Continuing on through our month long series, in this round of our Contributor Q and A, our blog authors share some of their collective China travel experiences and wisdom. They share which provinces they travelled to, lament about lack of sleep and reflect on memories at favorite tourist sites. Also included are travel tips such as helpful Smartphone apps, how to deal with the heat in Guangzhou, and surviving the long flights home.
Our hope is that you’ll laugh with us, be encouraged, and take away some practical travel tips. If you have tips to share, please feel free to leave them in the comments – we’d love to hear yours, too!
Who did you travel with (spouse? friend? kids?) and would you make the same choice again?
Liberty: Spouse first time. It was hard on him because our son completely rejected him and was terrified.
Daughter second time. I wish my husband had been there. Our little guy was in very bad shape and I was terrified the first few days being there alone with my teen daughter. Also, we were delayed in the Nanjing airport for over 13 hours during a typhoon and being the only adult there with a little guy who would not drink or eat at all was super hard.
Desireé: Single parent adoption. My mother and good friend came with. I took care of my child. My mother took care of me and my friend photo documented the whole experience. If you have the chance to bring a trusted 3rd party to photograph, do it! It frees you up to focus on your child and not worry about missing a moment on film/video.
Mandy: I traveled with my husband. He is the best companion. We made an agreement before we left that when we felt like criticizing each other, we would look for something to compliment instead. That was a good strategy for a stressful trip.
Whitney: Husband and oldest child. I would definitely do this again. Need my Hubs along for support, and having our daughter along was a once -in-a -lifetime experience for her. She was a great helper, and encourager for us!
Rebecca: Spouse both trips, and a sibling on our last trip. Yes, I would definitely do this again. If going again, I would ask along a friend or family member as well. Having a sibling travel was a powerfully positive experience and well worth the extra efforts and expense. Young children connect more quickly and easily with other kids. The family memories and life experience are priceless. Yes, yes take family.
Amy A: Spouse only 2013 – it was the right choice because our 2 and 5 year old son’s couldn’t handle a trip like that. Spouse and 7 year old son in 2015 – it was awesome! My son was responsible and mature to handle a trip like that, and I can’t imagine not having my husband there.
Stefanie: I have traveled with my spouse and without and think it’s ideal to travel together. Sometimes that isn’t possible – if you have a child at home that needs to have one parent there. Once I traveled alone, and it was extremely difficult, after that I always took one of our older children (10+) as a companion. We have purposefully chosen not to take along smaller children so we could focus on our new child’s needs during the short 2 weeks in China. For our large family, it has worked out beautifully to do it this way.
Katie: I recommend the spouse if it’s possible. I did it both ways and it’s really hard without the spouse.
Jean: Out of seven adoption journeys, the first one was just hubby and I went to get our daughter who was just 16.5 months! The next time I went with our 21 yr old daughter (Katie) to get our new 8.5 yr old (Sarah)- Sarah was a dickens and we have many stories about that adoption trip! We laugh and laugh about it because I insisted our 21 yr old allow me to brush her teeth, comb her hair, etc so our new daughter could see what mommies do for their daughters! I stopped at giving her a shower 😉
On the third and forth adoption journey hubby, our older adopted daughter Sarah and I went. On the sixth adoption trip the three of us went again, but two of the older children split the time in China. One of our older sons (Mark) came for the first 10 days, and then he overlapped with our older daughter (Katie) for 2 days, and then she stayed and he left. We were adopting 3 girls that time so we appreciated the older kids helping out. On the last adoption journey for 2 of our sons, hubby went with our son Mark. I stayed home with the other children. Each time it worked out very well. We made sure we explained to our older children what they should expect, what we needed from them and that it was a business trip, not a vacation.
Amy S: I traveled with my husband and our two teenaged-ish children (14 and 12.5) I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Having the kids along was invaluable in a hundred different ways.
Carrie: Spouse and 3 year old, adopting 17 month old. It was a hard trip at times, but I absolutely would take my 3 year old again if I were doing it over. I think it was important for us to walk out the change as a family.
Jennifer: Spouse and two of our bio children – would HIGHLY recommend!
How much Chinese did you learn ahead of time? Would you do it differently if you could do it over?
Liberty: Not much at all. Should have learned more!
Desireé: I watched Big Bird In China the night before we left. (Don’t laugh!). It gave me a child’s version of very basic Chinese. I didn’t feel obligated to be a well learned traveler, but felt more useful than the traditional dumb American tourist. The locals we interacted with seem to appreciate the effort.
Mandy: I spent about an hour a day on a fun Mandarin app learning vocabulary. I learned about a toddler’s amount of words. It was very helpful. We also used a translation app on our iPhones. So helpful.
Whitney: Really, none. I think if we went again I would bring a note card with pictures/words on them. I just didn’t look into those things this time around. It’s kind of an adventure to struggle along, but I think it would have shown more respect for her birth culture if we had known more Mandarin.
Rebecca: A very limited amount. Yes, we would have loved to have been able to honor the people we encountered with words spoken in Mandarin beyond please, thank you and bathroom!
Amy A: Very little. No, not at all.
Stefanie: The bare minimum. Thank you and no thank you. I overthought it on the first trip and tried to bring some cards along for communicating, but honestly, they weren’t very functional. Because there are so many dialects across China, especially in province, knowing a little Mandarin might not even be helpful.
Kelly: Simple phrases. Every time I go, I learn a little more.
Katie: As much as possible. It was very helpful in country to at least have a clue what people were saying.
Amy S: We knew hello and thank you. Would not do it differently. Our guide was very happy to teach us things as we went.
Carrie: We speak a fair amount from having lived there 4 years. But I don’t think Chinese is that necessary for the trip.
Jennifer: Very little – would have learned a little more if I could do it over.
Jean: I tried but just don’t have a knack for it. Our older son learned some and that was helpful on the trips that he came on. We also brought our older adopted daughter and she was a HUGE help. She spoke Mandarin and told our child what we wanted him/her to know and told us what they said.
To which province did you travel and what was your favorite experience there (aside from your child/gotcha day)?
Liberty: Jiangsu. It is a beautiful city with many historical sites. The night time boat ride along the river was a highlight.
Desireé: Guizhou. We stumbled upon an underground Christian coffee house that had AC, wi-fi and sandwiches with cheese!! It was a respite for our bodies and our souls and spent multiple hours there every day (I’m happy to share where the coffee house is privately.)
Mandy: We traveled to Jiangxi. My favorite experience was walking through a beautiful park in Nanchang. We love parks in China. I loved seeing everyone dancing and exercising. My husband and I have traveled extensively. We both loved trying to navigate the city without a guide.
Whitney: Shanghai. The weather was cold and miserable, but our favorite part of the trip was the day we went to the Yuyuan Gardens (very pretty even in the winter).
Rebecca: Sichuan, Chengdu. Loved this province and city, particularly the “ancient town” and panda preserve. The hot pot and noodle restaurants were an amazing experience. Hebei, which was honestly almost entirely industrial, with smog that required masks and lots of time indoors. Lots of sweet bonding time since we couldn’t tour. Jiangsu, Nanjing, which we loved. The boat tour at night was one of our favorite memories. We preferred to walk along the back streets of Nanjing through the non-touristy markets and food stands.
Amy A: Chongqing (2013) – visiting his finding spot and orphanage. It was a hard day, but it was a very valuable. Nanning (2015) – same as our experience in Chongqing.
Stefanie: Jiangsu, Guangxi, Guangdong, Fujian, Hubei and on our most recent trip we went to Hunan. Guangxi, especially Guilin, is stunning, we loved doing all the tourist-y stuff there. Everywhere we’ve gone we try to visit a local park to take in the scenery. Also, we have always loved sampling the local the food. In Changsha they have these cilantro beef rice bowls that are to die for. And the dumplings… oh the dumplings. And in Guangdong my all-time favorite spot is Shamian Island. I know almost all the shops are closed up, but it’s just spectacular to look at, and a basket of fries at Lucy’s soothes the soul, too.
Kelly: Shaanxi. Favorite things in Xi’an – walking or bike riding on the city wall. Muslim market. Terracotta warriors.
Katie: Henan. My guide was drunk. I was bad. Jiangxi: Finding Walmart with my nine year old and two new daughters and yelling in the middle of an electronic store “WHERE THE HECK IS WALMART???” Guangdong: AEON was like heaven.
Amy S: Xin Jiang. Urumqi – a noodle restaurant and the bazaar were fun places to visit.
Carrie: Henan. I enjoyed Shaolin Temple. But honestly, hands down favorite was massage place behind the Holiday Inn in Zhengzhou.
Jennifer: Shaanxi province and the Terracotta warriors
Jean: Shaanxi – Xi’an – terracotta warriors were amazing! Guilin in Gangxi – absolutely beautiful.
Tips for managing the heat of GZ if you traveled in the hot months?
Liberty: Wicking everything! Wicking underwear, wicking sports bras, wicking work out shirts, thin cotton shorts, sunhat. Every time we got back to hotel room we had to take a cool shower and crank the AC way up. By the way, The China Hotel has amazing AC.
Desireé: Bring powdered Pediatlye packages for both you and your child to stay hydrated. And just plan on being wet… everywhere.
Mandy: Ladies. Let’s be real. Under those cute skirts and dresses, this lady must wear shorts because chafing is REAL and it hurts.
Rebecca: Lots of water with Gatorade drink packets, light clothes, afternoon naps in the AC and plenty ice cream.
Amy A: Go to the pool every day, drink as much water as you can, and have a positive attitude! China is amazing with the right attitude regardless of the time of year.
Stefanie: Good golly, the heat and humidity in Guangzhou is just flat miserable in the summer. I traveled to China twice in the heat of summer and, despite the fact that I am a born-and-raised Southerner, I almost melted. Be prepared to be miserable on tours, etc. Bring extra shirts, the kind that dry quickly so you can wash them out in your room as you have need. We were changing shirts several times a day. Umbrellas help as well, so take one if offered by your guide. Don’t plan to stay out in the heat very long, especially with your new child, and carry water at all times for both of you.
Katie: Water and lots of it! Green or fruit tea and maxi skirts that breathe easily.
Amy S: May was very humid. We wore loose lightweight clothing, but always had a sweater or light sweatshirt/jacket for transitioning into air conditioning.
Jean: Two lightweight tees per day… only short outings and then back to the a/c in the hotel. Always had a bottle of water per person with us. In the shade as much as possible. Cool shower every evening. We just put up with it because it was such an amazing journey!
Did you sleep well while in China, and if so, what helped?
Liberty: No not at all. Slept a few hours at a time and was always awake before 4 am.
Mandy: We went to China several days before we met our daughter so that we would have time to adjust. We also took Melatonin for our family. However, our daughter grieved so much in country that no one slept well.
Rebecca: Mostly. But with all that emotion, hotel living, and jet lag, I took lots of Melatonin and drank “sleepy-time” tea. Download a sound app for your phone to drown out hotel noise. I don’t mess with sleep!
Amy A: Yes! I slept only 3-4 hrs in small doses on the way there. We arrived at 7:00 pm, so i was ready to sleep. Woke up on China time for both trips. I used Melatonin on random occasions when I woke up in the middle of the night.
Stefanie: Pretty well. I took melatonin every night on this last trip and it seemed to help, along with an occasional Ambien. It is so important to avoid napping if at all possible, and try to get onto China time ASAP. Drink a lot of water throughout the day and drink a cup of coffee in the afternoon to fight through the first days of jet lag.
Kelly: Yes, melatonin saves me every time.
Amy S: We slept pretty well. Tea at night and over the counter sleeping pills helped.
Carrie: Yes, but we went a week early to see friends, so we were fully over jet lag before the adoption. That was huge.
Jennifer: No. But that is okay!
Jean: Not really, but it was okay. The beds were harder and not that comfortable. I felt that I needed to be vigilant (at night) of our new kiddos and how they were doing with the new environment. We tried to go to bed earlier than we normally do at home. That gave us a better chance of getting as much sleep as possible. Hubby and I liked to have a little time at the end of the day to process all that happened for our new children and for ourselves. We also would problem solve on how to handle upcoming events or potential problems that may come up, such as an older child’s fear of us and all that was happening to her. It helped me to know we had a plan for the next day!
Did you have anything special that helped you on the long flight home?
Desireé: Trial Benadryl with your child while still in China. Many children have backwards reactions to antihistamines that actually get them hyper instead of sedated. You don’t want to give your child Benadryl for the first time on a long flight home and have them be amp’ed up for 15 hours.
Mandy: I saved new toys for the flight home. I tied ribbon around the toys and secured these to the seat so they would not fall on the floor and roll away. But the biggest thing that helped me was a wonderful travel companion in my husband, the free wine, and a sense of humor. I knew that flight would end.
Whitney: Another family brought over mini containers of play doh that they had left over for our daughter to play with. That used up hours of the flight where SHE DIDN’T SLEEP AT ALL. Just kidding. She slept about 30 minutes of that 27 hours of travel.
Rebecca: Melatonin, double and triple diapering my kids, ear drops for little ones, our own ear phones for movie watching, music and sound reduction, extra fuzzy socks, lots of walking the aisles, a giant bag of our kids’ favorite Chinese snacks, a toiletry bag for freshening up, extra clothes, Water Wow books and fun new apps for kids.
Amy A: Our son’s favorite crackers. Having my spouse with me to tag each other in was a great help!
Stefanie: No. In 8 trips to China, it’s always been a miserable trip, simply because you’re exhausted, you’re holding a child who probably doesn’t want to be held and is in panic mode, all while you’re surrounded by hundreds of people in a way-too-small space. Lots of snacks. Plenty of diapers. Change of clothes.
Kelly: Don’t forget your phone or iPad charger! A lot of flights now are BYOD (device) to get their entertainment.
Katie: Earplugs to drown out the screaming of my own kids. Ha.
Amy S: An iPad.
Carrie: Did I mention Benadryl?!
Jennifer: Baby Bjorn and a husband who could stand up most of the flight!
Jean: Christian music on an iPod for me, socks to keep my feet warm, a neck pillow. For our child we had the DVD’s, a cuddly blanket and stuffed animal, snacks, backpack with a things to do in it and dramamine or motrin just in case. We also had our guide explain what traveling back to America would be like. We wanted them to know that they needed to sleep on the plane as much as possible and that it we would be on the plane for a very long time. The guide also reinforced that the children needed to stay close to us at all times.
Any smartphone apps that made travel easier?
Mandy: WeChat, Facebook, and Viber. We also had MyTube on our IPads with Mandarin Elmo episodes. I am so glad we had Hidden in My Heart (A Lullaby Journey Through Scripture) downloaded on our iPad. This lullaby album is so sweet and it was very encouraging to have scripture sung over us as we slept.
Rebecca: Todo fun for kids, sound machine apps for sleeping, Google Translate. Skype.
Amy A: Google translate
Stefanie: Skype. White Noise sound machine. You’ll also probably want a VPN – we liked SurfEasy. Be sure to set it up before you leave home and make sure it’s working!
Kelly: Pleco, several VPNs
Katie: WeChat was how we communicated to home and with our guides as well.
Amy S: A VPN so we could bypass the great fire wall of China. Children’s games, netflix, Hulu…
Carrie: Google maps!
Next up in our Contributor Q and A series – Gotcha Day!
*very special thanks to K&R Photography and Brittany Richey for the photographs