Although it’s been almost 9 weeks since we’ve been home, I still remember frantically wondering what all I should be packing for our soon-to-be family of four?? How do I find the balance of bringing just enough of what we need without forgetting something irreplaceable or overpacking and having extra fees added to our already mountainous adoption expenses?? I had never been to Africa- I had no idea what to expect when it came to what we would have access to! Sometimes, packing can be the straw that breaks the weary adoptive-parents’ back. Because we aren’t even 100% sure we know what shoe size our future daughter or son is! And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll begin sobbing over half-filled suitcases in your bedroom floor wondering if you even have what it takes to go through with this.
That escalated quickly, didn’t it?! I told you I remembered it like it was yesterday! Ha! But seriously, I wanted to compose a list of what we packed (and didn’t pack) that might help future adoptive parents from crying into handfuls of mismatched socks. Also, that very well might still happen somewhere along your parenting journey- but my hope is that this post will delay that moment for you!
First- reach out to find someone who have been where you are going. Usually your adoption agency will provide a booklet or packet to prepare you for your trip into your child’s birth country. You’d be surprised at how connected you could actually be to someone from your child’s birth country. Social media is a great tool- use it to your advantage!
Once you have the ear of someone who has been where you’re going, or close enough in location, you’ll need to find out a few key things: weather/climate patterns, common and uncommon household or food/drink items and their prices in country, and access to laundry services.
For packing clothes, you’ll want to be sure you know what weather conditions are common for the time of year you’re traveling. For cold climates, packing clothes that can be layered is wiser than trying to take bulky winter coats. For warm climates, packing breathable clothing is better than denser pieces, even if they are just too cute! And depending on the cost, it might be more efficient to wait to buy clothes for your adoptive child until you have him/her. We did bring clothes for Ruth, but the shoes we brought were too small. Clothing was so affordable in country that we ended up buying both our kids new pieces while in Africa. But check with your contacts first and compare pricing, taking into account exchange rates etc..
Also, in certain parts of the world, there are extra issues to consider that effect your day-to-day functioning. In warm/humid climates, mosquito borne illnesses are a real possibility. If this pertains to your trip, be sure to treat clothing with approved repellent and bring a cream safe to use on children or adults daily. Examples can be found here and here.
Another thing to keep in mind is how you’ll be cleaning your clothes. Is there a washing machine at your guest residence or laundry service? Fewer clothes can be taken if you are responsible for doing laundry yourself. However, it’s common for laundry services to be fairly fast and affordable. A good rule of thumb is bringing just a week’s worth of clothes/undergarments (more for potty training kiddos)/night wear. You will be much happier repeating outfits every 4-5 days than you would be lugging 4 suitcases through an airport and customs- trust me, less is more in this case!
When it comes to food, we all have our preferences! Although there are certain things that are more globally available (corn or peanut products, bread, rice, noodles, eggs etc.), you may desire to bring some things with you.
For example: bananas, chicken, eggs, cereal, noodles and bread were all staple items in Nigeria. Their brands and tastes/textures varied, but we knew food-wise we only had to bring what we couldn’t get in country, which thankfully, was nothing of paramount importance. But, peanut butter was not quite as easy to find, and when stores did carry it it was very expensive. It would be a great idea to indulge in the culture your child is coming from, and the easiest way to do that is through food! So, if possible, don’t worry about bringing snacks or items from home- use this as an opportunity to learn about the culture and how to cook some local dishes. To this day, I hear “pepper soup” or “jollof rice” and my mouth waters!
However, if you are adopting a newborn/infant, you’ll want to be sure your agency contacts the orphanage or home your child is in to get the specific brand and where it can be found. You don’t want your new baby to have tummy issues! Our kids were older and, although our son had preferences, he wanted for nothing in country.
And while we’re talking babies, diapers and wipes are likely going to be a necessary packing list item. Again, check with your sources before deciding, but it would likely be cheaper to bring these things than buying them in country. This goes for toys/books as well- they may be affordable like clothing was for us, or they may be too difficult to find or expensive and should be brought from home. Do some asking around to save yourself time and money!
Was often gets overlooked is the journey home. You’re leaving the country with one (or two or three!) more kiddo(s) than you arrived with- and this is going to change your travel dramatically. You’ll be leaving with more than you came with (unless you bring things you wouldn’t mind donating- I encourage you to consider this option!), so expect your hands to be full most or all of the time. Having a backpack as your carry on is highly recommended, as it’s much easier to handle than even a rolling suitcase. Remember- you’re coming home with an extra kid(s). Your child will likely demand a lot of attention from you, so planning to have your hands free as much as possible is good coming-home prep work.
You won’t have the energy to hold your child all the way home, especially if you’re travel time is substantial. So, if your child is small enough, use a baby-wearing device as often as possible. There are so many options these days! If your child is too old/big for wearing, consider bringing a stroller that is light-weight and compact, such as an umbrella stroller or even a nifty creation like a good friend of mine brought, a collapsible stroller that can be used as a carry-on item. You will want your child safe and restrained because a lot of your travel time will be speaking with airline or customs staff. If your child is too big for a stroller, consider using a safety bracelet to prevent your child from wandering off as you’re looking for the paperwork the agent just asked for. Planning for the trip home is just as important as planning for your stay in country- maybe even more so since items that are easily forgotten are not as easily found abroad! Take it from me, the mom who forgot to bring a stroller for our 36 hour solo (as in just me and Ruth) trip home and ended up paying $45 U.S. for a used and ripped umbrella stroller, likely donated by someone from the U.S., where they cost $8! Uh, yep.
All that being said, it’s likely that what you forget, and you will forget something, can be found in country. So don’t stress about the little things, because this is all just little things. Savor the moments and remember them- you’re adoptive child will fully enjoy hearing how much your family was anticipating meeting them for the first time. And that’s the big stuff.