Traveling with kids can be fun, full of adventure and wonder, and, quite honestly, stressful. Traveling home with your newly adopted child can be all of those things as well. But that stress can be magnified by the many emotions that are running high and the newness of everything.

How to survive adoption travel with a newly adopted child

You are new to your child. Your child is new to you. Throw in new sights, sounds, smells, and experiences, and it’s easy for everyone who is along for the ride to feel completely overwhelmed. So how do you cope with the big feelings and new experiences you are all taking in?

We offer these tips for Surviving the Trip Home with Your Newly Adopted Child.

Dig Deep

Whether you are adopting from a foreign country, traveling across the U.S., or you have checked into a hotel for the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) requirements, you will have moments when you feel out of your element. You will have to summon all of your “I can survive this” grit and determination at some point in the experience. In the China adoption community, we have a saying: “In-country, it’s all about surviving.” Whatever “surviving” means for you, find that “oomph” and milk it for all it’s worth.

When I was in China for our first adoption, I found myself tapped out by all the newness of well, everything. On top of that, our new toddler was sick – it had been a long time since I’d mom-doctored a sick little one. I was jet-lagged, fighting a sinus infection, and fearful of my abilities to navigate another day in a foreign city. I felt raw. I realized I was shutting down.

…I turned on my favorite worship music and used the time to read, rest, and most importantly, dig down to the resolve I knew I had inside. It was the best choice I could have made – for all of us.

My husband offered to take our daughter out for a Daddy-Daughter coffee date and I had a choice to make. Rather than wallow in my fear-based control that desperately wanted to keep them both in sight at all times, I chose to stay behind in our hotel. As soon as they left (with a promise to bring me a fancy cold coffee treat upon their return), I turned on my favorite worship music and used the time to read, rest, and most importantly, dig down to the resolve I knew I had inside. It was the best choice I could have made – for all of us.

Say It Again, Sam

Positive self-talk is a fantastic tool to summon up that resolve within. These helpful scripts can help you navigate new dynamics and difficult moments of an adoption trip. Use them when it feels like the poop is about to hit the fan. Repeat them when you feel as if you cannot walk one more step with this new (but adorable) bundle strapped to your chest (or your back, if that’s how you roll). If you are rocking the new little one to sleep in a less-than-5-star hotel for the 12th time tonight, sing them in a tune you make up.

  • This is only (2 weeks) of our whole life together. I can make it through these (2 weeks).
  • This is not the time to worry about forming bad habits. Or correcting the ones she already has.
  • I will not fret about attachment while I am in this “adoption trip bubble.” What happens here between us will not be the full picture of our life-long connection.
  • I will be flexible and patient. Flexible and patient. Flexible and patient.

Of course, feel free to make up your own mantras if these don’t exactly fit the bill. The point is: give yourself a script that you can use to reset your perspective quickly.

Related Creating a Family Resources:

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Here are a few tips for passing the time while you are in transit. You might feel like you are aiming at a target in the dark since you don’t know your child yet. It might feel even more intimidating if this is your first child. But take heart, our suggestions come from plenty of other parents who have had some experience with entertaining their kids on long trips.

  • Snacks: Disposable pouches of little finger foods, particularly high protein snacks and the occasional sweet treat thrown in for good measure.
  • Drinks: Think juice boxes, pouches, and other disposable containers to minimize your need to rinse and refill which can get messy when traveling.
  • Lollipops: These are great especially if you are flying – for helping your child clear his ears – or if he experiences motion sickness.
  • Electronics: iPads, phones, tablets, and other electronic games are great distractions. Pre-loading them with simple games that offer a variety of activities will be a life-saver for breaking up the boredom. Consider downloading a couple of movies suitable for your new child’s age or even slightly younger given that this might be their first exposure to electronics. Try not to worry too much over “screen time” that your child logs on this trip together.
  • Toys: Have a “travel bag” full of small manipulatives that haven’t yet been played with or seen. The “wow” factor of that new-ness will carry you a while.

Toys That Travel

We got input from a few experienced parents for specific travel-sized toys that “go the distance” (pun fully intended). Use the list to spark ideas for age-appropriate activities for your child. Remember that many times, the child you are adopting will be delayed to some degree and may need activities and toys geared for a younger age, while still traveling or packing well.

  • Play-doh
  • Magna-doodle
  • Stickers/Sticker books
  • Color-wonder  coloring books/markers
  • Stacking cups
  • Colored pencils, sketch pads
  • Mad-Libs, puzzle books, word searches
  • Board books/Lift the flap peek-a-boo books

Capitalize on the Captive Audience

Traveling together provides excellent opportunities for face-to-face connections and “learning each other,” unlike many other times you have had together thus far. Find some ways to maximize that. Stack cups together and make outrageous faces when they fall. Or when your little one topples them. Play peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake, Itsy Bitsy Spider. It might bore you to tears, but those simple face-to-face interactions build trust, language skills, and ultimately attachment.

There are many hand-motion rhymes and games available on the internet that you can learn before you travel if you are adopting a child who speaks another language. Doing so will give you common ground and another point of connection.

Remember that the goal of these interactions isn’t just to entertain your child while traveling; it’s also to begin the life-long journey of attachment.

If language is not a barrier, tell short stories and if your child is old enough, take turns filling parts of the story too. Give lots of positive reinforcement for his attempts at new language skills where you can. Remember that the goal of these interactions isn’t just to entertain your child while traveling; it’s also to begin the life-long journey of attachment.

Reading together or reading to your new child is, of course, a tool that promotes great connection and builds attachment. Before you leave on that jet plane together, read a book or two about traveling. These two suggestions offer you an opportunity to expose your child to the ideas, sights, and sounds of travel that might be new or even alarming to her. Remember – there is a LOT of “NEW” for your child: any preparedness you can offer her will build her trust in you.

Other Creating a Family Book Recommendations:

A Word About Self-Care

Again, traveling under the best of circumstances can be a stressful venture. Add the complexity of a newly adopted child, a new country, special needs, birth parents, documentation requirements, and other parts of an adoption trip, and it might be easy to forget to take care of yourself.

As I mentioned above, when I reached my breaking point on our adoption trip, it was time to make a choice. If I toughed it out and went adventuring around the city, I’d be able to “make it.” I’d still be intentional to build attachment with my daughter. But I also knew that I needed to take care of me, to be the best for my new daughter. It was imperative that I trust my husband’s care for our girl and his ability to navigate the city to let my self-care happen.

Who is Your Village?

If you are traveling with a partner or a spouse, check in frequently to gauge how you are each faring. Give each other grace for the tough expressions of frustration, exhaustion, or self-doubt that might crop up. You are each other’s village for this trip.

For you who are traveling alone, consider having someone from your at-home village check in with you. These days, no matter where you travel, you can get support by phone, email, or text. Talk regularly to help you process what you are experiencing. Be candid about what you are learning and how it’s stretching you. Ask that person to set up some supportive care (like meals, laundry help, cleaning services, etc.) for your return home.

Don’t Just Survive!

Traveling to adopt your new child is a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow. These tips can help you get the most out of the trip and not just survive it but enjoy it as the beautiful first steps in your new life together.

What was your travel experience like with your newly adopted child? What tricks and tips can you offer that would offer additional help and support to this post? Share them in the comments!