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Travel tips from the experts

Trip Countdown and Considerations

By Iris Culp, adoptive mom and Lotus Travel Homeland Heritage Tour Program Director

Before you decide:
What is your child’s emotional maturity?  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?  Are YOU ready for that? 

One also has to decide what age fits for your child.  In the past professionals within the social work field 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, which allows them to go into with a stronger self of identity and self before the identity upheaval involved in adolescence.  Multiple trips are likely ideal, but if just one trip is possible, it is generally recommended during early elementary school years, when thinking is still fairly concrete.  So many families try to target a trip between 7-11 years of age.  

Once you decide this trip is right for your family and the timing is a year or two away,  there are some other considerations to explore.

Okay, you think you will take that trip……

It’s now a year in advance:

  • Have you completed a “lifebook” or had those discussions which can provide your child a sense of “roots” in China?  As a family, have you talked much about your child’s adoption story?  How much of what you know have you shared?  It is important to create a framework for this trip and those conversations are essential.
  • Do a gauge check on your family’s emotional readiness before deciding.

Is your child’s attachment secure and grounded at this time?   Read books about China, address fears or questions. Make sure you talk about returning home as you discuss the trip.  Sometimes post-institutionalized children have disparities between their chronological and emotional age.  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, finding site or see foster parents, 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.--  It is likely to be unlike any other family trip you take. It’s not only a physical journey; it is an emotional journey as well.    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 friends or other similarly close connections?
  • Decide what time of year you want to go – Spring and Fall offer the best weather and are also the busiest seasons for travel, as China attracts tourists from around  the world during these times of year.   Summer is typically easiest for school schedules, but is quite hot throughout most of China. 
  • Make your short list of where you want to visit—For cultural highlights and “must see” spots, many people include Beijing (Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City);  Xian (Terra Cotta Horses and Warrior Museum); and  Chengdu (Panda research centers). Is your family ready for an SWI return visit as well?  Is this a 2nd or 3rd trip, and do you want to veer “off the beaten path” to the red earth  and mountains of Yunnan; the religious relics of Tibet;  or the garden city of Suzhou; the mystic mountains of Guilin? 
  • Is cost a factor? -- Then consider travel in January, February, March,  November or December, as prices are best at that time.  For your in-country travel, try to travel via over night train since soft sleeper train tickets are cheaper than airfare and you are eliminating one night of hotel costs.  Finally, organizing several families traveling at the same time will be cheaper due to hotel giving best rates for groups of more than 10.

Now it’s Less than Twelve Months Before Travel:

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 brochureJ!).  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 a book from the adult list (not just Cultural Revolution books please) and the child list and being 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.state.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 --   Check international airfare, compare prices and talk with your travel planner.  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. Airfares are unlike almost any other commodity and have huge variables.  Periodically, a traveler can get the best deal by booking online with a carrier. 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 longer since the regulations announced in 2006 are implemented. 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.   
  • 5 Months -  Read through Lotus Travel’s “Preparation Tips, Ideas and Projects List” that provides your family with many practical and fun projects to do together in order to prepare mentally, emotionally and physically for the trip. For example, we recommend you do a China video series night, pop popcorn and take a look at some places you will visit.  Some suggestions are easy and light, and others take time and emotional energy, but all lay an important groundwork to for the important family experience that a return trip always becomes.   
  • 4 Months --   Create a packing list & join Lotus’ e-group discussion (pending). Think about how to pack the lightest possible and still have your true “essentials”.  Remember, there are not porters in China to assist with luggage. Remember weight restrictions on in-country flights are 44 lbs. and you will 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 in China.  
  • 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 Chinese consulate nearest your home.  Don’t apply for your visa more than 90 days in advance of the trip, or it will expire too soon.  Once you have your visa, please email linh@lotustours.net with the visa numbers, expiration and issue dates.  
  • 1 Month --   Send photocopies of signed passports and copies of visas to Lotus.  Also start throwing 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.    

 Okay, Ready for Takeoff!
RELAX and realize the most important thing you can bring with you is an upbeat attitude about experiencing something wonderful about family’s trans-cultural 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. 

From your friends at Lotus Travel: “Uniting Families and Connecting Cultures” for more than a decade. 

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