Traveling to China

I will never forget the day we got the call. We were down in Louisville for Christmas with my husband’s family and a D.C. area code popped up on my phone. “Check your email,” she said. After months and months of waiting, between mounds upon mounds of paperwork in my inbox sat our Travel Approval from China. In nine days, we would meet our son.

Two adoptions, from two different countries later, and I have become an expert on what to bring with you on adoption travel and, perhaps more importantly, what you can buy there.


If you want, leave everything at home, but the one thing you should absolutely bring is your adoption paperwork. Make sure to have photocopies of your passport, your visas, your travel approval, your letter of acceptance, and your I-800A for your new child. We found bringing a large plastic legal sized accordion file helped keep track of our documents. Looking to save space? For both adoptions, I carried thumb drives with all our adoption information—from the complete home study to the travel approval. Chances are you won’t need them, but our thumb drive came in handy when our daughter’s orphanage offered to upload photos of our daughter’s first 18 months.


A lot depends on the age of your adopted child, but any toy that promotes bonding and attachment will be key. Think about things you can inflate—like balloons, beach balls, or soccer balls—which will take up less room in your suitcase. Stickers are great, Water Wow! (add water to complete painted pictures), stacking cups, small boxcars, and bubbles are good additions. Worried you won’t have enough? The Chinese Walmart is one of the most incredible stores you will visit. They literally have it all—clothes, diapers, shoes, toys, bottles, etc. We bought our son Legos to play with while we were in the country. The best part? Most hotels have playrooms so when it was time to return home, we just left the Legos for a future family to enjoy.


For the most comprehensive list of medical items to take, it is best to consult an international adoption doctor or a travel doctor prior to your trip. We took everything, from scabies cream to lice kits, thermometers, and band-aids. Much of the OTC medicines we have in America exist in China, but the dosage is different. I was glad to have the comforts of Tylenol, Sudafed, and Pepto-Bismol in our travel bags without having to find a chemist.


We took a lot of snacks for our first adoption from China. We had granola bars, peanut butter, cheerios, fruit snacks, the list went on and on. On our recent trip to India, to adopt our daughter, I brought only enough snacks for the plane ride. Here’s why: between the Chinese Walmart, your hotel, and local shops you can really find everything. From chips to chocolate, to even my daily dose of Starbucks, we bought, practically, everything there. If you’re not an adventurous traveler eater, it can be a good idea to bring some emergency granola bars but most hotels where you will stay cater to a full Western menu. Quick adoption tip: stock up on your child’s favorite snacks of the country. If your child is still on formula, be sure to buy some extra boxes while you’re there. When you return home, their favorite familiar treats can help ease the shock of transition. 


Since most trips are between 10-14 days I recommend packing 7 days’ worth of clothes. Packing cubes are a great way to save space! Most hotels have laundry service and we did a few loads in our bathroom with a small container of Tide and a clothesline I brought for such purposes. When packing, make sure everything in your wardrobe can go together. It can be hard if you are visiting two different climates so be sure to pack clothing you can layer. Worried about clothes for your newly adopted child? Height and weight can be out of date, or completely miscalculated, so bring clothing for your child that you can fold over or roll up. (Large safety pins were a huge help!) And don’t forget local markets have wonderful, affordable clothing and shoes for your new addition. We bought pajamas, pants, and shoes for our son.


Every family has a different miscellaneous list. Ours included hand wipes, diapers—which we should have bought in China—tissues, Tide to Go sticks, small umbrellas, a journal, and a Tula toddler carrier. The carrier was essential for getting around the streets and airport in a timely manner, and the bonus is that carriers promote attachment!


Although likely not at the top of the list, the right apps can help make your trip successful. The apps we really liked:

  1. Google Translate: seriously the best invention. Type in anything and Google Translate will convert it to any language.
  2. WeChat: message app used throughout China as the number one means of communication.
  3. XE Currency: converts currency in real time between U.S. Dollars and Chinese Yuan.
  4. WhatsApp: an easy way to communicate with family and friends back home. Works with wifi so no need for a cell phone plan.
  5. TinyScan: takes a picture of any document and converts it into a pdf. Great tool for keeping track of receipts or other paperwork.

However, the most important thing is to bring an adventurous spirit. Adoption travel is, and will be, like nothing you have experienced. Though it can be tough, be sure to take time and appreciate each day. Better yet, record it in a journal! These are the first days of your new life together as a family. That is the greatest, most awesomely wonderful, trip you will ever do.