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 Tokyo

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For a city with an expensive reputation, a day’s outing with kids does not have to be spendy!

A family vacation to Tokyo is probably going to involve some big-ticket attractions like the Skytree (tickets $9 - $20), Tokyo Tower ($3.50-$9.00), the Epson Aqua Park Shinagawa ($22), or Tokyo DisneySea ($48-$74) – but there are days and days’ worth of outings that cost little to nothing at all, once you’ve covered transportation to get there.

With the Suica stored-value card and Tokyo’s comprehensive rail network, 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).

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This link-list of free or low-cost attractions is organized around major stations on the Metro or the Yamanote city loop line, within reasonable walking distances:

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Shibuya

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Harajuku/Omotesando

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Image by  B Lucava  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by B Lucava via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Shinjuku

Image by  Justin C.  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Justin C. via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by  Luca Mascaro  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Luca Mascaro via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Ikebukuro

  • The Namjatown indoor amusement park inside the Sunshine City shopping center has inexpensive tickets (¥500 adult, ¥300 child) with much to see and kids’ games to play, but at heart it’s a shopping arcade and food court.
  • The headquarters store for manga / anime chain Animate
  • Tobu, the city’s single largest department store, with a giant food hall
Image by  Kakidai  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Kakidai via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by  Vasyl Gladysh  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Vasyl Gladysh via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Ueno/Asakusa

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Image by  rdnk  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by rdnk via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Akihabara

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Image by  Perry Li  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by Perry Li via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Downtown/Tokyo Station

Image by  Reggaeman  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Reggaeman via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Shinagawa

  • The Shinagawa Shrine is one of the larger green spaces in the central city and holds a large festival in September.
  • The Sengaku-ji Temple is one of the main Zen Buddhist temples and is a famous graveyard.
Image by  Marc Dalmulder  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Marc Dalmulder via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by  Dennis Amith  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Dennis Amith via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Meguro/Ebisu

  • The Institute for Nature Study is a large, wild area (¥310 admission for adults; kids are free) that has been allowed to regenerate naturally since World War II. Because of this, it is also a significant archaeological research site.
  • Yebisu Garden Place is a large shopping and dining complex.
  • The Otori Shrine is just a few blocks from the Meguro station and holds big festivals in September, November, and at New Year’s.
Image by  江戸村のとくぞう  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by 江戸村のとくぞう via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Ginza / Shimbashi

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Image by  Nigel Goodman  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Nigel Goodman via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Akasaka

Image by  Wing1990hk  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Wing1990hk via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by  掬茶  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by 掬茶 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Roppongi

Image by  fox kiyo  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by fox kiyo via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by   Mark J. Nelson  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Mark J. Nelson via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Odaiba

(take the Yurikamome Light Rail from the Shimbashi or Shiodome stations)

Please comment with your additions and suggestions below, or tweet us at @weninchina!

See also…

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/kids/tokyo-with-children

https://globetotting.com/japan-kids-tokyo-guide/

http://packmeto.com/7-free-things-to-do-in-tokyo/

https://upgradedpoints.com/tokyo-travel-guide

And check these weninchina articles:

Impressions of… Tokyo – Harajuku

Impressions of… Tokyo – Meiji Jingu

Airport Guide – Tokyo Narita

Airport Guide - Tokyo Haneda

3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Family Meals in Asia

3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Family Meals in Asia

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Skip the hotel restaurants, eat better, and have more fun!

The big Asian cities have developed a reputation for having ridiculously expensive dining, and stories like consumers paying $27,000 for a cantaloupe or charging over $100 per person for a sushi dinner don’t help that perception.

While reports like these get attention, the fact is these kinds of dining experiences are largely meant for big-business entertainment and big-government lobbying – and have nothing to do with how everyday people eat.

After all, you couldn’t get that many people to live, much less thrive, in a place where they couldn’t afford basic meals! “Eat like the locals” is great advice for learning more about a culture, but it’s also an important strategy for keeping expenses under control for a family vacation overseas.

Not only will these options save you money, be culturally enlightening, and provide entertainment, but by not having to order from a menu - and instead see what your choices are – both you and your kids will be more comfortable with your food orders. And it might even get you to try something unexpected!

Image by  LERK  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by LERK via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Konbini / Convenience Stores

East Asia's convenience stores such as Lawson, 7-Eleven, and Family Mart are the traveler's best friend: open early when the streets are empty but your jet lag tells you it's breakfast time; open late when you realize you need detergent, plastic bags, or a fix of peanut butter. Without the burden of selling fuel or needing parking lots, these stores have evolved their formats to occupy seemingly every street corner in major cities, from northern Japan all the way down to Indonesia and out into western China.

Image by  amanderson2  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by amanderson2 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Their selection of basic goods is comparable to a small grocery store - including bread, milk and juice, cereal, and fruits and vegetables - and most have a broad selection of hot and cold deli foods, including familiar Western fare like sandwiches, fried chicken, and roasted meat as well as Asian favorites such as onigiri and noodle bowls. These counters are resupplied frequently through the day, so the food is quite fresh. We found surprisingly good quality options at a value price. 

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If your hotel room has a mini-refrigerator at a minimum (and ideally a microwave), make the corner C-store your first stop to stock up on breakfast items: it's so much better to eat breakfast in pajamas and thoughtfully plan your day instead of having to scramble to get dressed and presentable to shuffle through a bland hotel buffet or walk down the street for McDonalds...

Image by  Hiroaki Sakuma  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by Hiroaki Sakuma via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Depachika / Department Store Food Halls

Unlike what has happened in North America, in Japan and Korea the traditional department store has continued to be a vital part of everyday life in the big cities. 

Departments stores are typically sited near major subway stations to maximize commuter convenience (the rail companies developed the land, and started the stores, after all...), and so those are popular shopping sites at lunchtime and during the evening commute.

Image by  Frances Ellen  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Frances Ellen via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

To keep shoppers in stores longer, many locations expanded their in-house cafes and restaurants into full-sized food halls and catering showrooms - perfect for having a meal before the long train ride home, or for picking up provisions en route. The variety on display behind the counters is simply astonishing: baked goods and sweets; seafood and meats; prepared salads, sandwiches and soups; Japanese, Chinese, Korean, European, Indian, and American specialties; plus sit-down dining from casual to elegant.

Even if you aren't hungry, the spectacle of a great depachika is worth the visit alone!

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Street Food, Festivals, and Farmers’ Markets / Fish Markets

While food trucks are finally becoming a frequent sight in North America, in East Asia they’ve been preparing hot, fresh food from carts, trucks, and “pop-up” tents for centuries. Seasonal festivals such as at New Year's or Mid-Autumn will see carts and tents in temples and public squares, but many cities also have regular evening street markets or hawker centers (like the famous ones in Singapore and Taiwan) where food is the main attraction. 

Photo by  Jorge Gonzalez  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license. Watch out for that durian!

Photo by Jorge Gonzalez via Flickr, CC 2.0 license. Watch out for that durian!

Major cities will also have morning fish markets (like the famous Tsukiji in Tokyo) or farmers' markets where food stalls catering to the vendors and traders will also gladly sell to tourists. As with outdoor stalls anywhere, look for the crowds to find the freshest, tastiest (and by extension most safe) choices. "Point and pay" is the universal language, as almost always prices are clearly marked.

Image by  Allan Watt  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Allan Watt via Flickr, CC 2.0 license