Packing Tips for International Adoption Travel: Part 1

Read Part TWO of this series here

Many countries now require two trips to complete an international adoption (three in our case).  In light of that, this will be a two part series on packing for international adoption travel.  Part 1: travel without the child and Part 2: travel with the child.  I will write Part 2 after we've come home with our little man and it will be linked at the top of this post. 


I once interviewed for a detail oriented administrative position and was asked the question, "If I were to tell you right now that you would be flying to Orlando in the morning, what types of things immediately come to mind?"  There was no travel involved in this position, so I immediately began rattling off questions: Why am I going? What should I bring? Will the weather be hot or cold? Am I going in a group? How am I getting to the airport? etc etc etc.

The purpose of the question was to see how much of a "detail-oriented person" I was.  Well, I'm a very detail oriented and you bet I got the job.

Once John and I got our first travel date (okay and a while before then) I put my detail oriented brain to work to figure out the very best way to pack for our trip.  Now disclaimer: this was my first time flying internationally, so seasoned travelers may have even better tips for you, but here's what we did and what worked for us.

The parameters: We could each take one carry-on roller board suitcase, one piece of hand luggage, and one checked bag.

Luggage considerations:
  • One of our checked bags had to be used for orphanage donations like medicines and clothing. 
  • Our carry on bags of course had to comply with TSA regulations.  
  • I had to fit my DSLR camera in my carry on
  • We needed both our luggage and ourselves to be arranged in such a way that would make security quick and easy
  • We needed to include entertainment for our long flights and food, especially for me because I have a food sensitivity which means I can't eat a lot of airline food. (Note: you can request a special meal a few days before the flight if you want.  I didn't this time simply because it was on the bottom of my to-do list and just didn't get done.) 
Here's how we packed:

The best thing I found online was this article in which a flight attendant shows how to pack for a week using only your carry on.  Why not check your clothing you may ask.  Two words: lost baggage. While we only packed about 2/3 of our clothing in our carry on bags, we knew that if our bags got lost somehow, we'd be okay.  We might still be up the creek, but I was going to make sure we had a paddle.  (In the end we made it fine, but it was nice not to worry.)

Read the article for the how-to. Here's what we put in our carry-on bags:
For those who are making their first trip abroad like me, there is a difference between a plug adapter and a convertor.  Get one of each. We took one convertor and two adapters and didn't fight over plugs once.

Medicines to take: Advil/Tylenol, Imodium (you never know), a laxative (again, you never know), and a sleep aid. It is also a good idea to take a travel first aid kit, in case you cut yourself shaving like we both did.  Twice.

Wear you bulkiest clothing on the plane.  Wear socks and shoes, but take your shoes off on the plane for comfort as your feet will swell. Ladies, wear a tank with a shelf bra instead of a bra with under-wire.  You will thank me.  I also recommend wearing a long, soft skirt instead of jeans if you can.  For sleeping on the plane, it will feel more like a blanket on your legs than pants will. If you can avoid it, don't wear a belt (security) and don't wear shoes with any metal in them (security again).

Take dark clothing so you can wear it more often.  We also took a travel sized packet of Tide in case we needed to hand wash a few things and line dry.  We never did, but again- the option is nice.

Put your liquids quart bag in an outside pocket so you can easily remove it for security.  On that note, make sure your electronics are easily accessible as well.

Surprise: You do NOT need to remove your camera from your carry on for security.  Only computers, tablets, and smart phones. 

Surprise: yes you can take a disposable razor in your carry on.  

Since we had most of our necessities in our carry on bags, and only needed one suitcase for our donated items, we had a whole extra suitcase to use.  We put some overflow clothes in there (which we never wore, actually), and then mostly food and water.  Our facilitator took us to the grocery store when we arrived, but I knew I wasn't going to be in much of a mindset to be grocery shopping when we got off the plane.  I was right.  We got some necessities but the food we brought was invaluable.

We did not go out to eat for two reasons: 1) To save money. We ate for about the same amount as our weekly grocery budget at home.  Adoption is expensive enough, so save where you can!  2) I have a food sensitivity and I just did not feel confidant about being able to communicate that in Russian.  We ended up having a third reason which was 3) we basically slept all day when we weren't doing adoption stuff and were awake most of the night.  Thank you time change! So we did not have energy to eat out; a trip to the kitchen in our apartment was hard enough!

We felt great the whole time we were there; no food issues or stomach issues because we drank tainted water or anything.  We found a grocery store in walking distance and went twice to buy groceries and water.  John rocked figuring out the currency exchange and requesting two bags in Russian.  I stood nervously by hoping we weren't looking like dumb Westerners.  :-) 
And last but certainly not least, our hand baggage.  In addition to our carry-on suitcases, we each took a messenger style bag with entertainment and snacks for the plane trips.

We wore those super cool under-the-clothing money pouches with our money and passports in them. John refuses to let me call them fanny packs. Our agency gave us the good advice to clean out our wallets and keep a small amount of money in them so we would not have to pull up our shirts to get in our secret fanny packs when we had to pay for something.

I also read somewhere that it is a good idea to take an empty re-usable water bottle with you and fill it up after security at the airport.  This was a great idea and we were both glad we had the bottles to take with us in Russia when we went sight-seeing too.
I think that's it!  If you have any additional travel advice, especially for traveling with a little one, give it to me! I'm always looking for tips to make that final trip a breeze.



  1. Jillian, I'm so glad you stopped by the Overflow so I could find you here. My visit to your blog was a divine appointment :) Adoption is a huge PASSION of mine. When I was 14 I watched some news feature on orphans in Romania and I have wanted to adopt a child ever sense. Then, seven years ago, when my thirdborn was 6 months old and we were seeking God's wisdom in our family planning, the Lord gave me a vision of a small brown boy and whispered to my heart- here's your son. Ok, so now I sound CRAZY. Long story short- we've waited for what feels like forever. In the meantime, God's given us five children by birth and still continues to affirm that He's handpicked a small brown boy for us somewhere in the world. The journey's been crazy as He has begun to reveal where our son might be. And some days I think I might pop waiting for the YES. Our children storm the throne and beg God to bring home their brother- wherever he is. Ok, that's a lot of babble- but such a thrill to meet a sister in Christ with a "burden" like mine. I'm so excited for you as you bring home your little one and begin to soak up every moment with your new son! Praying for you as you travel!

    Thanks, too, for that amazing testimony on fasting- love this line- Fasting is something you can do when it feels like you can't do anything else. I needed to hear that, too!

    Blessings from a new friend in Iowa!

    1. Alicia thanks for sharing your story! You do not sound crazy at all! I always felt that God was leading me to adopt as well and in my mind I pictures these beautiful Asian eyes. I thought they would be on a little girl, which I was wrong about and we don't know our son's ethnic heritage, but he definitely looks like he has some Asian heritage because of his beautiful eyes! Such a blessing that God gives us these little pictures of our children to guide us forward in his path. I LOVE that your family already prays for this child, even before you know who he is. I know his life will be sustained by those prayers until you get to him.

      Thank you again for your wonderful comment! I pray God continues to guide you step by step on your adoption journey, even in the earliest stages. xo from Michigan! :-)

  2. Hi Jill! My husband and I are in the process of adopting a little boy too. We recently came across a little boy who spoke to us when we saw his picture. I would love to talk with you with you and ask you a few questions about adopting a specific child. My email is [email protected]. If you are willing to give me some advice I would greatly appreciate it!

    I love reading about your adoption story and journey! You're family will be blessed with your amazing little boy.


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