwear. They are readily available even in relatively remote areas.
- Period pads are available everywhere too, but if you can get tampons I feel this is the cleaner option (but that’s just a personal preference). It just takes a little forward planning to either buy them at a Watsons, if you live in a big city, or getting them sent to you from your home country before departure (or buying them online).
Tissues or a roll of TP should be a given. Always have some on you for toilets and restaurants (preferably separate rolls, mind you!), restaurant napkins here are very unhygienic.
- Headbands, I know I keep going on about them but they are really good and make you feel a ton better if you wear one over your hair on the days when you weren’t able to wash and your hair’s a little greasy.
- Travel towel – needs no further explanation.
- Respro pollution mask – getting stuck behind trucks belching toxic fumes is not a fun way to spend your day, trust me. Tip: They can be found on Taobao and don’t forget to buy extra filters too.
- Camping cups and cutlery. Tip: online shop Light In The Box has a set that includes chopsticks!
- Mosquito plug-in.
- Pocket knife.
- Bar of soap for washing clothes (the yellow bars are very popular here) or eco-wash liquid soap if you can find it.
- Sunscreen, which can double-up as a face cream.
- Zip locks in all different sizes. I cannot emphasise how useful these are; from keeping all your electronics, money and gear dry and dust-free to storing your (precious) shampoo and even compressing your clothes, Zip locks are the best. Tip: The closest you will find in China are food storage bags that are generally smaller but still work as long as they have the airtight strip.
- Finally, we both have silk sleeping bag liners and I wouldn’t give mine up for the world. Whenever we stay somewhere slightly dubious (pretty much every budget hotel nationwide) I sleep in my liner. Tip: Silk is better than cotton as it’s easier to clean and if it gets wet wont suck out all of your body heat.
Because the Chinese are quite big on health and (herbal) medicine we packed quite light for meds as there are pharmacies pretty much everywhere, and some of them do also carry Western meds. The only Western pills we brought with us were Advil and Centrum, which you can find on Taobao, as well as some diarrhea pills. However the Chinese stuff for a runny tummy (mention 拉肚子’laduzi’) is pretty effective, as I found out when I got my first bout of food poisoning a few weeks ago. Multivitamins (多种维他命机 ‘duo zhong weitamingji’) and vitamin C (维生素C ‘weishengsu C’) can also be found in pharmacies.
We’ve taken to drinking a Chinese preventative cold medicine called ‘banlangen’ (板蓝根) which you can literally get everywhere.Tip: make sure you get the sweet one (甜的 ‘tian de’) and it only works if you feel the beginnings of a cold coming on, not when you are already sick.
Other Useful Words
Cough: 咳嗽 ‘kesou’ – cold: 感冒 ‘ganmao’ – sore throat: 嗓子疼 ‘sangzi teng’ – eye drops: 眼药 ‘yan yao’ (红眼睛 ‘hong yan jin’ is pinkeye and 干眼 ‘gan yan’ is dry eyes).
Finally, got this great tip from Bikerdoc on how to replenish your fluids and essential minerals if you have a bout of vomiting / diarrhea: half a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of baking soda, and four tablespoons of sugar mixed in one liter of water.
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