“Countdown” to Your Homeland Heritage Tour
By: Iris Culp, Homeland Tour Programs Director, Lotus Travel Inc.(firstname.lastname@example.org)
Be aware that birth country trips are usually not just a "summer vacation" trip, but include an inner emotional journey for the whole family. Recognize this as you begin to contemplate the trip, and plan to take time to prepare for the emotional aspect of this trip for yourself as well as your child. Is your child interested in this birth country connection? Are you prepared to support your child in this journey? And are you willing to realize this is likely to be an emotional journey for you as a parent?
One also has to decide on what age is best for your child to return. In the past, social work professionals advocated these trips during adolescence. However, thinking has shifted to earlier and earlier times. Most will say it's best to experience the culture of a child's homeland PRIOR to adolescence. Multiple trips are likely ideal, but if just one trip is possible, it is generally recommended during early elementary school years.
Have you completed a "life book" or had those discussions which can provide your child a sense of "roots" in Asia? As a family, have you talked much about your child's adoption story? It is important to create a framework for this trip and those conversations are essential.
Read books about China or Vietnam and address fears or questions. Make sure you talk about returning home as you discuss the trip. Remember to prepare your child based on their emotional maturity level, as this type of trip can evoke significant emotional experiences for everyone in the family. How will you feel about being in the minority in a sea of Asian faces? If you plan to visit the orphanage, and seek early connections, are you willing to talk about it and prepare? Make sure YOU are ready to work through your own emotions about adoption and your child's roots, known and unknown.
Consider who might accompany you on this memorable journey. Is this a trip for your immediate family only? Are godparents, grandparents, close family friends a part of your trip experience? If not, do you want to experience this special trip with your travel group, or with FCC/FCV friends or other similarly close connections?
Let the countdown begin!
12 months--Make sure your trip fits you
List out your group preferences: do you like highly structured experiences, or little structure and lots of free time? What about the sights - which ones are most important to your family? Make a list of everything you want to do. Then, make a "cut list" to get to the ones most important for your family/group. If you're doing a larger group, what part of the trip do you do together and where do you split off for separate trip pieces? Pick your desired standard trip, or add on to it as you wish.
11 months--Book your trip and start a "photo trip book"
Putting down a $500 deposit per traveler confirms your space on your selected itinerary. Research locales on you selected itinerary and collect pictures (internet, travel guide books, Lotus brochure). Put your collected pictures on the left side of the photo album and leave the right side for the photos you will take of your family at that locale.
10 Months--Create your reading list
Select books, both for adults and ones for kids in order to get familiar with places you plan to visit.
9 Months--Passport checkup
Don't let this slide. Delays can strike at any time and have previously, sometimes adding months to the process. Make sure your passports are up to date or renew if needed. Make sure they will be valid for six months after planned date of travel completion. You can review requirements online at: www.travel.stage.gov/passport.
8 Months--Medical checkup
Family members may need to update tetanus shots, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B or MMR. (Hepatitis shot series requires 6 months to complete) If you are travelling to remote areas you may consider additional items, which you can check the CDC website at: www.cdc.gov/travel.
7 Months-Speak with your Travel Advisor and research airfare
Lotus Travel is an airline ticket consolidator for several major airlines, including: China Southern, Air China, Continental, China Eastern, China Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways and United, Continental. Airfares are unlike almost any other commodity and have huge variables. We will work to get the best option for you.
6 Months--Send in formal request to visit orphanage
if this is part of your planned itinerary. This process takes can take several months to process. For China it requires a formal letter of request, copies of visitor's passports, and a copy of the adoption certificate, and, most provinces require a filing fee as well. In Vietnam, the process is less bureaucratic, but it’s still good to allow adequate time for processing.
5 Months--Read through Lotus Travel's travel preparation articles
These articles provide your family with many practical and safe suggestions on how to prepare for your trip physically and emotionally. Lotus Travel provides up to date information to put together many articles throughout the year to assist with the physical and emotional preparation a family endures when traveling to a child's birth country.
4 Months--Create a packing list
Think about how to pack the lightest possible and still have your true "essentials". Remember, there are not always porters to assist with luggage. Remember weight restrictions on in-country flights and you may be moving/carrying your luggage for the duration of the trip. Some people purchase a couple of handy specialty travel clothing items (e.g. Magellan Travel Smith, etc.) to make travel lighter. Or, choose clothes that can easily survive the hot water treatment of laundry services.
3 Months--Send payment balance to Lotus & consider trip cancellation insurance.
While we would hope there is never an occasion to need trip insurance, it is always recommended to purchase trip insurance for such a significant trip. While no one would have anticipated SARS in the past, anything can happen and occasionally does. We don't want any of our families to lose out.
2 Months--Apply for your visas.
This can be done via our visa support service or you can do the consulate nearest your home. Don't apply for your visa more than 6 months in advance of the trip, or it will expire too soon. Once you have your visa, please email email@example.com with the visa numbers, expiration and issue dates.
1 Month--Send photocopies of signed passports and copies of visas to Lotus.
Throw items in your suitcase as you think of them. Make sure you pack each child a "plane survival" backpack or fanny pack stuffed with regular snack goodies and meal replacements such as a dry cup of noodles, and age/personality-fitted entertainment for the flight over.
Relax and realize the most important thing you can bring with you is an upbeat attitude about experiencing something wonderful about family's transcultural identity. Your children will take these cues from you. Determine to live the experiences of each day to the fullest. An open and positive frame of reference coupled with a willingness to embrace the unexpected will make the trip memorable and enjoyable for each member of your family.
Remember to take pictures and write us. We love to hear all about our families' stories.