Going to China: Carry-On Only

July 27, 2015 China trip, July/August 2015 Feature - Going to China!, packing list, prepping for China, travel tips 0 Comments

Being that my husband is in the airline industry, we have been a family that takes full advantage of the flight benefits. Therefore, since we fly stand-by, we hardly ever check bags – because one is never totally quite sure IF we will get on the said flight until the last minute – major bummer if your bags make the flight and you don’t!


So after almost 28 years of marriage and trips around the world and then some (including four international adoptions) and untold number of international mission trips – we have a few tips on packing you might find helpful.

Flying with only carry-on luggage is really quite freeing, gives you maximum flexibility and really helps one to not over pack and therefore break your back carrying things around the world that you never really needed in the first place. Mind you, my packing has somewhat evolved and streamlined over the years as our family has expanded to 6 children. I therefore recommend that one traveling for an international adoption pack with purpose, pack in functional luggage (we speak from experience!), pack with comfort, and pack for care.


Pack with purpose:

Packing with a purpose is the most important component of packing and happens weeks before one ever pulls out the suitcase and carryon/backpack. Determine what the purpose of the trip is… for an international adoption it is ALL about the documents (need I say more)… your new child… and your ability to be at the top of all your faculties – body, mind and spirit – for this unbelievable adventure to enfold your new child into your hearts forever and for your witness to those you encounter. It is not about the clothes you will wear each day.

Much of the logistical and physical “stuff” that you bring in your luggage is inconsequential to the mindset and heart attitude that you have and the cultural attitude that you bring. My husband and I were youth group directors for several years and led the teens on foreign missions trips and in the weeks leading up to the trip they were required to read books to prepare themselves for the purpose of the trip. All that we do – particularly in the adoption community – is a grand testimony of God’s love for us played out in our radical faith and crazy love for our child on display for the world to see.   

I urge therefore, PRAY and prepare your heart… know your purpose… know the culture into which you will be going and pack up all the humility, patience, trust and obedience you can muster. Then, prepare yourself physically. Start walking/exercising, practice carrying that baby backpack loaded with 20 pounds of flour. I was so glad I was in shape the day we had to sprint several blocks to the US Embassy in Russia to catch our appointment before it closed unexpectedly. Our physical preparedness is directly connected to our overall well-being and attitude and will effect of overall purpose of enfolding your new child and being a witness to the world. Traveling is tiring and can be stressful, so be prepared.

Making a packing list is helpful and really essential. Most of the adoption agencies are really helpful to give you an idea of what to bring. For those using just carry-on luggage you really just bring the essentials only. Most everything else can be acquired in country if needed. The age old adage of “less is more” cannot be overstated here. I have found “four” is the operative number of items of coordinating clothing (mix-n-match) and then pack zip lock bags of detergent. One is the number of shoes to pack…. ONE! Pack one jacket/coat that goes with everything and minimal toiletries – I keep these in the outside pockets.  Keep your jewelry at home and just wear your favorites.

Pack in functional luggage:

Reliable luggage is key and I strongly recommend quality wheeled lightweight luggage and carry-on/backpack.  Every pocket should have a designated use and that way even in the dark of the night with baby and whatnot on your lap you will be able to retrieve what you need.  If you are not a seasoned traveler…practice where passports, tickets, wallets and documents will go EVERY TIME…bottles and formula…diapers and wipes, etc.  Trust me, stress and fatigue will cause you to lose things…important things…having a system in place is key for resource management.  Many people choose to keep their passports/valuables around their necks or in a travel vest with secured pockets.  Find a system that works and use it – every time!  It will eliminate your stress when you can locate something quickly with confidence!  As with anything, having the right equipment makes a world of difference.

Airlines allow 2 carry-on’s per person.  Allocate the space as you deem best but know that your child’s clothing needs to share in your carry-on’s as well.  Assuming two adults are traveling, I used one carry-on for documents and valuables/necessities and the other one designated for the child.  The 2-wheeled suitcases then are for your clothing and any additional baby supplies (baby carrier).


Pack for comfort:

Traveling in the most comfortable practical shoes you can find cannot be overstated. You will not be in your normal routine and will be doing a lot of walking and waiting and sightseeing. Invest in a good pair of shoes if you do not already have one – I love and swear by my “Merrell’s”. Pack only clothing that fits right and is comfortable for the long flights and washes easily and does not wrinkle. Spot cleaning really is the best option when traveling.

When packing clothes for your child… remember from an attachment point of view, I strongly recommend that you continue to dress your child in the same clothing that they came to you in and do not wash it. This is a huge adjustment and grieving time for your child so you will want to keep as many things the same that you can – clothing, food, routines, etc. Ask politely if you can have some of the child’s clothing in exchange for some new ones donated.

I will never forget my youngest daughter screaming uncontrollably the first night when she spotted in a zip lock bag her fleece jacket from the orphanage. She leaped out of my “inept foreign arms” and tore open the bag and buried herself into jacket and despite the heat wore it the next few days and slept with it every night for weeks as her “blanket”. Please… as tempting as it is to put them into adorable clothes and snap the pictures – remember what would bring them the most comfort. Therefore, please pack with comfort in mind for your child. There will be a lifetime of adorable clothes – right now keep their clothing the same and do not wash “the smells” away. The clothes you do bring should be very soft, without tags and easy to get on and off as many children have sensory issues.    

Pack with care:

Gifts are expected so purchase those that will not take up much room (scarves!). Be creative and pack gift bags and ribbons to easily compile there. Secure anything that could leak in a zip lock bag and fit them into your suitcase.

In order to adequately care for health needs, bring an assortment of OTC medicines in small quantities in zip lock bags. Also bring a few creature comfort foods for yourself and for your child. The best way to start a bonding relationship with your child is with food. Another good way to demonstrate your care to your child is through massage. Pack a good non-greasy lotion that is lightly scented.

There will be very little room for toys… but know that the best “toy” is you… interacting and mirroring their play, singing, playing peek-a-boo, chase and hide-n-seek. Children never tire of these games and they need no translator.


Lastly, be sure to pack your favorite version of God’s word… either on-line or your Bible. I encourage you to have a daily quiet time of prayer and Bible reading with the Lord. When the difficult days/nights come, and there will be some, God’s sustaining power will refresh and renew you.

Pack with a purpose with good solid functioning carry-ons, pack for comfort and care and go in peace knowing that you have all you need.


– guest post by Shyla, mom to six, including Meredith who lives in China serving orphans with congenital heart defects

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