I will never forget the day we “got the call.” We were down in Louisville celebrating Christmas with my husband’s family when my cell phone rang. On the other end of the line, our agency’s China Program coordinator joyfully exclaimed, “You have Travel Approval! In nine days you will meet your son in China!” I promptly dropped the phone.

Though of course we had been dreaming, preparing, list-making, and re-list-making, the actuality of journeying halfway around the world to meet our son for the first time hit me like a ton of bricks. Both I and my husband had traveled extensively–even backpacking through Ecuador for our honeymoon–but adoption travel? That was a horse of a different color. Two adoptions from two different countries later I have learned what to pack and perhaps, more importantly, what to buy in the country. Here’s what you need to know:


Even if you leave everything else behind, the most important item to pack is your paperwork. For both adoptions, we bought a waterproof A4 (legal) size accordion file. Not only will it keep photocopies of your visa, passport, Travel Approval, Letter of Acceptance, and 1-800A organized, but while in-country you will receive several essential documents pertaining to your new child’s adoption. Bonus tip: Hotels will have safes in the room to lock these important documents away, but while traveling, plan to carry your paperwork with you in a backpack.


Depending on the time of year you travel, this might be a tricky one. We traveled in January to Taiyuan, where it was 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and then to the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, where it was 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Plan to bring a couple of pairs of pants or long skirts and clothes you can layer. Packing cubes are a great way to save space, and if you have to journey between two different climates, you can simply pull out the clothes you need. Most hotels have laundry service, but packing a small container of Tide and a clothesline is a great way to wash and re-wear the clothes you bring.

Worried about what to pack for your child? Chances are the height and weight measurements the orphanage sent will be incorrect, so plan to bring clothes for your child that you can fold over (like sweat pants or leggings) or clothing the child may wear short or long (like dresses). Bonus tip: Local markets will have a good number of affordable children’s shops and clothing available. In fact, the pajamas in China are cut differently than the ones here in the U.S. so buying your child Chinese PJ’s can help ease the transition both in-country and when you come home.


Depending on the location of your child’s orphanage and the time of year travel, you might need sunscreen, bug repellent, and certain drugs to ward off malaria, traveler’s diarrhea, and altitude sickness. A great place to compose a good medical travel list is the Center for Disease Control’s website. Wondering what to bring for your child? Travel thermometers, Band-Aids, Tylenol, and cough medicine should be included. Bonus tip: Be sure to consult an international adoption doctor to receive a prescription for scabies cream and lice treatment should your new child need them while in-country.


How much food to bring really depends on how adventurous you are with new foods. For some families, it’s important to bring a jar of peanut butter, instant oatmeal, and granola and protein bars, but for others, the local cuisine will suffice. Most hotels offer a full Western menu for breakfast, and in many places, there are even 7-11s, McDonald’s and Pizza Huts. That said, part of the journey is to explore your new child’s culture, so be sure to ask your guide for some local food recommendations. As for your new child, a good idea is to bring some snacks from home to make the adjustment easier. While in-country we alternated between traditional rice crackers, which my son loved, and cheerios from home. Bonus tip: Depending on the age of your adopted child bring a few snack cups from home but plan to buy bottles, spoons, plastic plates, pacifiers, etc. while in the country. The plastic tastes different in China, and having those few elements from the birth country will help ease feeding time when you return home.


Second to paperwork, the most important thing to pack when journeying to meet your new child is toys. A lot will depend on the age of the child, but toys and activities designed to foster attachment are wonderful. Beach balls, balloons, crayons, stickers, nesting cups, board books, cloth dolls, and jump ropes are all easy to pack and light. Small electronics that play simple songs or say the numbers or letters in English are also good. Still need suggestions? Have a look at Theraplay for some simple games to play to foster attachment. Bonus tip: Just like the clothing markets, there are many shops with affordable toys in-country. We bought a cheap Duplo Lego set and some trucks which we played with for hours while in Guangzhou then left with the hotel for another family to use.


In addition to the above, families may want to think about bringing a carrier. Most carriers can hold up to 50 pounds, and they are a very good way to foster attachment. Umbrella strollers can be bought cheaply in-country, so plan to leave those at home. And don’t forget the power of your phone. Google translate is amazing, the XE Currency app is good for converting and calculating costs, and WeChat is used throughout China as the primary mode of text communication. Just don’t forget to pack your adapters and chargers!

Have you experienced adoption travel? What would you recommend bringing? What would you leave at home?


Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller, and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “is this really us?!” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.