Today we’re back with our I’m Ready To Adopt series with the seventh in a 10 post mini-series by Kelly – who blogs at Mine In China – on How To Choose An Agency. You can find links to the previous posts here.
If you are reading this series because you want to choose an agency to start your first adoption then it’s a safe bet that travel arrangements are the last thing you would think to ask about when you are choosing an agency. You might be surprised to hear that one of the things adoptive parents can get most contentious about is how an agency handles the travel portion of the trip! If you are an experienced adoptive parent, your blood pressure might be beginning to rise at the mere thought of travel groups. If so, remember that you do not have to work with an agency that requires travel groups.
So here’s the deal – you compile a dossier, you get matched with a child, after that long wait for the official letter from China saying that you are all set, then you are ready to hop on a plane. But like anything else, agencies all do things in different ways. Some people can be on a plane two days after their Travel Approval arrives while others are stuck revising their packing list for another three weeks until the next time their agency sends a travel group. I know it seems odd to be asking about travel when you are nowhere near that part of the process, but let’s look at the pros and cons of travel groups so you can figure out if you want to rule out an agency based on their travel rules
Travel Group or No Travel Group? That is the Question…
Scenario 1: Bring On The Travel Group!
- Your agency will handle all or most of the travel arrangements. You will be met at the airport and someone will help you check into your hotel. If you haven’t traveled much or are concerned about traveling to China, you will welcome not having to worry about any of this!
- By sending families in groups, agencies can secure group rates for hotels and guide services, keeping your travel cost lower than if you had booked everything individually. Some agencies don’t send groups during the two annual trade fairs or the two weeks of Chinese New Year when travel costs double.
- Similarly, by booking your airfare two or more weeks ahead, you will often pay less than those who buy tickets at the last minute.
- Many people love the bonding aspect of travel groups. You can swap Gotcha Day stories, ask advice from seasoned adoptive parents or be the parents who are helping out the overwhelmed new parents. Some travel groups continue to have reunions years after they traveled.
- Some of the larger agencies have an in country office within the hotel they use in Guangzhou. It can be very helpful to have them available for late night translations, to arrange a medical visit for a sick child, or to use the stockpile of donated medications and other items (sometimes strollers and inflatable mattresses even!) in their office.
- When you realize you forgot to pack something, you can borrow the item from someone in your travel group or from the agency office (if available).
- Often people need time to schedule work and childcare so delaying travel for a little while due to a travel group schedule isn’t much of a problem and having fixed dates can sometimes help in the planning.
Scenario 2: No thanks! I Would Never Use An Agency That Requires A Travel Group!
- You are an experienced traveler and you like being able to book your own hotels and flights.
- Agency travel groups will have everyone stay in the same 5 star hotel, and you would rather use a different hotel where you can use some of your travel points on for some free nights. Or perhaps you want the freedom to stay in a 3 or 4 star hotel and save some money because you are a low maintenance traveler who isn’t intimidated by stories of strange smells and hard beds – it’s only two weeks, people!
- You feel comfortable getting around on your own, and you like the idea of seeing the “real China” rather than spending a lot of time in touristy group activities.
- While some agencies use travel groups to save money, others use the opportunity to make some money, requiring you to purchase an expensive “travel package” that costs much more than if you had done the booking yourself.
- The biggest reason to avoid travel groups is that you can leave as soon as possible after you receive your Travel Approval. This is what you’ve been waiting for and you want that baby in your arms ASAP!
Probably you had a gut reaction to one or the other of these while you were reading through, but there are still some questions you can ask to see if you can live with an agency’s travel requirements. Even if you don’t care one way or the other you might find information on your specific agency’s policies helpful, for example knowing which hotel they use if you want to apply for a hotel affiliated credit card so you can start earning points. Some of these only apply to particular situations so only ask those that might apply to you:
- Do you require we travel with a group?
- How often do you schedule the groups?
- Can I book my own in country travel arrangements?
- If you don’t have parents travel in groups, will we be responsible for getting ourselves to and from the airport and various adoption related appointments?
- Will I be able to travel during a trade fair or Chinese holiday if I don’t mind paying the additional travel expenses?
- If I am adopting an aging out child or a child with a medical expedite will I still be required to wait for a travel group?
- What is the typical length of time between TA and travel for your clients?
- Am I required to stay at a particular hotel or work with a particular travel agency?
- Are the guides used by your agency employees of a guide service or of the adoption agency? For either answer ask why they choose to do it that way.
- Does your agency have an office in the hotel at Guangzhou?
- Can I stay at a hotel other than the one you use?
- Can I use frequent flier miles or hotel points to save money on my travel expenses?
- Do you plan any outing for parents or are we on our own between adoption related appointments?
- Are group trips to destinations such as the Great Wall or the Guangzhou zoo optional or required? If I don’t attend will I still need to pay for it?
- Do you allow one parent to travel alone?
- Can we bring along our whole big family? (My agency said “Sure! We love it when the whole family goes!”)
- Does your agency allow us to send the orphanage donation by electronic funds transfer? Only a few do, so this shouldn’t be a deal-breaker but it’s good to know because it’s never too early to start haunting your bank for new $100 bills.
Next week, Kelly covers the question almost all adoptive parents ask when trying to choose their agency,“How do I find out which agency is the cheapest?!”
This was an interesting article but I felt it was written by someone partial to travel groups. It seemed to put a negative light on traveling without a group. We have done both. Our current agency does not wait for travel groups and we did leave literally 2 days after travel approval. I felt this article was misleading because although the agency suggests hotels we could have stayed anywhere. All of our in country flights and hotels were booked for us. We had a personal guide with us every step of the way. It was our choice to go on sight seeing trips and we could decide what we wanted to visit. There was no travel pack to purchase. We met other families while in Guangzhou and swapped stories and shared meals. We were home with our child before other families who received TA the same day had even left for China. It is a personal preference, but both experiences can be positive.
Both times we’ve adopted it’s been though smaller agencies who don’t do travel groups and both times they’ve offered to make all of our travel arrangements for us if we wanted them to (and have had a guide meet us for all airport pick ups and drop offs). For each adoption we requested they do part of the travel planning but we opted to do the bulk of it and used our awards points as mentioned in the article. The first agency even booked us to go to several “touristy activities” with our guide where we ran into families in travel groups. Also, not being in a group allowed us to work around our daughter’s nap and eating schedule without worrying about messing up anyone else’s day. Although neither agency we used did group travel they did each have at least one other family in Gz at the same time as us that they connected us with so we could spend time together if we wanted to. We met families on our own at civil affairs or the hotel, even ran into one at Safari Park that we ended up hanging out with. There are usually many opportunities in Gz (and sometimes in province) to meet and get to know other adoptive families if you really want to. You don’t need to be an experienced traveler to choose an agency who doesn’t do groups. Asking lots of questions prior to signing contracts is a great suggestion so there aren’t any big surprises at the end of your process.
I too saw this as a little bias toward group travels. Most agencies that don’t do groups will be able to set up complete travel arrangements just like the group travel but without the group and the Wait. We had it that way our first trip. We left as soon as we wanted to after TA and had guide service pick us up and check us in at airport and for all adoption stuff. Our guide even took us to eat and to see whatever we wanted. We met other families with agencies at hotels and bonded. The second trip we did not use group but we told agency we had tons of Marriott points and even got a whole week
Free in Guangzhou. We also had airline points. We still had complete quide and car service and it was wonderful. No matter if you are in large group or not you will see tons of families in GZ, they are hard to
Miss in the main hotels families stay at.