For many international adoptees, the opportunity to travel to their birth country can be a tremendously powerful experience. Being able to immerse themselves in their culture of origin and interact with others who share the same culture can be a very grounding experience that helps solidify their self-identity as an adoptee. Before traveling to one’s birth country, there are some things to consider, as well as things to keep in mind during your travels.
Pack light, but consider the climate.
If you are traveling to your birth country, the opportunity to explore a variety of towns, cities, and areas in your country can be a rewarding experience. In order to best move about in a country you are not familiar with, try to pack as light as possible. There are many youtube tutorials and articles on the web about how to pack in order to backpack through Europe or other long-term travel with minimal luggage that can be great resources on how to cram the most “stuff” possible into your luggage, as well as what to consider leaving at home.
In many countries, in order to move from one region to another, you will need to take whatever public transportation is available. Having to lug five suitcases onto a bus multiple times could really put a damper on your experience. That being said, make sure you do thorough research of the climate and weather conditions of your home country in the time you will be traveling. Winter in Russia? You’re going to need warm clothing. Rainy season in South or Central America? A rain jacket. If you are moving about the country, it is possible the weather will change significantly as you move from one area to another. Make sure to do your research so you are able to pack the gear that will be most helpful to you while you travel.
Consider a tour.
Many international adoption agencies, as well as other travel agencies and companies, have tours for adoptees returning to their birth country. The advantage of a tour, especially one specifically designed for international adoptees, is that it takes the planning off of your plate and allows you to fully immerse yourself in the culture. If your lodging, transportation and even food are already arranged for you, that’s fewer decisions for you to have to make. Returning to your birth country can be a very emotional experience. Going with a tour can help remove some of the stress for you. Additionally, if you are traveling with other international adoptees, you will undoubtedly be surrounded by people who understand your experience and why this trip is so important to you.
Expect the unexpected.
International travel of any kind, particularly to a developing country, can bring many surprises, both good and bad. Once when traveling in Costa Rica, I had the pleasure of sharing a bus ride with not only a number of locals but also multiple chickens. Really. Not something I would have anticipated. Weather can change, flights can get delayed or canceled, sites you may have wanted to travel to could be unexpectedly closed or inaccessible. Try to adapt the mentality that you are up for whatever the ride brings you and that you can roll with the punches.
Manage your Expectations.
Along the same lines, manage your expectations of what this trip will be like. Many adoptees idealize their birth countries and imagine that traveling there will be an other-worldly experience. Often, they set themselves up for disappointment if it is anything but perfect. You may find yourself overwhelmed, underwhelmed, disoriented or just plain not having a great time on your trip. Have a positive attitude, but understand that like any new experience, you can’t predict what your trip to your birth country is really going to be like. Also, if you have made plans to meet up with any agency officials, foster parents, orphanage workers, or even members of your birth family, manage your expectations for these interactions as well. You may think you will instantly feel a deep connection to these people who are such an important part of your life’s story, but that may not be the case. Pre-arranged meetings might fall through altogether. Don’t set yourself up for devastation by idealizing any of the people you might be planning to meet. Remember, they are human just like you and this may also be an emotional experience for them.
Get travel insurance.
I highly recommend purchasing travel insurance through a reputable broker. Sometimes tour companies, airlines or third country booking sites provide their own option for travel insurance. Before choosing the provider of your travel insurance, read the fine print. What do they consider an acceptable reason for needing to cancel all or a portion of your trip? What percentage of your trip cost will they refund? How can you contact them while you are abroad? Look online for reviews, or consider talking to whomever provides your car, rental or homeowners insurance. Even if they do not sell travel insurance themselves, they will undoubtedly have a recommendation of reputable sources to purchase it. You never know what life will bring: if you get in a car accident and break both your legs a week before you are supposed to leave for Thailand, are you really going to want to have to travel if you can’t even walk? Though it can be incredibly disappointing to have to cancel a planned trip to your birth country, if you have travel insurance, you can at least recoup some of your investment to plan a trip at a later date.