I'm going to apologize in advance for the amount of detail in this post- I'm writing it for me, one month ago. At that time I was a frantic, excited and stressed out mama trying to pack her entire household for a trip across the world. This included packing for a child I knew only a little about and had yet to meet. Cue the list-making, and googling, and random trips to Target for that one thing I forgot.
If you are an adoptive mama about to make that trip, bless you! I hope this is helpful. I realize everyone has their own preferences, but here's how we packed our bags.
Travelers were myself, my husband, our 7 year old son, 3 year old daughter and we brought home our 2 year old daughter. My parents also came with us, but I'm only covering our family of 5 in this list.
You'll want to check your baggage allowances before you start packing. We were able to book humanitarian tickets through American Airlines (thanks to Adoption Airfare) which allowed us all up to a 50 lb. bag. The problem with that is that our domestic flights had much tighter restrictions on weight (35 lb. per bag) and only 1 carry-on. So, we needed to pack for the domestic flights, not the international.
If you're headed to China, be prepared to find conflicting or no information at all about the baggage allowances on domestic flights (I'm sorry!). There are also different requirements about where liquids and electronics go (checked bags vs. carry-ons- it was different every time!). The guides our agency provided were extremely helpful with this and there was definitely some packing/un-packing we had to do at check in, but we all got on the plane in the end.
• 1 medium rolling bag for Lissa's clothing (Here is the set we have)
• 1 small rolling bag for Shawn's clothing (Here is the set we have)
All of our luggage bags had expandable zippers which were super important because we really packed the small ones down! They worked like a charm, and I found that I really prefer the hard-side bags to the fabric ones.
• 1 backpack/bag for each person
Our backpacks were our carry-ons and all had a little something different in them.
Shawn's backpack (also carried our laptop, important paperwork, and DSLR camera)
My bag (this is typically my camera bag, but the lens insert and pockets worked really well)
Knox's backpack (iPad, headphones, activity books, pens/pencils, small toys, change of clothing/underwear, water bottle and snacks)
Liv and Lucy's backpacks (these are smaller sized so it meant they could carry them by themselves which was essential at a few points!) I packed Lucy's backpack in my larger luggage bag on the way there. Liv's bag included her iPad, headphones, small zipper bag of shopkins, coloring books/activity books, crayons, stickers, wipes, extra Pull-ups, water bottle and snacks)
• Stroller (ours has been discontinued, here is a similar)
I debated on bringing a stroller, but ultimately it was SO helpful- especially in the airport and on a few sightseeing days. We needed it most for our 3 year old (we carried our new daughter in a carrier most of the time). I would recommend buying one there if you are not bringing other children with you, and I also would not take a stroller that is too precious to you. There were a few moments we weren't sure if we'd see it at baggage claim, and in those moments I was really glad we'd brought our old umbrella stroller.
Not technically baggage, but carriers. :) We borrowed my sister's Tula and so we had two- one for each girl. These were so great- especially on the days when the stroller wasn't appropriate (hiking the Great Wall, for example) and we were SO glad we'd brought them. We love our Tula- very comfortable and fit our 2 and 3 year old well.
I bought these on a whim and they were so useful for us. I had seen a lot of recommendations for packing cubes, but they were more expensive than these bags and the compression aspect of the ones we used was great for diapers and clothing.
• Money Belt/Neck Wallets
Shawn and I wore these money belts from the time we took off in Lubbock to the time we landed back home (well, I guess we took them off while showering and sleeping, but you get it). They were fine, necessary, but annoying. My dad had a neck wallet- something I didn't even know existed- and I will definitely be purchasing one for our next overseas excursion because it seemed way more comfortable.
• Luggage tags
This might be an obvious, but I wanted to pass along a few tips. Make sure that every piece of luggage you bring (including carry-ons) has a luggage tag on it. We like to fill out the address with our home address and then put another card with our name and our hotel's address ON TOP OF IT for the flight over. We do this on trips longer than a few days, when there would be enough time for our bags to still arrive at our destination should they be lost or not on the correct flight. Once we receive them at our destination, we take the top tags off, so that our luggage now reads our home address.
Another thing to consider is your personal safety. We are very careful about what we put on our tags, since anyone can see that information. We only use 1 name, address, phone or email for all of our bags, and on the kids' backpacks, we even flipped the information over and wrote "over for info" on the card- just to ensure that wandering eyes couldn't associate our children with any address or name. We were also careful to make sure that the bags they were carrying did not have their names displayed on them (the girls' backpacks do have a monogram)- this is just a safety measure to prevent strangers from knowing their names.
We packed for only half the trip and did our laundry halfway through (our guide helped us find laundry service at 1/2 the price of of the super-expensive hotel laundry). This cut down majorly on what we needed to pack. I had read that laundry was cheap, but after sending clothing for all 5 of us to be laundered, it was still 150.00! I would do this again, but budget a bit differently. :)
I also did my best to make sure that every piece of clothing could be worn together. Helped me feel a bit less monotonous and Shawn dress the kids. I brought several matching outfits for the girls which also helped with dressing.
It was in the 70s the entire time we were in China (April), but it was also a lot more humid than we are used to in West Texas. So overall, we packed to warmly. Here's what was useful, though:
• 7 shirts (4 short sleeve/3 long sleeve)- I recommend bringing quick-dry materials. It was humid and rains off and on, so you need all the help you can get for your clothing to dry out.
• 7 pants or shorts
Knox and Shawn wore shorts every day, while the girls and I wore pants or leggings. It was hot and humid- so I could have gotten away with shorts or a dress- I just prefer jeans.
• 10 pairs of underwear, 1 bra, 3 bralettes, 1 sports bra
• 4 sets of pjs per kid (somehow these were dirty quickly), 2-3 Shawn and I (I brought yoga pants and wore those during the day too)
• 5 pairs of socks (the girls wore sandals or slip-ons most of the time, so they didn't need more than a couple pairs of socks)
• 2 pairs of shoes (MAX! This is a great way to create more luggage space. I ended up wearing my tennis shoes the entire time, except for when we went to the pool and the last few days in Guangzhou, where I wore sandals)
I was happy that I hadn't brought my "nice" tennis shoes so that I wasn't worried about how dirty they were getting! We walked at least a mile every day (not kidding)- so having tennis shoes was essential. These sandals are cheaper versions of the Sanuk brand. I bought the Sanuks several years ago and they broke in a few months. These have actually lasted several years! Also- you might get some looks from people in China about your sandals if you choose to wear them. Chinese people just don't really wear sandals and we were questioned a couple of times if we really wanted to wear ours or not that day :).
Knox's shoes (tennis shoes, Keens)
Liv and Lucy's shoes (sandals, slip-on shoes)
Estimating Lucy's sizes was tough and the shoes I brought her were a total miss- wayyyy too big. Thankfully, they didn't take up much space and we were able to find her a couple of pairs while we were there (there was an H&M in the mall in her city).
• Swimsuit & swim caps
Some pools in China require you to wear swim caps, so I bought these and packed them unopened just in case. We only swam in Guangzhou, and didn't need swim caps there, so I returned them once we got home.
• Rain jacket (we used these a few times and they didn't take up much space, so I was glad we brought them)
I am in love with this scarf and it was so great on the plane because it doubled as a blanket or pillow. I didn't wear it in-country though- it was too hot!
Baby Things/for Our New Daughter
You can buy diapers in China (they took us to Walmart immediately after meeting Lucy so we could buy the baby things we needed), but they were just as expensive in China and the compression bags we used really worked well to make them take up less space in the luggage- so I was glad we'd packed them. I estimated 3 a day and we still came home with some.
• Swim Diapers- only a few
• Wipes- we brought 4 or 5 packages of the sensitive (or unscented) kind in case Lucy had any reactions to fragrance. We used these for way more than just diaper changes!
We used Dr. Chambers at Children's of Alabama International Adoption Clinic to review our files when we received Lucy's referral. A week or so before our trip, she called in a few prescriptions to take with us for commonly seen issues in Chinese adoptees. There were a few creams and an antibiotic, which we ended up giving to Knox when he got sick on Gotcha Day. We also brought our favorite cough syrup, ibuprofen, allergy meds, powdered Pedialyte and Pepto for the kids.
Our pharmacist (a.k.a. Uncle Justin, who actually is a pharmacist) recommended this melatonin for the kids- and it was essential for us, especially those first few days getting over jet lag. We gave it to the kids at bedtime for the first few days, and on the long flights when it was time to sleep.
• Bib and plastic kid utensils
• Sippy Cup with straw (we actually bought this in China)
Lucy was used to drinking from bottles, but we found out quickly that she could also drink from a straw and bought one at Walmart there.
Light up toy (we had a microphone that lit up and played music that she loved- I think the lights were helpful in getting her attention and interest that first day), coloring book, crayons, stickers, stacking cups (great for bathtime, too!), small board books
• Small hair bands and bows (we are from Texas, duh!)
• Boogie wipes (these were super helpful as we brought a virus with us that Lucy quickly contracted and alllll the boogers ensued)
I should have known to bring these, but I forgot! Definitely something I wished I'd had for Lucy.
I packed a Kickee pants swaddle blanket in each of their backpacks, and they were perfect for the plane, stroller, and sleeping. They are very lightweight and breathable, but also fold down and aren't very bulky. Lucy still sleeps with hers every night.
• Safety pins
These are always useful and just in case the clothing we bought her was way too big, I knew these would help.
Toiletries/Meds for Adults
• All the medication we might need- I took everything out of boxes and labeled them well. Tums, allergy meds, Tylenol, melatonin, activated charcoal (this is helpful if you feel someone has had food poisoning)
• Essential oils and diffuser (this one is smaller and great for travel)
The oils and diffuser are some of our "normals"- we used the oils for various things- upset tummies, headaches, general mood lifters and sleep. It was nice to keep the diffuser running in our hotel room so it smelled nice and was relaxing.
• Toothbrushes & toothpaste (including one for Lucy with fluoride-free toothpaste)
• Travel size containers of all shampoos, body wash, hair products, etc.
If there was a travel size of something, I brought it! This was super helpful with space-saving. Dry shampoo was a MUST for me and this is my favorite kind- I found the travel version at Walmart.
• Makeup essentials
I wore my tinted moisturizer , my favorite mascara , and chapstick most days. We did need nail scissors for Lucy (I actually use these and am obsessed with them! They took them away from me in Hong Kong because they weren't in my checked luggage and I immediately came home and bought a replacement pair). I also brought my favorite mama self-care eye cream which boosted my jet-lagged self on several days. Small things like this were a great way for me to feel like I was still "me" during two straight weeks of no alone time.
• Sunscreen- we didn't pack this but our travel group friends shared. This was definitely needed on some sightseeing days where we were outside most of the day.
• Deoderant, Gold Bond powder (it's hot and humid!)
• Curling Iron or Flat Iron (Converter needed. No need to bring hairdryer- they are in the hotels)
• Qtips, cotton balls
• Kleenex travel packs (you will need to keep these in your daily backpacks for squatty pottys)
• Travel Converters
It is super important that you get converters and not just adapters- as China's voltage is different from the US. We ordered several of these on eBay and they worked great. I've also seen people recommend bringing a power strip, which we definitely could have utilized at times, but we were fine without- even with 2 iPads, a laptop, phones and chargers.
We brought two iPads for the kids with pre-downloaded videos (you can do this for free on Netflix) and games. I also wish we would have downloaded some episodes of Elmo in Mandarin from YouTube- Lucy loves those!
• Headphones and headphone splitter
We brought 3 pairs of headphones total- 2 pairs of wireless bluetooth headphones (for the girls- we have found we like the wireless ones better because no one can chew on the cord and ruin them...not that that's happened or anything...) and 1 wired pair (Knox's old headphones), with this splitter so that the 2 wireless headphones could watch the same iPad. This worked really well in the hotel room, but we found the bluetooth headphones did not work on the plane with their in-flight video system. This was okay because they provided earbuds on the plane- except the girls could not wear the earbuds- they were just too big to fit in their ears. So, I would have preferred 3 sets of old school, wired headphones. :)
China blocks many of the websites we needed to keep friends and family updated- specifically any form of social media (besides WeChat), and so to access those, you will need a VPN. We had a friend set us up on all our devices, but it's good to have at least 2 downloaded to your phone/laptop/iPads BEFORE you leave. When the one our friend set us up (a private one) didn't work, we used Betternet and it was great. Just download it from the app store.
• International phone plan
This was something we'd decided we didn't need, until our international adoption doctor recommended it. She said, "what happens if you get stuck at a hospital somewhere and don't have any way to reach anyone?"- and that sealed the deal for me. We just called our provider and got a temporary international plan for one of our phones. We did actually end up using it a few times for calls or directions, so I'm glad we had it.
As I said earlier, WeChat is pretty much the only social media in China. They use it for everything- texting, renting a bike and even paying. So go ahead and download it and create a profile. You will use it to talk to your guides and your travel group. I WISH I would have asked Lucy's foster mother to friend me on WeChat so I could have stayed connected with her. One of my biggest regrets for sure.
• Battery backup charger
My mom brought a backup battery charger and it came in clutch when one of our phones was about to die.
• Downloaded music
We have a "Sleep Playlist" that we play for our kids every night when putting them to bed on Spotify, and so we downloaded it to our phones before we left. I also downloaded this album- "A Little Mandarin" which has some familiar children's music in Chinese. I wish I had downloaded more just to enjoy while we were hanging out in our hotel room.
• Google Translate
This app was super handy when we needed to read a menu, read a street sign, or try to communicate with a shop owner. Must download!
• List of waiting games
You'll spend a lot of time waiting- in an airport, like, van, etc. and if you are bringing kids, you will need some entertainment. I kept this list on my phone of games that required nothing but kept the kids entertained:
I Spy / Simon says / Thumb wrestling / Would you rather / Two truths and a lie / Telephone / Rock Paper Scissors / Alphabeth Game- My name is Alice. My husbands name is al. We come from Alabama, where we sell apricots / 20 questions- guess the animal or person
• Laundry hamper
This was suggested by another adoptive mom who had just been to China and it was genius. We took this one and packed it into our luggage bag. It was super helpful to have when you're in 1 hotel room with 5 people and all their dirty clothes.
• Coffee survival kit
This was one of my favorite "pamper me" items. I am a caffeine addict- meaning I will literally get a headache if I don't have a cup of coffee in the morning. Sad but true! It's also just a little comfort item. So, I researched the best instant coffee, and put several packets of it, a baggie of palm sugar, and powdered creamer all inside a sandwich-sized ziploc bag with some plastic spoons. My little "survival kit" came in handy several mornings/evenings when I wasn't able to run down to the lobby to get some coffee and was a familiar taste of home.
• Water bottles
This is just something our family does on every trip. I packed the kids each an empty Contigo water bottle (found them cheapest at SamsClub auctions! They're not always there, so here is another link) that we filled up after we went through security at the airport. You can't drink the water in China, which means we were either buying bottled water or using the complimentary ones at the hotel, and having these water bottles meant we always had something to keep us hydrated. Shawn and I both brought Kleen Kanteen insulated bottles and loved them because we could do coffee or water. The loops on the top of all the bottles we took were handy when we had a lot to carry- it was easy to tie them on to a backpack.
Yes, some of this was just for personal comfort, but we also brought a package of Dum-Dums specifically for Lucy on Gotcha Day. I had read that suckers were a great way to say "hello", and that the sucking motion would help soothe her as well. So you better believe I packed those in her backpack! She could have cared less about them on Gotcha Day but they did come in handy several times during our trip.
• Dish soap and dish brush
I brought a small travel-sized bottle of dish soap and it was so handy when I needed to wash our water bottles, bibs, or even treat a stain on clothes. I just forgot a small dish brush! So I had to use a washrag most of the time, haha.
• Laundry detergent
We've had this concentrated laundry detergent for several years now and it was really handy when I needed to wash a few things before we were able to send our laundry out. Mind you, it was very humid where we were so it literally took DAYS for things to dry in our hotel room.
• Clif bars
Ya'll, we lived on Clif bars! The food was great in China, but there were a lot of moments where we were in-between meals and everyone was getting hangry. I bought a large pack at Sams and we ate every last one. Knowing my kids were also getting some protein in their systems and not just a ton of sugar was great too- and it kept them full until mealtime. Lucy actually liked these as well- especially the banana ones (she has a thing for bananas!) I also brought some Z bars for the kids since they don't always eat the larger bars.
Things to buy in China
There are many opportunities to go to Walmart or a local grocery store to buy things you might need. Our guides took us in both Guiyang City and Guangzhou, but we were also able to find them on our own after asking the hotel concierge for directions.
• Bottled Water
Again, you can't drink the water in China (brushing teeth is ok), so you will probably want to get a case of water. Don't overdo it though- every hotel we stayed at would supply us with 3 new bottles every day.
• Paper towels
3 kids and 2 adults in 1 hotel room. Spills happen. I wish I would have just had a couple rolls of paper towels!
• Sippy cups (if your child doesn't like what you brought)
They didn't have a huge selection in China, but we were able to find one with a straw that Lucy could use well once we realized she did not need to be drinking from the bottle we were given by her foster mother. If there had been any indication that she needed to continue to use it for emotional support, we would have been glad to continue using it- but she saw our other kids' water bottles and immediately forgot about the bottle.
• Crackers & Snacks
We bought Lucy drinkable yogurt (which she loves and is super popular there), rice crackers and several other snacks to keep in our room. We actually overbought and had to leave some food there- so I would say don't go overboard.
We loved playing with bubbles and they were easy to find and inexpensive in China. I had packed some, but I wished I hadn't and saved that space/weight for something else and then purchased bubbles while we were there.
• Bulky/large strollers
• More than a couple pairs of shoes
• Face mask for smog (if you want one, they are readily available)
• Umbrella (you can borrow one from the hotel)
• Car seats (these just don't exist in China, haha!)
Lastly, I want to share a few random tips if it's your first time visiting China, and a few things we learned while on our adoption trip.
• It's not rude to stare, or speak up
Just prepare yourself for it. If you are caucasian, you're going to get stared at. Don't take it too personally- because it's not considered rude to stare in China and most people are just genuinely curious. When we did engage people who were staring, they were very nice for the most part. It's also not rude for someone to offer you their opinion, even if you have no idea what they are saying. Chinese like to keep their little ones in several layers of clothing, so if you take your kids out in any less than 2 shirts and a jacket, there will inevitably be a little old woman that needs to tell you to put some more clothes on your child. :)
• Appointments and work hours are different
We were both amazed and frustrated at how quickly and how long some appointments took. Some were more formal than others- and sometimes we'd need to run to a random office to sign something or get passport photos. Our guides were very trustworthy and knowledgeable, but sometimes it felt a little chaotic, and that's just the result of how things work in China. One exception was our appointment at the U.S. Consulate- which was exactly on time.
• Translation requires patience
Most people spoke some English, but there were many times when we needed things to be translated for us. Our guides/translators were super helpful, but it required us to add an extra dose of patience into every conversation. Most people were incredibly patient and helpful with us- but it was frustrating to wonder how well something was being translated, waiting for the translation, and the fact that everything took longer because of that. Our American culture wanted everything to be more efficient, but because we had the privilege of a translator, we had to chill out and be more patient with every conversation.
• No air conditioning
So many people laughed at us because we were always commenting on the heat! Our hotels had air conditioning but one in particular was quite warm. We did request a fan from the lobby and very quickly had a large fan delivered- complete with ice cubes in it to cool us off! So, just so you know- air conditioning is not the norm.
• Walmart! And Starbucks!
If you've made it this far, you've seen me post about Walmart- but there are also several other western familiarities- especially in Guangzhou. Starbucks, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, KFC...lots of familiar things for when you get a craving. However, these restaurants are more expensive AND you'd be missing out on the delicious local food if you just stick with what you know.
• Check front desk for fees
Before checking out, be sure to check the front desk to see if there have been any fees associated with your room you might not be aware of. In two of our hotels, there were unknown fees and we needed our guide to help us sort them out with the hotel before we checked out. I am assuming this is pretty common, so I'd want to be sure to check while a translator is there to help.