You may remember that my husband and I traveled with our three children (ages 9, 7, and 4) to bring our newest son home at the end of 2014. To make our trip as successful as possible, we did a lot of planning and preparation ahead of time.
We talked with our children beforehand. A lot. This included talking quite a bit about what to expect during our trip. We discussed the travel, plane ride, hotel, sights, sounds, food, and smells of China. If you haven’t been to China before, I recommend this book to prepare. While there, we reminded them what was going to be happening each day so there weren’t any big surprises. We also made sure to explain a lot about how our new son may react on Family Day, so they were prepared for a wide range of emotions and behaviors. We asked them to take things slowly, being sure to not touch him a lot at first. We talked at length about how important it was for their new brother to learn who mommy and daddy were. They were supposed to be playmates only, and they knew not to meet any of his physical or emotional needs. They were also tasked with the job of videoing and taking pictures during Family Day while we tried to comfort our newest little guy.
We packed for all situations. I packed a lot of extras that I wouldn’t have if just my husband and I were traveling. We took a lot of snacks and food that we knew would be comforting to them. I packed extra clothes for different weather situations. We also took a large variety of medications for them, including ibuprofen, benadryl, antibiotics, prescription allergy meds (to combat the pollution), etc. We included a stash of melatonin to help with sleep regulation. I packed some of their clothes and supplies in all of the checked luggage in case we lost any of the bags. This made sure that even if only one bag made it, they at least had a few days of clothes. We packed many small toys, play dough, and other entertainment in checked luggage. (We also packed a backpack for our new son, loaded with toys that were just for him.)
Electronic entertainment was employed. “Screens” were a lifesaver for us. We gave all of the children early Christmas gifts and loaded the new devices up with games (that didn’t need internet), a variety of music, our homeschool memory work songs, and books on tape. I also put several e-books on my iPhone to read aloud, but we never ended up using them. The in-flight movies were a wonderful addition to the long flights too because they helped break up the 15 hours.
We planned with travel in mind. For the flights, I packed each child a backpack with the following:
- Their loaded-up electronic devices, chargers, and headphones.
- Individual snacks in the original packaging, inside of a plastic baggie for easy access. (I also prepped a second snack bag inside our checked luggage for the plane ride home).
- Travel pillows.
- Their favorite blanket.
- Travel-size tissues.
- Travel-size wet ones.
- Travel-size hand sanitizer.
- An empty water bottle to fill with drinks.
- A full change of clothes in a gallon-size plastic baggie.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste.
- A few games, including a travel scavenger hunt.
- Anything else that they wanted to fit, without making the backpack too heavy.
Also, we booked flights that were non-stop. It took extra planning, but it made all the difference in the world. We had to drive a little extra, but we all agreed that layovers with four children weren’t something we wanted to deal with.
We tried to be realistic and flexible while creating a comfortable routine in-country. While we were in China, we made sure to be realistic about our expectations for them. We didn’t overload their days with a ton of events, but still did plenty of sightseeing and shopping. We tried to create some semblance of a routine each day, allowing ample time for sleep. But we also went with the flow, as is needed when traveling with children! I highly recommend renting a family apartment at the Garden Hotel – we had plenty of space and even had a microwave, washer, and dryer! It offered a safe and welcoming “home” to come back to each day.
Being in China together didn’t always mean sticking together. My husband and I often split up with the kids, especially when adoption paperwork was required. I went alone with our son to the medical appointment. Also, we separated to get some of the children out for awhile. Our new son did better in the apartment, but the other children wanted to experience China! We tried to be as accommodating as we could so that all of the children had their needs met. We also did go out as a family, but kept our trips brief.
A positive attitude helped us see the beauty. We had a few tough situations, but the trip was overwhelmingly positive. Even with lots of travel, missing sleep, a few tantrums, and some picky eaters, we are so glad we took everyone. The children have memories that we can never recreate: they had the opportunity to try new foods, practice their Mandarin, see amazing sights, and fall in love with China. They also learned many valuable lessons during that trip, and got to experience life in a new and different way. They were able to witness their new brother join our family; and our new son got to meet his whole family right away. The older children offered a lot of comic relief when needed, and I think they helped our new son feel more comfortable.
We can’t wait to go back. Our children talk almost daily about their return trip to China! We don’t know when it will be, but we know we’ll go back. In the meantime, we are keeping up with our Mandarin studies so they will be even more prepared. We look forward to going back together and are so grateful for our time in China!