Packing for Longer Trips

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You can't carry everything; don't even try.

The logistics of packing for a two-week overseas family trip are fundamentally different from more typical travel. Merely doubling the amount of stuff you would ordinarily take on a one-week trip doesn’t work:

  • There is an upper physical limit on what you can reasonably carry around

  • Hotel room space is limited – to a greater extent than what we are used to in the West

  • Baggage restrictions are a perpetual issue; Transpacific flights are generous, while intra-Asia flights less so, and each type of train you might take has its own rules

  • You’ll need to reserve room for the items you’ll be picking up in Asia - souvenirs, snacks, clothing, toys, and more

  • And you'll probably be bringing some food along from home

This isn’t like packing for a business trip; a family camping expedition is perhaps the closest comparison. But you won’t have an SUV to carry your gear. 

For 2 adults plus 1 - 2 children, aim for using just two medium-to-large suitcases in total, plus one or two carry-on bags.

That goal is a challenge, but it can be done. Let’s look at some strategies to help you get “more” out of what you bring along.

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Climate – outside and inside

East Asia is a land of climate extremes, and each region has its own distinct weather. Your trip may take you from tropical humidity to arid cold. You might spend days in dust stormspolar snows, or urban smog. Or you might experience beautiful temperate weather. While the time of year you travel makes a lot of difference, day-to-day conditions can be totally out of your control.

Buildings in China, (even in the big cities,) as well as rural Japan and Korea, are largely not weather-proofed like Western energy-efficient structures. You won’t find central air, or double-pane insulated windows, even in recently-built hotels. Air conditioning in public areas of hotels or shops is often cranked to maximum in summer. Heat, cold, and humidity inside are therefore also outside your control.

In short, your clothing needs to work well in a variety of conditions:

  • Think multiple layers of thinner fabric, rather than hauling bulky items like sweaters or heavy jackets.

  • Look for breathable, “performance” clothing. You don’t want to be seen with big patches of sweat, no matter how hot or humid it gets. (This is the single biggest embarrassment for Americans.)

Living the dream ... washing socks and undies in the bathroom sink. But it saves a lot of money!

Living the dream ... washing socks and undies in the bathroom sink. But it saves a lot of money!

Laundry

On a week-long business trip, you’re probably coming home with a week’s worth of dirty laundry. Not such a palatable option on your Asian trip – if the thought of paying baggage fees to haul dirty laundry around doesn’t make you wince, the smell you’ll experience opening your bags when finally home will. Check out our suggestions for how to handle this challenge.

Most importantly, cleaning clothes on-the-go means you can take fewer garments. You can do a two-week trip comfortably with just five changes of outfits.

  • Don’t pack expensive, ornamented, or dry-clean-only fabrics. Easy-to-clean clothing is more resilient to everyday wear.

  • The hotel laundry services aren’t as expensive compared to charges at business hotels or resorts in the U.S. or Canada.

With these thoughts in mind, here are some list suggestions to help you get started for a generic two-week tour:  

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Clothing

  • 4-5 long pants or skirts

    • Men: forget about bringing shorts. While they’d be much more comfortable in the southern regions, it’s just not culturally appropriate.

    • Women: shorter items are OK if in good fashion. When in doubt, pick the more modest item.

    • Remember, too: mosquitoes. More coverage = a less inviting target.

  • 5 changes of underwear and socks / hosiery.

    • Again, look for the lightweight, moisture-wicking fabrics.

    • Women: if traveling in the South during the hot season, or anywhere during the late-spring/early-summer rainy season, you probably won’t want to bring pantyhose.

  • Coat: as light as possible. A windbreaker or light raincoat is appropriate for most regions and seasons, except in the Northeast and West during winter.

  • 4-5 shirts

    • Lightweight, moisture-wicking fabrics

    • Mix of long and short-sleeve (unless you are traveling in summer)

    • Polo shirts and golf shirts are good choices. T-shirts are not appropriate for you to wear in public. (Women: you have a bit more latitude on this, but again, keep it tasteful and well-made.)

  • 1-2 sets of pajamas

    • Because you’ll be in a hotel, and you never know when staff will want to come in to change towels.

  • 2 pair of shoes

    • One set for hiking / long-distance walking

    • The other set more lightweight and slip-on for airports, shopping, and close-to-hotel strolling.

    • Men: no sandals, ever. No one wants to see the hair on top of your feet.

    • Women: sandals for the 2nd pair are OK as long as they are stylish. No flip-flops or jellies, ever, as these scream “low-class.”

  • No formal wear is really needed for this trip, as long as your wardrobe is clean and in good condition. You may want to have elements that combine to look “business casual” when flying or checking-in at a new hotel; "face" counts for a lot in Asia, especially when meeting professionals for the first time.

  • Dresses – while perfectly acceptable culturally – are probably not the best option when trying to keep your packing to a minimum. Pieces that you can swap out and combine in several ways are what you’ll want in case you do get vomited on, for instance. 

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Toiletries

  • The bathroom kit, which you’ll toss out before your flight home – to save weight and space. For this trip, both of you will want to use the same products.

    • Razors and shaving cream

    • Toothbrushes, toothpaste, Listerine Breath Strips

    • Anti-perspirant (you can’t get it the way you want it over there)

    • Hand sanitizer, antibacterial ointment, cortisone itch cream, insect repellent wipes, wet wipes, lotion

    • Cotton swabs, cotton balls, bandages, travel tissues

    • Plastic zip-top bags (millions of uses)

    • Shampoo, if you really want to. The hotels have the little bottles of free shampoo and conditioner, just like back home.

  • Other items – don’t throw out:

    • Nail clippers, hairbrush, cosmetics

    • Ibuprofen and acetominofen, stomach upset meds. Different countries have restrictions on what you can buy over-the-counter, and you don't want to deal with labeling issues

  • Necessary prescriptions – in their original packaging (be sure to get antibiotics during your travel clinic visit.)
  • Hotels do provide hair dryers. Don’t bring curlers or straighteners, as they pull too much electrical load for the wiring, plus, given the humidity in summertime, are a waste of your time.

Items for your children

This will be much more subjective based on your child’s age and developmental needs. It’s probably better to go with fewer items when you head out and pick up interesting pieces as you travel. (You might have heard they make awesome toys in Asia.) Also, the more you bring, the more you have to clean up and trip over each day.

  • Comfort items like a stuffed animal
  • Creative and learning materials like tablets of paper and colored pencils; coloring books, storybooks, and language-learning resources

  • Blanket (keep in the carry-on bag; you’ll all be snuggling under it on flights. Airplanes tend to get cold.)

  • 1-2 sets of bottles / sippy cups, depending on developmental needs. Containers with snap or screw lids are very useful.

  • Backpack (or diaper bag, depending), especially for day trips and shopping outings

Electronics and Media

  • Camera, plus extra battery, charger, and a few memory cards. If you have a choice, pick a camera that is slim enough to slip into a pants pocket, but still has good resolution and video mode. SD cards are almost cheaper in the West and certainly easier for you to find before you depart. Of course, if you have some of the higher-end iPhone / Galaxy models, their cameras are amazing and have plenty of on-board storage...

  • Tablet or smartphone, plus charger/transfer cable. Your best bet for inflight entertainment, games at 2 am when you can’t sleep, and to show photos to fellow travelers and friendly locals. Check with your Transpacific airline to see if they have USB or electric sockets at your seat. You can't count on universal or cheap Wi-Fi access, but with your mobile device you're more likely to be able to sniff out an open router to get messages and photos back home. And you'll want to be able to get at your airline itinerary and weather reports.

  • Notebook / 3-ring binder – with pockets to stow the receipts, tickets, government documents, and brochures you pick up during the trip. You want a place to consistently take notes and record ideas. This is also where you’ll want to keep your list of phone numbers and emergency contacts, eyeglasses prescription, and travel itinerary.  

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Balancing the desire to take “everything” against physical and economic constraints will always be a struggle for every family and every trip (even with years of voyages under our belts, it seems that half of what we take we don’t use, while there are always a few items we dearly wished we had brought), and there is no “perfect” way to pack.

Fun, Cheap, and Free Family Travel Activities in Taipei

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So much to do in the (Family) Friendly City

Some of the headline attractions in Taiwan’s capital also come with big price tags – such as the Taipei 101 observation deck at NT$600 adults (that’s US$20) / NT$540 for big kids, the National Palace Museum (NT$350), or the nightly TaipeiEYE performing arts theater (NT$550).  The Taipei Fun Pass is worth considering if you’re intending to visit all the main paid attractions. But Taipei also offers days and days’ worth of outings that cost little to nothing at all, once you’ve covered transportation to get there.

Image by  Howard61313  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license 

Image by Howard61313 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license 

With the extensive MRT system and EasyCard in your pocket, virtually the entire city is accessible within an hour of almost any hotel. The convenience of being able to do out-and-back trips from a home base makes it easy to explore a different neighborhood each day of your trip, or even break up your day into morning/lunch – afternoon nap & recharge – evening/dinner (good not only for dealing with jetlag but also heat & humidity if you’re in the city during the warm months).

This link-list of free or low-cost attractions is organized roughly by neighborhood: especially in the downtown core there are several metro stations within walking distance of many attractions:

Click to expand. Not all MRT stations are shown - map is for general orientation only

Image by  Zairon  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Zairon via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Downtown Taipei – South (Da’an and Wanhua districts)

Longshan Temple – Station BL10  (of the same name) on the Blue Line, then 2 blocks north – is an historic and still-working Buddist and Taoist temple. The architecture and artwork inside is bold and instructive of the pre-war period. Directly across Guangzhou Street is nicely-sized Bangka Park with its giant Zodiac tile installation, and the Guangzhou Street Night Market begins immediately to the west.

Taipei Botanical Garden – Xiaonanmen Station G11 on the Green Line (2 blocks south) - is both a serious research center and also a relaxing place to walk among exotic tropical flowers in a park-like setting.

National Taiwan Museum – at NTU Hospital station (R09) and immediately west, or about 3 blocks south of Taipei Main Station (BL12 or R10) – costing a very reasonable NT$30, this classical museum has exhibits on Taiwan’s plants and animals, as well as its native peoples.

Image by  Laika ac  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by Laika ac via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall – at Station R08 (Red Line) or G10 (Green Line) - while the historical exhibits in the main exhibition halls might be a bit dry for kids, the gardens surrounding the square are extensive, and the architecture is dramatic.

Yongkang Street – at the Dongmen Station (R07 / O06); 2 blocks east and then stretching southward – is the most-famous “food street” in the city, with the flagship of steamed-dumpling king Din Tai Fung on its north end. There are dozens and dozens of restaurants and cafes along the street, and the traffic they generate has also pulled in giftshops, clothing boutiques, and other stores for finding souvenirs.

The Shida Night Market (north about 3 blocks from the Taipower Building Station G08 station, or about half a kilometer south of the Yongkang Street eateries) sets up along a roadside park next to Shida University and is oriented toward college students, featuring seasonal fashions, open-air entertainment and music, and creative / craft items.

Image by  Ken Marshall  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Ken Marshall via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Da’an Forest Park – at the Da’an Park Station (R06) – is nearly a kilometer long and half a kilometer wide, with ponds, glens, and thick stands of trees. For an easy, relaxing pace and chance to get out of the built city and back to nature, this is a convenient spot to recharge.

Image by  Jeffrey and Shaowen Bardz  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Jeffrey and Shaowen Bardz via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Jian Guo Weekend Flower Market – one block east of Da’an Park station – is another fun way to connect with nature during your trip. All sorts of live plants and cut flowers are on display, farmers’ market-style.

Image by  玄史生  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 0 (public domain) license

Image by 玄史生 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 0 (public domain) license

Downtown Taipei – North (Zhongzheng and Zhongshan districts) 

Maji Square (Yuanshan Station R14) is on the southeast corner of the Taipei EXPO complex of convention halls but also big open parkland. The Square is a big food court but there are also places for kids to run around and play. There is a Sunday farmers’ market held here, and just east across the highway is the Fine Arts Park. (The Taipei Fine Arts Museum is inside but is under renovation.) From there, you can take pedestrian trails another 500 meters to a larger park complex (Xinsheng Park) that includes a garden maze.

Just east of Taipei Central Station (Shandao Temple Station BL13, then north 1 block and east 2 blocks) is a broad prairie park called Central Art Park which has sculptures and is a favorite place for people to take their dogs to walk around. 

Image by  Wei-Te Wong  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Wei-Te Wong via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Downtown Taipei – East (Xinyi, Songshan, and Nangang districts)

Songshan Airport (station of the same name, BR13) is both very busy through the day and also very friendly to children. It has a big observation deck right above the terminal that is free – and you don’t have to go through security! There’s also a respectable food court in the pre-security section.

Image by  Tzuhsun Hsu  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Tzuhsun Hsu via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by  Rob Young  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by Rob Young via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

One of the big-name attractions on the Blue Line is the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall (station of the same name, BL17). While there is understandably a lot of space devoted to the leader’s history and biography, there are also general art exhibits which kids may find interesting. Many travelers also comment on the hourly changing-of-the-guard military ceremonies!

Image by  Gordon Cheung  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Gordon Cheung via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The Raohe Night Market (Songshan Station G19) has a mix of traditional street foods as well as tourist-type merchandise on offer, but it also includes the Wufenpu garment / fabric wholesale market – family members interested in fashion and crafts may want to make a visit.

Image by  Jirka Matousek  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Jirka Matousek via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The last stop on the Red Line (for now) is Xiangshan Station (R02), just past the Taipei 101 complex. Just outside the station entrance and stretching south is Xiangshan Park, with trails and playground equipment.  At the very far end of the park is the trailhead for Elephant Mountain. If you and your kids are physically active and want a hiking challenge for several hours, this is your place for outdoor adventure literally in the heart of the city. The reward is the stunning view over the city, literally eye-to-eye with the skycrapers.

Image by  McKay Savage  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by McKay Savage via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Northern Districts

The Shilin Night Market (one block north of Jiantan Station R15) stands on ground used for trade and warehousing for nearly 400 years, has inhabited its current building for over 100 years, and is the biggest market of its kind in the city. By day it functions as a food wholesale terminal, but by night it is a literal shopping center and ultimate food court.

Image by  Taiwankengo  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Taiwankengo via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

The Taipei Children’s Amusement Park (Shilin Station R16 or Jiantan Station R15; take the “Taipei Children’s Amusement Park shuttle bus” from there – or it is about a 20 minute walk from Shilin Station) has a cheap NT$30 admission, and kids under 6 years old get in free. Rides are extra, but also cheap at NT$20-30 each.

Image by Tianmu peter via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Tianmu peter via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

The National Taiwan Science Education Center is right next to the amusement park and is a good-sized kid-friendly science museum, and it incorporates some English in its exhibit texts. Admission is NT$100 for adults, NT$70 for kids. It also has a 4-D projection theater with its own separate admission price.

Image by I,  Latinboy  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by I, Latinboy via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

The Taipei Astronomical Museum is right next to the Science Education Center and of course specializes in outer space. Admission is only NT$40 for the exhibits hall and NT$100 for the IMAX shows.

Image by  Tony Lin  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Tony Lin via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

From the Dazhi station (BR14) walk 2 blocks south to the Keelung River to access the Meiti Riverside Park on the north side of the river. The Dazhi Bridge can also be crossed to get to the Yingfeng and Dajia Riverside Parks on the south side. This is where the dragonboat teams practice!

Miramar Entertainment Park (BR15 Jiannan Road station, 1 block southeast) is essentially a Western shopping mall, heavy on the movie theaters and upscale dining, but it has a quite large Ferris Wheel. For a bigger family this could get a bit spendy, however (NT$150 to ride Monday-Friday and NT$200 on weekends). 

Image by  Lord Koxinga  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Lord Koxinga via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Southern Districts

The Taipei Zoo, at the end of the Brown Line (BR01) is over 100 years old and one of the largest in East Asia. It has both indoor and outdoor exhibits, including ones on tropical rainforests, Australian animals, a bird aviary, a children’s petting zoo, and of course a panda enclosure. Admission is just NT$60, and preschoolers get in for free.

Image by  Tzuhsun Hsu  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Tzuhsun Hsu via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by  billy1125  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by billy1125 via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by  Sonse  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Sonse via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The Maokong Gondola picks up at the Zoo and travels up the mountainside to Maokong village, famous for tea-making. This would be a several-hour excursion, and with roundtrip fares at NT$240 (with NT$40 discount for using your EasyCard), it’s on the fence whether this activity should be included in this article J

See also…

Our “Taipei” folder on Pinterest

And check these weninchina articles:

Airport Guide – Taipei Taoyuan International

What Your Kids Should Eat in Taipei

Activity sheet – Wordfind – What Your Kids Should Eat in Taipei

3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Family Meals in Asia

Lahaina (Maui, Hawaii) Historic District – for the “other” Sun Yat-Sen museum

 

Girl at Taipei Zoo photo by 國禎 吳 via Flickr, CC 2.0 license