Preparing to travel for an international adoption is quite a bit different than preparing to travel for business or pleasure. The least of your concerns will be forgetting a charger, toothbrush, or an extra pair of socks. With international adoption, not only do you have to factor in battening down the hatches back at home and figuring out how to work around work (if you’re able to continue to do your job abroad), but you need to remember that you’re traveling to another country with its own set of rules and regulations, different creature comforts (or lack thereof), different culture and communication, and different infrastructure. You may or may not know how long you will be in the country. You may or may not know everything you will be required to do while in the country. You most definitely will not be able to change the chain of events as they happen—including weather, unexpected political or social events, shutdowns, or sickness to name just a few. Most importantly, unlike heading off to a familiar old haunt, there will be a child(ren) eagerly (and quite possibly nervously) waiting there for you for whom you also will need to prepare for and pack for (in addition to not forgetting to purchase an extra seat for the flight home)! Your family is about to grow far from the comforts of home.
If you’re in the beginning stages of international adoption, check out the Adoption.com article “5 Tips For Starting The International Adoption Process,” which offers helpful tips on how to get started.
Additionally, here’s a rundown/checklist of some things you can get started on right now or make a note to take care of as your international adoption journey becomes a reality.
Before You Go
Ready the Homefront
Congratulations! You’ve been matched. All of the paperwork has been signed, sealed, and delivered. Your airline tickets have been purchased. Next stop? You holding your adopted child in your arms for the first time! Believe it, it’s happening. So, now what? In between the adrenaline rush of your wonderful news, make sure to take inventory and take care of things at home.
– Ask a family member, a close friend, or trusted neighbor to check on your house from time to time (and don’t forget to leave them a key).
– Have a pet? Find a sitter!
– Call the post office to have your mail stopped (unless someone is willing to stay over or stop over frequently to bring it in for you).
– Planning on paying with credit cards? Make sure to call your credit card company to let them know of your travel plans in advance. There’s nothing worse than getting to your destination and finding a stop on your only payment source.
– Speaking of funds, you may find it useful to have some cash on hand. The USA Today article, “Best Ways To Carry Money While Traveling“ provides an extensive list of money carrying tips as well as explanations why. Some of these include:
– Dividing money in different places
– Consider on-body storage
– Keeping small bills handy
– Carrying an anti-theft bag
– Trimming your wallet
– Using a dummy wallet
– Buying a special travel wallet
– Adapting to the local money culture (converting your bills).
– In the warmer months, you may want to ask someone to mow your lawn. In the colder months, you may want to ask someone to shovel your drive and walkways. There’s nothing like arriving home with a little one in tow to find several feet of snow stopping you cold in your path (she says from experience). No matter the season, making sure your basic house maintenance is taken care of is never a bad idea.
– By now you’ve probably gotten your child’s room prepared, baby-proofed the house (if necessary), and have taken the time to bring some items into your home to help your child to feel at home upon their arrival.
– Clean the fridge removing anything that will go bad or spoil. There’s nothing like arriving home to milk gone bad (she says from experience).
Be Socially Aware
Although sharing the news of your pending adoption may leave you bursting at the seams with happiness and excitement, exercise caution on how and with whom you share this information. Honestly, you’re probably safer shouting the news from the mountain tops at the top of your lungs (or even in a crowded mall) than you are typing and sharing your whereabouts on social media, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any of your other favorite shoutout spots.
Do feel free to share your happy news with family and friends! On the phone, in person, or via mail. Do not share your news with hundreds or thousands of random strangers, letting them and their friends’ friends (who may or may not have your best interests at heart) know that your home will be unoccupied from start to end date. According to Pwcgov.org, “over 75% of convicted burglars believe that other burglars are using social media to find targets.”
Don’t be a target and by all means, don’t check in from places unknown, this will give your social media followers a play-by-play of exactly where you are and exactly where you are not (hint: home).
This Defending Digital article provides lots of statistics and reasons not to post about travel before or after you’re away.
Let’s face it, probably nothing is more exciting or seems more important during this time than getting updates on your child. Do make sure to call to find out how she is doing. Find out as much as you possibly can from her height and size (she’s going to need clothes) to her health (you may need to have medicine or equipment on hand) to her abilities and what sort of items you may bring to work with her and play with her during your time overseas.
You’ll also want to check for travel warnings (much less exciting than the previous updates, but just as important). You should know what you’re getting yourself into for your safety and the safety of your child. Learn about the best ways to keep all of you safe as well as where you can go for help should you find yourself in a state of emergency. Travel.state.gov provides information to international travelers about “Before You Go,” “Country Information,” “While Abroad,” and how to deal with “Emergencies.”
Book It and Go
Once you have your travel dates, make it official and book your flight. And don’t forget about travel insurance! If anyone in your party has a medical condition, make sure to speak with your airline ahead of time to set up any special assistance you and/or your adopted child may require.
Know how you’re going to get safely from the airport to your residence. Speak to your agency, facilitator, or if you’re staying at a private residence, schedule a driver who can meet you at the airport.
Make Sure Your Paperwork Is In Order
Note to self—stay organized from Day One of your adoption journey. Create a checklist and check it twice. Consider keeping hard copies in a binder (copies are good, too). Also, consider scanning and saving copies as backup. While some of your paperwork must be original, you’re going to find that having extra copies of some documents may just save your life.
For paperwork that you’re bringing along, consider bringing it in your carry-on so there are no issues should you become separated (not that that ever happens) from your luggage. Also, consider photocopying items, such as your passport, license, and other identification/credit card information. During our time away, some businesses asked to reference an identification number on our passport; we chose to bring a copy of our passports rather than carrying the real item around with us for security reasons.
Do Your Research
You’re about to travel to a faraway place and so you may want to do a little research about it. Obviously, you’ll need to research the area where you’ll be staying. Oftentimes, your agency or adoption facilitators will offer suggestions for where to stay and places to go. Additionally, they may provide a list of in-country professionals who can and/or will be helping you through the process, including translators, travel guides, drivers, and even childcare support services from tutors to babysitters. While you may not think you’ll need a babysitter, if you have additional children traveling with you, there may come a time when having an extra pair of eyes and hands may come in handy.
Our second trip lasted two months and while we managed all right (with two toddlers), we witnessed other families with older children who were also there for extended periods of time hiring in tutors and even speech therapists to help for the duration.
And while most of your time is going to be spent taking care of adoption-related issues, you may want to get out and explore your surroundings a bit (hint: small children love to run and play). Not to mention, you will probably want to eat food while you’re there, so knowing where the best markets are, as well as banks and ATMs, hospitals, and emergency care units are all important.
Talking the Talk
Before our first international adoption, I’d had the very best of intentions of learning as much about our children’s native tongue as I possibly could ahead of our trip. We bought tapes and books. Despite my intentions, admittedly, with everything else going on, my ability to focus on learning a new language fell to the bottom of the list. The truth is, you’re going to have a lot on your to-do list leading up to your adoption. Despite your full plate, I highly recommend you consider taking some classes to learn the language. While you may not have time to become fluent, learning the most common phrases will come in handy and make daily living so much easier for both you and your child(ren)—from asking how much things cost to searching for the nearest bathroom—you won’t regret it.
Know What to Pack and Pack What You Need
Your best bet about what to pack is to talk to other families who have gone where you’re going and are familiar with the landscape. Clothing wise, the basics work best—with layers for climates that tend to change by the day. The sunscreens and bug sprays if you’re going to a warmer climate area. Extra blankets and bunting if you’re going to a colder climate area.
Some families tend to bring a nice set of clothing for their presentation day, church services, and other formal gatherings, but remember, you’re going to be spending the majority of your time hanging out with your little person.
Most countries will have stores similar to what you’re used to (or maybe not and that’s okay, too) and although they may not carry your favorite shampoo, you’re not going to go two months without shampoo for your showers.
When it comes to food, though, especially if you’re traveling with fussy little ones, you may want to bring a few of their favorites just in case the local stock is not what you’re used to. You also may want to bring some favorite treats and sweets so that you’re not running around looking for these things on little to no sleep.
If you take prescription medication or are taking an antibiotic, make sure to bring these in their containers (with directions). It also may serve you to bring a list of these items “just in case” you run out and need more or find yourself in a situation where you need to share this information with a medical professional.
Leave some room to bring some toys, enough clothing, and necessity items for your little one as well—and leave some room for what you’ll be bringing home with you. Chances are, you’ll be doing some shopping while you’re away.
While You’re There
Take advantage of the time away from work, home, well-meaning family and friends drop-ins, the phone ringing—all the distractions. While it may be difficult to be away from the comforts of your home, make sure to take advantage of the gift of time to work on attaching and bonding as a family. While it can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re dealing with more than one child, now is the time to push everything else aside and get to know this child(ren) you’ve been working so hard to get to all these months or years.
Make the most of mealtimes, bedtimes, and playtimes to spend letting your little one become familiar with you and their new routine. This is a huge change for all of you, so do not expect perfection!
Get Some Culture
“When in Rome,” they say, “do as the Romans do.” Not only are you somewhere you may never have been before, but you’re also in your child’s birth country. Do not waste the opportunity to take in and learn about your child’s culture firsthand.
From food to music to art to landmarks to history to the people on the street, now is the time to take it all in. And while it may not feel like the right time to play “tourist,” there is no better time than when you’re there, firsthand, to soak in the culture around you through audio, video, journaling, etc., so that you can experience and share this very intimate part of your journey with your adopted child when she becomes interested in learning more about where she came from.
Don’t spend your time in gift shops—take the time to find out about local landmarks and visit them.
As mentioned earlier, it will be in your best interest to give your credit card company (or companies) a call to let them know of your travel plans. You may also consider exchanging some bills ahead of time so that it’s one less thing you’ll need to run around to do when you land.
According to a blog on TheDiscoverer.com about how much cash you should travel with, it’s important to research your destination, research your card or bank, make a budget for your trip and put aside or plan for an emergency fund “just in case.”
Additionally, you may want to consider paying off some of your upcoming statements ahead of time. Although you should be able to find a working internet connect just about anywhere you travel—Murphy’s law says that the connection can go down at any time.
Make sure to check in often with your agency, facilitators, local hosts, family, and friends. Know that you are not alone in your adoption journey or your travels. There are many people willing to help you. Additionally, it’s nice to talk with those who know you best and who would be there for you in a minute if you were closer than a plane ride away.
You’re going to find yourself becoming very familiar with a mix of adoption-related professionals, physicians, and even courts during your time away. That checklist you had before you left? Make sure you have it in hand and work with your agency to ensure you are following the procedure as needed to work through the legal paperwork in order to finalize your adoption and work toward obtaining visas and other paperwork that will be required for you and your child to return home. Keep a list of important names and numbers with you at all times.
Family and friends aren’t the only ones you’ll need to check in with—you’re going to need to confirm adoption finalization with local medical professionals, government agencies, and your airline.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, adoption is unpredictable and your expected departure date could change at any time. Most airlines are pretty reasonable if you explain to them your situation and will work with you to help to make your return trip as painless as possible. In our case, since we wound up staying longer than anticipated, due to a court shutdown and a transportation strike, after a few calls to our airline they agreed to waive some fees after I explained our situation.
Last but not least, make plans with someone back home to meet you at the airport so that you’ll have some help shuttling your family home after an already long day of travel. While you may experience a perfect day of travel—you may not.
From start to finish, preparing for travel when internationally adopting requires you to be flexible at all times. While you may take all the precautions, that doesn’t mean that something unexpected may not happen at any point during your travels. Be sure to keep your paperwork nearby, checklists handy, and be ready to switch gears on a dime if required. Most importantly, take a deep breath and remember the reason for your travels in the first place. Take time to enjoy each new moment with and getting to know your child. Realize that everything else, no matter how chaotic or annoying, will eventually be a story for the books to tell when you’re all home together.
Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.
Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and an adoption advocate. When she’s not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.