What to Pack for an Adoption Trip

by Kate Hall
Originally Published: 
Two black and brown overfilled suitcases

We’ve taken three trips to China to adopt our three children. One of the most daunting tasks, aside from the obvious of bringing a new child into the family, is what to pack for an adoption trip.

Packing for a trip to adopt a child is nothing like a trip to tour a foreign country. For that I might pack some clothes, good walking shoes, a light jacket, granola bars, a camera and some Imodium AD. To adopt our children I wanted to take my entire house and cram it into my bag, but the fifty-pound weight limit barely covered the bulk of my snacks. Where do I put the rest of my stuff?

On our last trip in March 2012 to adopt our daughter, my husband and I took our two older sons, aged six and seven at the time. The trip lasted 17 days and covered four major Chinese cities.

Here’s an international adoption equation to memorize: Seventeen days in foreign country + new child who doesn’t speak English x probably doesn’t like you at first + probable illness – comforts of home = HOLY CRAP!

So we wanted to make our family’s time as comfortable as possible during the transition. The best way to plan for this time is to imagine every possible discomfort you can think of and assume it will happen…because it probably will.

Let’s start with the most obvious and important thing first:

1. Snacks. I love trying new foods in foreign countries. The key word is trying. After about two days of foreign food, I’m ready for the comforts of home, and I’m not talking KFC – although we did partake of the Colonel for at least three meals on our last trip. I mean granola bars, fruit snacks, and cookies. And because we have a picky eater seven of our meals consisted primarily of ramen noodles.

2. Medicine. What if you get sick? If? Ahahahaha! There’s no “if.” You will get sick. I’m pretty sure the chances of getting sick when adopting a child in a foreign country are about 896% higher than any other time. Pack some Zicam.

Pack every medicine for every possible ailment you can think of: upset stomach, constipation, headache, diarrhea, lice and scabies (we contracted scabies on two of our three trips). Bring it with you because even if you can buy the medicine there forget trying to read it, the dosages are in Chinese.

The last thing you want is to end up in a Chinese emergency room and receive a misdiagnosis like we did. Fortunately, our agency’s pediatrician arrived soon after and correctly diagnosed my son and me with strep throat and treated us with antibiotics. Whatever you do, bring antibiotics.

3. Clothes. Bring enough outfits for five days and a bathing suit if it’s warm. Bring laundry detergent to wash clothes in the bathroom sink for the days you get bored.

Don’t splurge on clothes for your new child. We thought our daughter might fit into 2T. She easily fit into 3T while those 18 months-sized clothes we brought along were useless. She walked around like a marshmallow busting out of her clothes until we got to a store.

4. Gifts. Gifts? It’s customary to give a gift to the orphanage director, the notary, and a bevy of other adoption officials, as well as the nannies at the orphanage and, of course, to the kids at the orphanage. Bring bags and tissue paper to save time and to avoid tape. Don’t worry about what gifts you buy because, as is customary, you’ll never see them being opened.

5. Paperwork. Don’t forget your paper work and passports. Pretty much everything depends on those, so they’re probably things you shouldn’t forget. And a Chinese-English dictionary is good to have. You probably won’t use it, but carrying it around with you at all times in case you get lost gives you a false sense of security that you’ll appreciate.

6. $8000 in cash. Not only are you a foreigner, but now you’re a foreigner with thousands of dollars in a money belt dangling around your waist. You can’t wait until day three when you can finally “GET THIS MONEY OFF ME!” and donate most of it to the orphanage.

7. Necessities for your flight. Consider what you’ll need for what may be the longest flight of your entire life. Our flights ranged from 13 to 24+ hours. At about hour six you feel like gouging your eyes out or picking all your skin off due to boredom and claustrophobia. Bring snacks, iPods, tablets, laptop and/or DVD player. A change of clothes is helpful if your luggage gets lost or you have an accident on the plane like I did.

Bring some lollipops for your child for when you have to wake them up to put their seatbelt on during turbulence or landing. When they scream bloody murder for 45 minutes straight and the flight attendant comes over and asks, “is there anything you can do to calm him down?” you have the option to give the flight attendant the finger and then pop a sucker in your kid’s mouth and pray it works.

8. Entertainment for your room. You will spend hours sitting in your room waiting, so make sure you bring something to entertain yourself and your child(ren), i.e. whatever device you play Angry Birds on. Don’t forget the plug adaptors. And bring your camera and video camera along with cords and batteries/chargers.

Families often stay in four- and five-star hotels complete with wifi, but you’re in a communist country, so if you want to blog, get a VPN (Virtual Private Network). And don’t forget to load Skype, especially if you’re a first time parent. It comes in handy when you need to call mom and ask her what in the heck to do because your child “WON’T EAT ANY VEGETABLES AND IS GOING TO DIE BEFORE WE EVEN GET HOME!” She’ll remind you that you didn’t touch a vegetable for the first eight years of your life and it’ll all be okay.

Bring a couple books and small toys for your new child – stacking cups are a must. We used them on all three trips. When my youngest is done playing with them, I’ll make them into a shrine. Just kidding, we’ll never stop using them.

9. Stroller/baby carrier. You’ll want to bring some kind of restraining device for your child when touring and getting around the airport. Make sure the maximum weight limit is above that of your child or you may be forced to abandon your carrier at Disneyland – Hong Kong as you watch your bundle of joy creep down your spouse’s back as the seat slowly falls out. And forget about a car seat; you won’t use one of those until you get back home.

10. A big heart. Bring a heart full of love, compassion and patience. Like labor before birth this will be one of the most difficult things you’ll ever experience, but the blessings will far, far outweigh the challenges.

This article was originally published on