This post has been a long time in coming; the stories have been told about our trip, now it's time to get practical! Before we ever traveled, I learned so much reading blogs from others that traveled before us and appreciated how prepared we really were for our trip as a result, so I want to pass on the blessing.
For my first bit of advice, I wish we had begun getting ready for our trip sooner! Every step of this adoption journey we've been kind of reluctant to jump too far ahead in our planning because we didn't want to set ourselves up for too much disappointment if things happened slower than we expected. So, we figured we'd begin doing the practical things to prepare for our trip to Ethiopia when we got our court date, well we only got 2 weeks notice from the call with our court date until we needed to get on a plane to get there!
I realize many people can accomplish a lot in 2 weeks, no problem, but we already have 3 children and just to keep daily life going like wash, cleaning, childcare, meal prep. takes up a lot of time! Also, we were taking 2 of our children with us and arranging care for the child we were leaving behind, so the preparations were harder. But, we managed, I just wish we'd started sooner!
One thing I did start long ago that helped was that I kept a Word document saved on my computer and during our nearly 2 years of being in the process of adopting from Ethiopia any time I'd read or hear a suggestion from someone regarding Ethiopia travel I'd copy and paste into into my "Ethiopia Travel" document. This is key because I guarantee once you get the call with your court date, your mind will erase any suggestion you've ever heard before!
I'm not going to list obvious things like camera and underwear, but just hit the things are that are a bit different than regular vacation travel for you to think about as you plan for your trip to Ethiopia (I'm focusing on 1st trip where you do not take custody of your child here because that's all we've done so far).
So here's my list:
- Gather the donations you plan to take over early (check with your caseworker about what items are most needed at the time -- I imagine diapers and wipes are always in demand)
- Go ahead and figure out how to fit those donations in bags that weigh less than 50 lbs.
- We got a few of these duffel bags: Outdoor Products Mountain Duffel in size large, from Amazon.com and loved them! They worked great for stuffing in a bunch of donation items (the Gladney care center returned our bags after the donations were unloaded and we used them for souvenirs on the trip home) as well as holding our own personal stuff. Also, we had a few rolling bags I found at TJ Maxx (see picture above)
- Pack a lot of hand sanitizer. I was glad I'd taken a big pump dispenser of it, we just set it next to the sink in our guesthouse and told the kids to use it instead of washing their hands after going to the bathroom. Granted there were 4 of us using it, but we almost used the entire big bottle during our trip! I also had a small bottle I refilled and kept in our backpack to use when we were out places.
- Pack tons of little packs of Kleenex because pretty much no public restrooms in Ethiopia have toilet paper!
- Also, related to the unclean water situation, I was really glad to have some pre-moistened facial cleansing wipes that I used to wash my face, you just really don't want to be using that water on your face!
- Good shoes - We traveled right before official rainy season and it was already pretty muddy, and rained nearly every day, so I was really glad to have some waterproof hiking shoes like these: Teva Women's Sky Lake Hiking Shoe only in color blue shadow.
- Lightweight rain jackets - we wore every day but also took them off and stashed them in the backpack every day (the rain was very intermittent), so a jacket that folds up small is great!
- Snacks - I like these protein bars: Clif Bar Energy Bar, Chocolate Chip, 2.4-Ounce Bars, 12 Count (Pack of 2) and we ate them a lot in Ethiopia (there are decent restaurants, but for in between meals, or times you wan to skip a meal out, these are great), my kids love the Clif Kid Zbars. My daughter is allergic to eggs and thankfully I had heard ahead of time that the guesthouse served eggs pretty much every morning for breakfast, so I had packed some breakfast bars and Pop Tarts for her to eat. Also I brought some chocolates from home and they were a wonderful dessert for us and the kids back in our room! I packed way too many snacks in my carry-on for the airplane ride, though. We flew Emirates and they fed us a ton and especially the kids got these snack boxes with more goodies than they could eat! We did go through a lot of bottled water on the plane, though, and were happy we'd gotten plenty of those from the airport shops to bring on board the plane with us.
- Warm jammies - It wasn't quite as cold in our guesthouse at night as we worried it might be when we saw the average nighttime temps and knew we weren't going to have heat. We took long underwear to wear under our jammies, turns out just one layer of warm jammies would have been fine for us while we were there!
- USD money for the guesthouse and your driver (for BJoe's Guesthouse and our Gladney-arranged driver we paid them in American money at the end of our stay) already separated into envelopes so you can make sure you have enough left at the end of your trip and so you don't have to worry with counting up money/figuring payment while on your trip. You should be able to find out ahead of time what your daily rate will be, then just multiply it by your days there and add on tip.
- Pocket Amharic to English language book - most people in restaurants, etc. in Ethiopia speak pretty good English but we were glad to be able to try out a few words with our driver and also translate and speak a few basic words with our toddler-aged daughter we're adopting!
- Comfortable, conservative clothing - We did not wear any shorts during our trip, mostly due to the cooler temps., but I didn't ever see Ethiopians wearing shorts or short skirts and I don't think we would have felt comfortable out and about in them due to that. Best to stick to jeans, long pants that don't wrinkle and long skirts. Our days started off cool , but then many days the afternoons were warm, so we were glad to have a sweater or sweatshirt with a lighter weight layer under.
- Slippers for around the guesthouse - our room didn't have any rugs and the floor was cold, also the bathroom tended to get pretty wet and didn't dry real fast (and you have limited towels so we didn't want to use those on the floor) so really some slippers with a hard bottom would be nice
- Battery operated travel alarm clock - you may not have one in your room and there are many mornings you have to be somewhere at a certain time.
- Flash lights - electricity seemed to go out quite a bit in Ethiopia, especially any time it rained even a little bit, so be prepared with some flash lights
- Electrical convertors
- Medications - we took a lot of it for just in case! Definitely take the prescription Cipro for traveler's diarrhea, you can ask your regular doctor or a travel med. doctor to write you a prescription (better safe than sorry). Then just over the counter stuff like allergy meds, Benadryl, Pepto, Immodium, Tylenol, Neosporin, rehydration packets, a first aid kit.
- A few weeks before your trip you might want to start some probiotics. We took some but probably did not start it soon enough to really help, but we did not get very sick during our trip, just some minor stomach issues.
- A phone that will work in Ethiopia. We knew our guesthouse gave us a cell phone to use during our stay but my husband still worked to get his Blackberry configured before we left so we could use it in Ethiopia if needed. Our guesthouse did give us a phone but the battery was not so good any more and even with charging it regularly there were times we tried to use it and it did not work. The Blackberry, however, did work for phone calls, but not for emails like we though it would.
- Also, if you adopting a toddler or older child with our agency you are not supposed to give a photobook of your family to your child prior to you passing court, but if you leave a photobook in Ethiopia with the agency staff, once you pass court a case worker will sit down with your child and show them the book and explain that you are their family. So, create that photobook before you even get a travel date, it will be one less thing to worry about in the weeks right before you travel. Then remember to stick that book in your luggage and hand it off to the staff in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is trickier than most trips to plan for, but it is such an amazing place and well worth some extra trouble!