If you travel like most people, the process of packing for a trip is more of a “just in case” mental exercise than a practice of minimalist travel. And if you’re going somewhere to train wushu or compete? Then you can add in a few more pounds of gear to the mix.
It seems like a good idea when you’re in your room throwing your dancing pants into the suitcase, but when you arrive in China (or South Africa, or Norway or wherever) and have to drag your luggage up a cobblestone hill looking for your two star budget hotel you suddenly realize that you probably didn’t need to pack that month’s supply of protein powder.
The Benefits of Minimalist Travel
Now imagine that all you have to travel with is a medium sized backpack, containing everything you need and nothing you don’t. It allows you to skip through customs like a boss. You ride the subway, walk up and down hills, and hop in taxi’s without wondering how many dirty looks you’ll get from people being bumped in the knees by your set of super sized Samsonite.
Not only that, but when a new friend invites you to head out on a fun excursion for a few days, you don’t have to figure out who you’re going to unload your suitcases on, or pay some crazy fee at the hotel left luggage desk so they can “securely” watch you things. You’re free to enjoy all that traveling lightly has to offer.
For the past half year I’ve been taking regular excursions on 9 passenger prop planes to the neighboring island Oahu to train with friends at the Hawaii Wushu Center, so I have some experience in working out the right balance of wushu training gear and minimalist packing.
Add to that my 8 years traveling around China to train in different cities for anything from 1 week to 2 months — usually with nothing but a single carry-on bag — and I came to the conclusion that a guide to packing for wushu training (without taking your entire closet along for the ride) is something worth sharing.
After all, Wushu Adventures is all about exploring the world wide community of wushu enthusiasts and sharing our love of Chinese martial arts.
So, here you have my 5 top tips to help you plan for minimalist travel and maximum training in the country (or city) of your choice.
Tip #1: Take only what you really need
I know that this tip sounds obvious but don’t dismiss it too easily. The key words here are “really need”, because so often what we think we need, isn’t truly a need.
If you haven’t had a chance to read my article Minimalist Packing for Maximum Flexibility then be sure to check that out because in it I lay out my entire approach to packing in a minimalist manner.
However, the one thing that I didn’t write about in that article was how to pack for a wushu training or competition trip.
So, what is it you need to train in wushu? Let’s list it out.
- Wushu shoes (2 pairs): I will typically have one pair for outdoor training (useful if you train at a school in the countryside where they practice outside, such as the Shaolin Temple) and one for indoor training on a wushu carpet (ala professional wushu team or sports school).
- Workout shorts/pants (2 pairs): Again, I bring one pair of shorts for indoor training, and one pair of training pants for outdoor training (but the pants (and their standard single leg roll up fashion statement) can be used indoors as well). These work best if they are made from a lighter, quick-dry material.
- Wushu workout shirts (2): You don’t need anything fancy here. Wushu class isn’t a fashion show. Bring something that works, isn’t too thick and dries quickly.
- Wushu workout jacket (1): This is mainly for those early morning outdoor training sessions where the air is just a tad too chilly. They’re thin and light and don’t take up too much room so they travel well.
- Socks and Underwear (2-3): Beyond the normal socks and under garments you’re bringing on your trip, pack another 2 of each if you’re training once a day, and 3 if you’re training twice a day. This is so you always have a spare set ready to go. Training wushu is nothing if not sweat-producing, and having a few extra pairs to cycle through is essential.
- Wushu Silks (1): If you’re competing this is a no-brainer. But if you’re not? Sometimes these come in handy for a quick, unplanned demo (it happens more often than you might think). Fortunately silks are light and pack nicely. Just be sure to put them on a hanger to keep them as wrinkle-free as possible.
- Wushu Weapons (Optional): These are optional because they’re sort of a pain to travel with. Whenever I go to Honolulu to train with the Hawaii Wushu Center, I never take my weapons because I can get a great workout focusing on my empty-hand form, and then work on my weapon forms when I’m back on Molokai. This also depends a bit on where you’re going, which I’ll talk about in Tip #3.
So, there you have it. Besides the base essentials I listed out in my priority matrix for essential packing, these are basically everything you might need for either training or competing.
However, if you’re going to make this all work, there is one skill that is essential to master before you even leave your home. All the professional athletes in China know how to do it, so it’s about time you learn too.
Tip #2: Hand Wash Your Clothes
This is one of those skills that, until you leave the comfort of washing and drying machines (or self-serve laundromats) you never realized was so valuable.
But why learn how to wash clothes by hand? What’s the big deal?
Here are a few reasons this is a great skill to pick up.
First, laundry machines (and especially dryers) can be hard to find in many countries, including China. You don’t want to be on your last pair of underwear, running around a neighborhood trying to find a non-existent laundromat, trust me.
Second, sending out your clothes to get washed through your hotel can become cost prohibitive. Often this is where a lot of hotels (The afore-mentioned Shi Cha Hai Sports School’s hotel, for example) tend to gouge their guests. You can save some serious coins learning to wash the lighter stuff in your sink, and leaving the thick jeans for their professional machines.
Finally, this is just a good skill to learn. You never know when you have miscalculated the number of socks you have, or you realize that the t-shirt you just worked out in was your last clean garment.
If you don’t know how to wash your clothes by hand, here is a handy 5 step method that I’ve developed over the course of several years.
- Step 1: Soak. Fill your sink with the hottest, soapy water you can (use the hot water kettle in your hotel room if you you have one) and let your clothes soak for at least 15 minutes, or until the water turns room temperature, whichever comes first.
- Step 2: Wash. Drain the sink and fill it one more time with warm soapy water (no need for the super hot stuff). This time you’re going to knead the clothes together, working to strain the soapy water through the fabric. This will help pull the dirt and grime out of the clothing fibers.
- Step 3: Rinse Twice. Drain the sink again and then run cold or room temperature water over your clothes while twisting them to get out all the soap. You can alternatively fill up the sink with water and squish the clothes in there to get out the soap. Do this step twice to make sure all the soap is out of your clothes.
- Step 4: Towel Twist. One of the best ways to dry clothes is to roll them up in a dry towel and then twist the towel. This transfers most of the moisture out of the clothes and into the towel, which you just hang up on the towel rack to dry overnight. Check out the videos below to see an example.
- Step 5: Hang Dry. I usually hang dry my clothes while I’m sleeping, which means I typically do the hand washing at night before I go to bed. This makes sense since I typically take a shower in the evening after a hard day of training so I’m already in a cleaning mode.
Now, you might wonder “If you’re taking a shower at night, but use a dry towel on your clothes, how do you dry yourself?” to which I answer “I take a microfiber towel for myself and use the hotel towel for my laundry.”
And if I didn’t bring a microfiber towel? Then I just use the smaller hand-towel provided by the hotel to dry my body. You’d be surprised how small of a towel drying off requires. We just are normally spoiled by the big terry cloth towels that we start to believe they are actually necessary. They aren’t.
This is also the reason I tend to opt for quick drying clothes for training. They dry faster and will usually be good to go by the time you wake up in the morning — especially if your room has a radiator or a window facing the rising sun.
Just to be complete, here are a few videos showing other people’s methods for washing clothes, either in a sink, or in a plastic bag, or how to dry them in a towel.
Here is a method using a salad spinner!
And here is the towel drying technique
Tip #3: Know Your Destination
There are basically two types of places you will be going when you’re traveling for wushu: China and everywhere else. We’ll tackle China second.
For me, this is the type of travel I’ve been doing the most since leaving China. As I mentioned above, I visit Honolulu almost once a month for training (and movies) so this is pretty fresh in my mind. There are a few specific things to keep in mind for this sort of travel:
Focus on empty hand training
I said this before, but when I’m traveling to either Honolulu or California, or anywhere besides China, I tend to focus mainly on my empty hand routines. To be honest I find them more challenging than my weapons anyway, but traveling with a staff or sword can be problematic at best.
Borrow or Buy a weapon when you arrive
If I really need a weapon there is a good chance someone at the school I’m visiting will be able to loan me one for the class or the week. And, if this is a place I plan on visiting regularly, then you could always buy a weapon from the training facility and leave it there to have as your dedicated weapon for that location.
Is that a waste of money? Well, which costs more — constantly paying checked luggage fees, or buying a $80 broadsword? You do the math and make the decision that you think is best.
The other option is to buy a weapon where you’re visiting, and then resell it to another student at the end of your stay. Just take off 10% for wear and tear and it’s a pretty good deal for most folks.
So, if you’re going to China, then you’re really in luck, because you can ignore almost all of the wushu gear I listed back in Tip #1. Why? Because odds are when you go to China you’re planning to buy new weapons or silks or workout clothes anyway. Why take stuff with you when you can get brand new stuff for super cheap in the manufacturing center of the known universe?
But when should you get all the stuff you want to buy? Here is a general timeline to help you plan your stay:
1. Order your silks.
The first thing I would do is meet with the tailor who will be making your silks. Since these take the longest to have done you should order them during the first week or your trip so you have plenty of time to make sure they fit and are the right design. That isn’t something you want to figure out the night before you’re going back home!
2. Get your training gear
Any gear you need for training, such as clothes, wushu shoes or knee pads, you should pick up before your first session. You don’t want to be the guy who doesn’t have a pair of Feiyue’s at your first class, so make sure you schedule in some time to get what you need to start training.
It will typically take you a few days to get out to a weapons store (unless you have one at the school you’re visiting) so if you plan to train with a weapon let your coach know that you will start that phase of your practice once you’ve had a chance to get one.
I would also recommend not getting all your weapons and spare weapons during that first trip. Why? A couple reasons:
- You want to test the weapons out before you commit to buying a bunch of them. By buying a single sword first, you can make sure it works well for you before you buy 5 more of the same type as your back-home training spares.
- You get a better deal on things the more you frequent a shop in China, so by returning you will be able to get a discount on multiple items, and they see that you are now a “paying” customer and will probably be nicer to you as well.
- You don’t want to lug a big box of swords or knives around China if you’re going to be visiting other cities or sites. We’re trying to pack light, remember?
3. Save the best for last
The third time to buy something is during the last few days. This is when you get two more things that you probably want to pick up: clothes and luggage.
The only real exception to the “travel with one bag” policy is if you’re returning with a haul of goods from one of the cheap markets in China. But you don’t want to buy a big suitcase before you know how much stuff you’re really taking with you.
This is what I usually do:
First I will take my second to the last trip out to pick up whatever clothes I want to take back with me. Extra training jerseys, sweaters, gifts for friends, souvenirs, etc. This is when you pick up all those things.
Then take them back to your hotel room and see what you have. Figure out what sort of volume you’re going to need to cart over all the new stuff you got and then take your last trip to pick up anything you forgot (“Shoot! Uncle Troy wanted me to get him a fan. Totally forgot!”) and the best sized luggage for your China pirate booty.
The other reason why it is good to go later in your trip, is because most of the other people you went with probably got excited at the cheaper prices and did all their shopping earlier. That means they know which of the vendors have the best deals and/or they’re already built a raport with them. Great! Take your friend with you and get an introduction. It isn’t a guarantee of a better price, but sometimes it helps.
One item that is handy to take with you when visiting China is a small luggage scale — This one is great and has a lifetime warranty (disclaimer: affiliate link) — just to make sure you’re under the weight requirement for your airline. I don’t take it anywhere else with me, but I do take them with me to China for just this purpose.
A few other tips when visiting China:
- If you are traveling with others who are also buying weapons, bundle them together so you don’t all have to pay for the oversized or extra luggage fees. Then share the fees among you so no one is stuck with all the cost.
- If you’re buying with other people, then see if your increased buying power will get you a bulk discount with the vendor.
- If you’re going to get a pair of silks, then get another pair too. How often do you have silks made for you? Getting a backup is always a good idea.
- Do NOT get silks for people back home. It might seem like a good idea but it isn’t. Tailored clothes are never something I would outsource. Trust me — it is more of a headache than you want to deal with.
Tip #4: Focus on the Purpose of Your Trip
Let’s face it. This is a training trip (or competition). You’re not going to China (or wherever) to party, drink and get crazy. You can do all those things back home (or when you’re older and wiser). Focus on what you’re there to do.
I’m not telling you to be a wushu hermit and hole yourself in the wushu guan all the time. But if you have a choice between getting a good night’s rest and going out for KTV with a bunch of athletes, then … well, okay. Perhaps I’m not the best person to give this advice since I’ve opted for KTV on more than one occasion.
But my experience should be a warning to you. If I could go back I would … well, okay. I would probably still go out for KTV. But its still important to make sure you put in the time you need training and taking care of your health. One or two excursions to have fun won’t derail your entire trip, but don’t make it a habit.
Enjoy yourself, sure. But be sure you don’t blow thousands of dollars for a training trip and all you have to show for it is an Instagram feed plastered with pictures of drunk people singing over trays of lamb sticks.
Or better yet, plan a separate trip for having fun, and make sure your training trip is exactly that — a trip for training
Tip #5: Embrace Opportunities to Explore
The whole reason I travel light isn’t because I want to live like a monk, or because I’m practicing for my 2 year spiritual trek into the mountains outside of Baghdad.
It’s because it provides a sense of freedom that I don’t have when lugging around a big steamer trunk filled with my odds and ends.
When you’re suddenly invited to an athlete’s hometown for Spring Festival, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to quickly pack your one, small backpack and hop on that train? Or what if you have an opportunity to head to a small village where a martial arts master has invited you for private lessons? Do you really want to take a huge rolling box of plastic?
Minimalist travel isn’t about depriving yourself of essentials. It is about opening yourself up to opportunities whenever they arise.
These are the experiences that make travel amazing and truly meaningful. And this type of travel gives you the freedom to go where you like, and that is a truly liberating feeling.
In the end it boils down to one simple truth: having less, means you can do more.
What Did I Miss?
So, what do you think? Is there anything you would take with you on a trip that I didn’t include here? Any wushu gear that you find essential when traveling abroad (or around)?
Let everyone know in the comments so we can benefit from your own experiences, and hopefully it will make our future trips even better!