What's in my Bag in China
The gadgets and tools that I carry around in China and the bag that holds it all.
July 31, 2014

There are countless websites, articles, and blogs devoted to the contents of the bags people bring with them every day.

I love discovering the gadgets and tools people use and the different bags they carry them in. Each bag is a small window into the owner’s life, work and routine. I’ve been meaning to do a post on my own bag for a while, and now that I’m in China, its contents are a bit more interesting.

Timbuk2 Q Laptop Bag

There is a fine line between preparedness and overpacking. I’ve learned this the hard way more than one time, and yet I always seem to fall victim to the endless array of what-ifs that arise when preparing for a journey. The Timbuk2 Q Backpack is the perfect compromise.

I’ve bought far too many of Timbuk2’s bags, and while I think the quality of their materials has decreased a bit over the past 5 years, the build quality is still quite good - and the warranty excellent. The Q has a nice, slim form-factor, ample room for stuff, and plenty of pockets to keep things organized. And while I’ve yet to use it, the bottle-opener on the strap is a nice touch.

13-Inch Retina Macbook Pro (Late 2012)

Depending on where I’m going, I’m either carrying my Retina Macbook Pro or my iPad Air. The MacBook feels heavier and heavier every time I pull it out of my bag, and as soon as Apple makes a 13” Air with a 1080p screen and two thunderbolt ports, I plan on upgrading.

photo of macbook

iPad Air

For any trips that I know I won’t need to do any real work on, I bring my iPad Air. I’ve been back and forth between 7-inch and full-size tablets for a while now, and I think that full-size is the right choice for me. Smaller tablets just don’t offer enough incentive for me to use them instead of my phone. I use it mainly for catching up on news, watching movies on long trips, and playing the occasional game.

I bought the LTE version of the iPad Air, and pay $10/month for 1GB of data on T-mobile. Their service isn’t as fast or as reliable as Verizon’s but for a third the price and no contract, it’s hard to complain. They also offer unlimited international data which is nice for China - though it’s only 2G so I’m really limited to Tweets, Texts, and Emails. Weirdly enough, foreign-SIM data connections aren’t subject to censorship by the almighty PRC, so it’s a great way to check my notifications when I can’t get a reliable VPN connection.

photo of book

Kindle Paperwhite

China is filled with unexpected and lengthy delays, so it’s always good to have something on hand to pass the time; I always try to have either a paperback or my Kindle on when I go anywhere here. I’ve been reading a lot of books on my Kindle lately, though occasionally I will pick up a copy of the real thing.

I discovered Haruki Murakami’s work via a short story in the New Yorker and bought a paperpack copy of his novel Norwegian Wood with me to China. I’m hoping to read it during my upcoming trip to Japan.

photo of camera

Sony NEX 3NL

China is full of interesting and truly bizarre moments; my aging Moto X’s camera isn’t really up to the task of capturing these ephemeralities. I bring my Sony NEX 3NL along with me whenever I go somewhere new. I’ve never really been into cameras or photography, but I found this for a steal on eBay and went for it. I like that it has more power and capability than a point-and-shoot, and is much smaller than an full-size SLR, but I don’t like that the settings are done through clumsy menus and not a manual knob, or that it’s not WiFi connected. In retrospect, I should probably have bought a higher-end point-and-shoot, as opposed to a mirrorless SLR. The ability to swap out lenses is great for photographers, but it’s wasted on me as I’m not likely to shell out for new lenses any time soon.

photo of headphones

Bose Quiet Comfort 15 Headphones

While I think a lot of bose’s speakers are a bit overpriced for the sound quality, the sound-cancelling on this business-class staple is second-to-none. I toyed with buying them for ages, and when a friend at Bose offered to hook me up with a good deal, I couldn’t resist.

Klipsch S4i Earbuds

I bought a pair of the previous generation of these a few years ago. They met their demise on an ill-fated journey through the wash, and when I emailed Klipsch to ask if I could have them fixed they sent me a pair of the newer genereation for free. I’d buy another pair in a second based off of the customer service alone.

photo of passport

Muji Notebook and Pen

I’ve decided to do what I should have done my first time in China, and take formal Chinese lessons. I take class twice a week, I try do about half an hour of Rosetta Stone every day. It’s pretty hard to learn Chinese without constantly writing things down. I love the simplicity of Muji’s notepads and pens; this is a great to have a notebook on me when I learn a useful phrase or need to recall the word for something.


I try to leave my Passport in a locked drawer in my apartment most of the time, as I have a deep-seated fear of losing it. I really don’t want to have to apply for an emergency passport and visa while in China. Annoyingly China requires official documents to take almost any kind of transport or check into any hotel, so I’m often stuck bringing it with me and doing my best not to lose it.

US Dollars

Monopoly money is all well and good, but when it comes to emergency cash, the dollar rules all. There’s no bank on earth that won’t accept it, and it’s generally exchanged at a better rate than anything else.

ANKER Battery Pack

My phone’s battery has been in steady decline over the past few months, and sometimes a day of moderate use can push its limits. This 10,000 mAh battery pack was about 40 bucks on Amazon and is good for 3-4 very quick charges.