what do I pack for my trip to Taiwan?like packing for any kind of travel - what you bring to Taiwan will depend on the season you visit, where on the island you stay, and what activities you plan to do. over the next few weeks in this series on tips for visiting Taiwan, I plan to address all these issues. for today, we are starting with what should be in your suitcase.
for the past 3 years I have been living as an expat in Taiwan. I've traveled to various parts of the island, experienced earthquakes and typhoons, lived in the city, scootered through the country, hiked mountains, and swum in the sea. and you're about to benefit from my experience - because I remember all the wardrobe failures and successes of these adventures.
the weather in Taiwansummer in Taiwan can last from May to mid-October. weather is typically hot and humid, with temperatures in the low to mid 90's F / 32-35 C [that feel like low to mid 100's F / up to 38 C once humidity is factored in.] you can expect cooler wind and rain when there's a typhoon nearby - but mostly it will just be hot. if you visit Taiwan during summer, prepare to sweat.
fall is slightly cooler, with temperatures in the 70's F / 20-25 C and less humidity. Taiwan's autumn can last from October to end of December. [yes, I've worn shorts on Thanksgiving and had Christmas be 75F / 23C and sunny.] daytime temperatures can fluctuate between pleasant and warm, though the nights can quickly get chilly. colder weather does sometimes come through, so the later in the year you visit, the warmer the layers you'll want to bring.
winter in Taiwan can be deceptively cold. while usually in the 50-60F / 10-15 C range, it can drop into the 40's F / 5-8 C. parts of the country are humid, rainy, and windy which can be bone-chilling if you aren't prepared. many of the locals will sport puffy winter coats, boots and gloves. another thing to note is that many buildings in Taiwan do not have central heating. thankfully, winter only lasts from January to mid-March.
spring is mostly mild but sometimes wet. from March to beginning of May the weather can vary in temperature: one day you'll be in shorts, the next jeans and a light jacket. you should pack a range of items that can take you from 60F to 80F / 15 to 27 C and back again. the humidity will start to rise and sometimes the rain can pour for a few days in a row.
one last note: obviously, the further south you are on the island the higher the temperatures are. you can even go to the beach in January down in Kenting, so bring your swimsuit and lighter layers if you plan to travel there.
dress like a local, maybegirls and women in Taiwan seem to dress in a way that accentuates their best feature: legs. you will see a lot of flowy, girly tops paired with tiny shorts or tight skinny pants, feminine bows and glittery heels, crop tops with long sheer skirts. some women will look dressy and some will be wearing t-shirts. you will rarely see spaghetti straps, deep v-necks, or cleavage. that being said: you may receive some stares if you show a lot of shoulder... but it may also be because you just look like a foreigner.
men wear everything from business suits to basketball shorts and t-shirts. I think men are judged less on appearance here than women are [like most places, unfortunately] and if you are a foreign-looking man this is especially true. my brother wore gym shorts the entire 2 weeks he was here and no one batted an eyelash. granted, we didn't go anywhere fancy. but for touring around town and most restaurants you can just wear whatever.
there are a few places [night clubs or high end restaurants] where people should dress up, but Taiwan is a mostly casual place. though in general, Taiwanese will wear more clothing than you. they will wear long sleeves or pants while you are sweating in shorts, and bring out the winter jackets when it's 65F. most women will carry parasols or wear light jackets to avoid excess sun exposure. you can do this if you like - but I've decided that I would rather be comfortable than try to blend in.
topsit's not just fashion - in summer, light and breezy tops will help you stay cool. fitted cotton t-shirts will simply cling and show your sweat marks, so loose styles will be your friend. pack extra shirts in summer or plan to wash your sweaty ones and hang dry. sleeveless styles will be useful from May to September, while short sleeves are a good idea year round. you can bring light layers to go over in cooler weather, or wear alone. during late fall and winter you should bring some long sleeves, and a sweater or sweatshirt.
bottomsyou will see people wearing long pants year round in Taiwan. jeans are acceptable almost everywhere. women of all ages in Taiwan wear patterned or brightly colored bottoms, so don't feel compelled to just pack neutrals. however, I would advise bringing shorts for visiting any time spring through fall. in summer, you might want only shorts. in winter you may only want pants, unless you will be traveling in the south of Taiwan [where you will still want a pair of shorts.] the length of your shorts can be whatever you are comfortable with - this is not a conservative country when it comes to legs.
dresses and skirtswhile Taiwan is casual, it is also a place where you will never be overdressed. you will see women wearing skirts and dresses while hiking up a mountain trail [this is not an exaggeration.] in warm weather, loose and light dresses will help keep you cool. you will see skirts of all lengths here. some girls wear extremely short dresses [or maybe they are long tops?] with jean shorts just peeking out. one thing to be aware of: the weather can sometimes be windy, or a passing subway train may try to flip your skirt. so you may want shorts under anyway.
shoesevery packing list out there includes "comfortable walking shoes" which you will definitely want for Taiwan. but for the summer months, if you have a comfortable pair of sandals your feet might thank you. I love my TOMs but my feet can get quite sweaty and swollen in the heat. sneakers / running shoes are also a good idea, especially if you plan to take advantage of Taiwan's abundant options for hiking. if you are visiting in winter, I would also suggest a pair of warm socks for wearing around your hotel since many floors here are tiled.
rain gearjust about any time of year you visit Taiwan, it's going to rain. May and June typically see the most rainy days, and typhoon season [which can bring heavy winds and rain over a short time] runs from June to October. depending on where you are on the island, afternoon rain showers can roll through for a few minutes. carrying a lightweight umbrella might seem like a hassle... until it keeps you from being drenched.
the good news is that most convenience stores will carry cheap rain ponchos if you find yourself stuck in a storm - and there's a 7-11 on nearly every corner. summer may be too warm for rain jackets [unless you are up in the mountains] but fall through spring a waterproof coat is a great idea.
hiking gearif you're planning to take advantage of any hiking in Taiwan - and you should - be sure to bring what you need. some trails can be done in street clothes and even comfortable sandals, but I recommend workout gear for sweat-wicking and ease of movement. many trails are paved and have seemingly endless stone steps, others are dirt. if there will be tall grasses on your hike you may opt for long pants or sleeves for protection. take an extra layer along as the temperature can drop as the altitude rises, and be sure to check the weather for rain. and of course if you're a pro heading for an overnight trip on the high mountains... well you probably don't need my advice on what gear to bring.
outerwearaside from a rain jacket, the level of outerwear is going to depend heavily on the season. in summer you may want a light sweater or cardigan for air conditioned restaurants and trains. a light trench, anorak, sweatshirt, or jean jacket will do for fall and spring. winter may find you wanting a fleece or waterproof shell, puffy vest or even full coat. when in doubt, bring things that can be layered easily. I would also bring layers warmer than you think you need if you plan to be riding on a scooter - the wind factor will make you chilled easily.
undergarmentswhatever you normally pack for travel should be fine, erring on the side of comfort and breathability. in summer I would recommend bringing a few extra pairs, as you will likely return from excursions soaked through with sweat and want to get dry. real Taiwan moment: sometimes, in August, I have to wring sweat out of my bra when I get home. you should also consider bringing a swimsuit in case you want to take a dip in the ocean [Taiwan IS an island, after all] or explore one of the famous hot springs.
toiletry itemsif you aren't picky, you should be able to buy everything you need at any 7-11 in Taiwan. brands such as Colgate, Listerine, Dove, Biore, Revlon, and Neutrogena can be found in any beauty store. in the past three years the selection of items available in Taiwan has wildly expanded. but I would advise you to bring items that you feel more comfortable having "your" brand of: deodorant, tampons, and sunscreen choices can vary greatly depending how large of a city you are in. also be careful when buying any kind of cream, sunscreen or lotion - many in Taiwan contain whitening agents or chemicals.
other itemsI think it goes without saying that you'll want to bring your camera. a journal for documenting your trip, something to read, any essential medications. if you have food allergies or diet restrictions, some granola bars or familiar snacks would be a good idea. even if you visit during rainy season, you'll likely want some kind of sun protection [hat, glasses] since the island is bisected by the Tropic of Cancer.
electronic plugsTaiwan runs on 110-120 voltage, which is the same as the US and Canada. if you are coming from there, most of your chargers and appliances should be just fine. where you may find issues in some buildings - not all outlets have three prongs. three to two prong adapters are easily found in any hardware or grocery store, but of course you can bring your own. if you are using items with different voltage requirements, you may want to bring a transformer/converter with you.
internet accesswifi is available in many places - most hotels and cafes will provide you with a free login when asked. you can also register for free wifi in Taipei's public spaces [several parks, and most MRT stations.] register online for a wifi login before your visit to Taipei, or take your passport in person to any hotel on this list.
you can also get a simcard with a large chunk of data for decently cheap. phone service in Taiwan is less expensive than the US and more focused on data, and has great 4G coverage. having Google translate just might be worth it. also good to know: Taiwan is not China, and almost all websites are available. the exception to this is some tv and video sites will not play in Taiwan due to copyright laws. sorry, no Netflix without using a VPN. but YouTube and Facebook work just fine.
while this isn't a detailed packing list, I hope I've given you a sense of what should be in your bag when you come to visit Taiwan [because, you're coming to visit right?] stay tuned over the next few weeks where I'll give you guidelines on where in Taiwan you should visit, how to get around the island, and what to expect as a visiting foreigner.
please let me know in the comments if you have any specific questions I haven't covered here, or a topic you'd like to know more about in the next few weeks.
this post is the first in a series of tips for visiting Taiwan. for more information, please see:
part 1: a guide on what to pack [this post]
part 2: a guide on how to travel
part 3: a guide on where to go + what to see
part 4: a guide on what to expect