International adoption: not your ordinary travel packing list

Our international family!
Me, Arie, John.
 I spent a lot of time in conversation with my pal Google before packing for each of our adoption trips. I read a lot of blog posts about packing.  I even wrote my own after our first trip! After traveling three times to Russia and back again I experienced a lot of trial and error and had ample opportunity to hone my packing skills.

If you would like to read a detailed adoption travel packing list I suggest doing as I did and walking your fingers over to your favorite search engine. Today I am going to share all the tips I didn't read.  And a few I read once or twice but are too good not to repeat.

Here's my slightly less than ordinary adoption travel packing tips (most is toddler-adoption specific):

  • Bring chocolate. Adoption travel is exhausting and emotional.  You will appreciate a hot cup of tea (or coffee) and a piece of your favorite chocolate to much on at the end of the day. It is wonderful to have a treat waiting for you back at your apartment or hotel. 
  • These Cliff energy bars are awesome. I have tasted a few energy bars in my time and they mostly taste like chalk. Not these!  The peanut butter and chocolate ones are my favorite.  There will be times when you have to skip a meal and these things are the perfect answer to your hunger.  I just bought ours at Target. 
  • If you are going somewhere where you can't drink the water, pack a few water bottles in your luggage. You may not be able to get to a grocery store until the day after your arrival, especially if you land in the evening. You will need water to drink and brush your teeth! 
  • Even if you are adopting a toddler who appears to have perfectly good teeth for chewing, bring those little squeezable packs of baby purees! I speak from experience.  We brought 6 and I was wishing the entire time for more.  You can always buy purees in country but these packs are so convenient and you can get some veggies into your little one, as opposed to just fruit purees which was all Arie would eat for us. 
  •  Some little kids have tiny little furnaces glowing inside of them.  If you travel in winter, pack a few t-shirts for your child and not just sweaters. While we were bundled up in long sleeves and sweaters, he was happy in pants and an undershirt.  If you are a new parent, you can generally tell how warm a child is by the flush of their cheeks and the warmth of their hands. 
  • Squish your bulky clothing (like a child's winter jacket) and diapers down in vacuum bags! I bought a type at Target that don't actually require a vacuum, you just put the diapers in there and roll the air out of the bag. They have special vents that force the air out without allowing it back in. We fit a lot of diapers in our luggage this way! Plus, they are perfect for putting dirty laundry in when you are going home.
  •  I bought this LANDET toy farm from IKEA because it folds totally flat (for packing), folds out for play, and also folds into a box which you can also use as a toy boy! Even when you are traveling, it is nice to tidy up and put all the toys away at the end of the day.  Even children like coming into a clean play space and taking out all the toys themselves in the morning.
    Photo from IKEA.com
  • You know how on Christmas little kids spend more time playing with wrapping paper and boxes than the actual toys? Well, Arie spent more time playing with empty water bottles and our luggage zippers (not to mention trying to play with electrical outlets and cleaning supplies *sigh*) than he did with the toys we brought.  So don't over-pack.  We brought: the farm above, a "take along Thomas" toy, and a zoo themed Duplo set.  It was enough for a week.
  •  Sea-Bands and Dramamine. Bring both. 
  • Take your complimentary barf bag off the plane and stash it in your pocket. Driving in North America is different than driving in many other parts of the world. You may need it.  Your child may need it too. 
  • Also pack a little hand towel in case your child pukes in your lap.  I did not bring a towel but I borrowed one from our apartment and spread it over Arie's lap when we drove just in case I was not able to catch all his vomit. 
  • Put cartoons in your child's native language on your phone or kindle or ipad etc. We used an app where we could save them from youtube for free.  I think the app was called "youtube free" actually. This saved my sanity more than once on our plane ride home.  There is something comforting for your child about hearing their native language when you've been babbling to them in English all day. 
  • When you are traveling with your child take only: 
    • a stroller (we used a $15 dollar umbrella stroller from Target and it was perfect.) 
    • a diaper bag
    • ONE rollerboard with a change of clothes for everyone
    • If you take anything else also bring extra hands. 
  • We chose our seats ahead of time and chose to sit with me and Arie on the window side and John right across the aisle. John was the "walker" who took Arie up and down the airplane aisles every hour while I was the seat entertainer. 
    • PRO of having your child by the window: they can look out the window and play with the window shade. 
    • CON of having your child by the window: there's nothing to see out the window anyway and they might clock you in the face when you tell them to stop playing with the window shade. Luckily toddlers aren't that strong. ;-)
    • If I did it again, I would still chose a window seat. 
  •  Parenting in a foreign country, with jet lag, in a new place that is not child-proofed is really hard. My mantra was, "This will end. This will end." Compared to parenting in Moscow, parenting at home is a hundred times easier.  Seriously. Don't get freaked out if you feel overwhelmed while you are still in-country. In many ways, that's the hardest part. 
  • Look up the emergency numbers for your country before you go just in case! 
  • Go outside, sight-see, and take pictures of everything even if you are so jet-legged you feel like you might fall asleep in the elevator down to the lobby. Your pictures will be some of your most prized possessions when you get home.
  • Give yourself so much grace. Give your partner so much grace. And give your child so much grace. You will all make mistakes and you will all be okay. Enjoy as much as you can. And for the rest, remember- this will end! :-)


  1. Anonymous12/02/2012

    Great advice! Although I would recommend buying chocolate out of the U.S. because it is 100% more delicious, specially in Europe! Good to hear that parenting is less trying once home. I hope the vomiting has ceased as well! Lol.

  2. Hi Jill! I've been following your blog for a few weeks now, as my husband and I are looking into adoption. We've unfortunately been hit with infertility, and feel like our hearts (and faith!)are swaying us towards adoption. I was wondering if you would be able to email and let me know about the agency you used and how the initial process went for you and your husband. I am so thankful I stumbled across this BEAUTIFUL adoption story. Arie is one beautiful, perfect little boy!


    [email protected]

  3. Hi Jill,
    We have one amazing 9-yo boy through Snowflakes embryo adoption and are leaving in 10 days to go meet & bring home his new 3.5-yo sister waiting for us in Poland! We didn't know about embryo adoption or adoption from Poland either time we started exploring what our next family growing step would be. God surprised us with both possibilities just at the right time. In fact, it was the Polish heritage from our son's genetic that made us research a little harder into Eastern Europe to find options we had missed before when we decided that a 4th attempt at embryo adoption (after several losses) was not the best fit for us.
    I am gobbling up anything I can for packing without over-packing! And seeing embryo adoption on your blog heading was a beautiful encouragement to me tonight! Thank you!


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