I love to travel, and I love to travel with my kids. As a family we’ve been all over the world. However, there is

Bringing Your Adopted Child Home: Travel Tips

Traveling home with your child after adopting can be challenging for many reasons, not the least that you don’t know each other. Don’t worry, we’ve provided some tips to ease the way.

traveling with kids, and then there is traveling with newly adopted kids. Those are two entirely different kettles of fish. Trust me, I know, I’ve done both. The problem with traveling with newly adopted children is that you don’t know your child and his cues, and your child doesn’t know you and your cues. It’s a case of the blind leading the blind. Add in the fact that your child is leaving all that is familiar to her, likely doesn’t understand what is happening, and probably doesn’t speak the language, and you’ve got the makings for a stressful plane ride to say the least. But don’t panic—we’ve got tips to ease the way.

Mantra for Adoption Travel

None of us are at our best when stressed; travel is stressful under the best of circumstances, and traveling home after adopting is far from the best of circumstances. We all express our stress in different ways: some kids (and adults) throw tantrums, some shut down, and some (especially new adopted parents) worry. The key to successful adoption travel is the attitude of the parent. The following will be your mantra repeated frequently until you’ve been home a week:

  1. I will not worry during this time about forming bad habits or correcting exiting ones.
  2. I will not worry during this time about every little thing being an indication of attachment issues or other major problems.
  3. I will be flexible and patient, flexible and patient, flexible and patient…

Tips for traveling home with your child after adopting

  • Always carry protein rich food, water, and juice boxes in your backpack or diaper bag. Pack lollipops to help clear ears during take offs and landings and to use as a bribe at other times.  It’s hard, although not impossible, to cry while licking.
  • Toys lose their WOW value (otherwise known as their diversion power) once they are played with; therefore, save some toys for the plane.  Toys should be put away when you are in the airport so that the child will have less opportunity to bore of them and more opportunity to walk, run, and jump. Bring more toys than you think you’ll need.
  • Tablets, laptops, and/or portable DVD player can be a life saver.  Electronics are particularly mesmerizing for all kids past infancy. Buy kid-friendly movies both at home, but also find out what your child has watched pre-adoption and try to have a few of those.
  • The most entertaining toys are those your child can manipulate.
    • Colored pencils, water proof markers, and paper for scribbling. (Crayons are not as travel friendly because that tend to break easier, melt in the sun, and are usually found to be tastier than colored pencils.)
    • Magna Doodle (comes in regular and travel size)
    • Stickers
    • Play dough
    • Stacking cups
  • Simple games that you can play with babies and young children on the airplane.
    • Stacking anything you can find, toy cups, jelly tubs, raisins.
    • Dropping cheerios into a cup or your mouth.
    • Keys usually work for a while, but it’s best to save these for when you are stranded without other options.
    • Interactive books.  Buy those that are for an age younger than your child since he may be delayed.
    • For older babies and toddlers, a roll of scotch tape can provide more entertainment than, well, a barrel of monkeys.  Use your imagination and you’ll be surprised what you can come up with.  Stick some on the back of his hand and let him pull it off.  Stick some over your mouth and let him rip.  The parental pantomime of agony is the best part.  (Eye contact is an ulterior motive!)  Tape a spoon on the tray and let him pull it off.  Make a ball out of wadded up tape and roll it around or throw into a cup.  When traveling with a toddler I carry a roll in my pocket to use in an emergency or when I’ve run out of ideas.

Other Resources to Help Parents Survive the Trip Home after Adopting

Our guests on yesterday’s Creating a Family show has some wonderful ideas on surviving adoption travel. If you will be traveling soon, you really must listen to this show.


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Brooke Randolph, VP of Social Services with MLJ Adoptions suggested the following books about airplane travel to read to your child before getting on the plane. Books are such a great way to introduce new things and ideas to young children. My First Airplane Ride by Patricia Hubbell does a good job of walking through the entire process. It is a good basic orientation for kids. It seems a bit chipper if you have a child that may be prone to some anxiety; however, it may be a good book to take with you on the flight to keep the mood light and to walk children through each step. The Noisy Airplane Ride by Mike Downs only covers from boarding to exiting the plane. What I really like about this book is the focus on the noises which can be the most disconcerting for kids (and adults!). If a parent invests in reading this book with sound effects, a child can be well prepared for the audible stimulation that could increase anxiety on an airplane. After the story, there is also a page called “Other things you might see, hear and feel” which provides further preparation for kids.

Susie Doig, Senior Director of Adoption Services for Holt International, suggested “social stories”, which are picture stories of all aspects of plane and car travel. Real pictures are used with almost no words. You could download them to your phone or tablet and read/show them before and during the trip. They are a free download from Holt.

We also mentioned on the show two Creating a Family resources that may be helpful.

  1. Creating a Family show/podcast on Promoting Attachment with Your Child In Country. One hour audio show. Listen through computer or download to phone, tablet, or iPod.
  2. List of questions to ask your child’s caregivers to help ease your child’s transition and attachment.

 Parting Words

I always follow the general rule of prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and settle for anything in between. I especially follow this rule when traveling with kids. The good news is that most of the time the very worst doesn’t happen. And hey, if it does, think of the great war story you’ll have to tell.

What’s been your experience when traveling after adoption, and what tips can you share?

Image credit: ChrisM70.com.

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