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Nicole’s Travel Tips for Vietnam Adoption

#1 Pack light
All the way around it’s just a good idea to pack light. We had families carrying 2 checked bags for each person, on top of their carry-ons, and they weren’t any better for it. Matt and I took one carry-on each, and then one carry-on-sized checked bag between the two of us…we liked not being high maintenance at the in-country airports. The bags that we actually took on the plane with us carried our clothes and our toiletries. We were sure to pack non-essentials in the bag that was checked, just in case it was lost.

#2 Don’t stress about packing the small stuff
You’ll basically be able to find anything in Vietnam. In the larger cities, there’s a mini-mart within walking distance of almost any 3-4-5 star hotel. On the list of do-not-pack is, formula, more than a day (or two’s) worth of diapers, water, etc. These things are cheap and readily available. It’s just going to be a hasstle when you’re getting in and out of the country.

#3 Coordinate with other families traveling with you
If you read the suggested packing list on most Adoption Doctor’s and agencies’ websites, you’ll often see a staggering list of medications and what-nots to bring. My suggestion: talk with the other families in your travel group. You’ll cut down on space and stress if you don’t pack everything under the sun. For example, before we were set to leave, I spoke with both mothers from the other families and found out that I was the only one bringing lice medication and scabies cream. That’s ok because both of those things are packaged in huge amounts so if another family needed one (or both) products, we could easily share. That way we didn’t all need to pack duplicates of things. (By the way, we didn’t need any meds for our little girl except the antibiotics, which we brought, and “Little Tummies” drops, which were borrowed from another family.)

#4 Shop around for fares and schedules
If we had blindly gone with the agent that our agency recommended then we would have been on a crappy schedule and paying $200 more per ticket. Shopping around is the best thing you can do before you travel.

#5 Pay for your tickets on a CC with rewards points/miles
If you get an adoption fare through your travel agent you won’t be getting any frequent flier miles. It’s a drug deal they have set up so that they can give you a lower fare without giving you any perks. It’s alot of miles you’ll be missing out on…really, it is. We signed up for an American Express Card for the sole purpose of getting a point for every dollar and a point for every 3 miles we fly. We’re going to end up with enough points for free flights to Vegas this fall. Totally worth it!

#6 Don’t bring a stroller
If your kid will be over 12 mo when you travel, don’t bring your own stroller. They’re a hasstle to bring through the airports without a child and you can buy nice ones in Vietnam for under $30. That way you’re not lugging one around when you don’t need it. On the same note, don’t spent a huge amount on a baby carrier before your baby comes home. Out of 4 babies, only 1 would actually allow her mom to wear a sling/carrier; 2 loved the stroller (including our little one), and one would only let her mom carry her.

#7 Don’t bring travelers cheques
We had one travel companion in our group that brought some traveler’s cheques and had a hard time getting anyone to cash them. At one hotel they wouldn’t take them because the bank made her date them when she bought them, and another hotel had her sign them but afterwards said that their computer wouldn’t take them. She ended up not being able to use any of them.

#8 Be prepared to do your own laundry
Laundry at the hotels is really expensive. Our last hotel charged $2 per t-shirt! Some times your in-country helpers will have local hook-ups that will do wash for as low as 3 pieces for $1 but it might not be the case in every city. We ended up handwashing the clothes that we really needed in Hanoi but we didn’t check to make sure that we had opening windows (which we didn’t) so the clothes tried to drip-dry in the bathroom but they ended up smelling like they were left in the washing machine for days. You know, that moldy smell that just makes you wanna gag?! I suggest that you bring a couple of the individually wrapped liquid detergent packets that you find at laundry mats, and always check to make sure that your windows open before getting everything you have wet. :-)

#9 If you want to keep in touch, bring your own laptop
As I’ve complained about before, internet at the better hotels is usually $4 for 30 minutes. On the computer for 15 minutes, it’s $4. On the computer for 35 minutes, it’s $8. It’s a total rip-off. And, even if you find a hotel that has internet for free, you have to compete on a regular basis for a computer with high-schoolers checking their myspace and chatting with friends. It can be a pain in the butt. Just bring your own. Some hotels have wireless in every room and others have wires in the room. It’s true that there are internet cafe’s on almost every block but with a new baby in tow, the last thing you’ll want to do is venture out of the hotel in the heat to sit in an internet cafe for an hour.

#10 Bring antibiotics, for yourself and the baby
Matt and I didn’t need our antibiotics at all but it was the only medicine we brought that she really needed. I’m sure it saved us a costly and time consuming trip to the SOS clinic.

#11 Look into a cheap intl. cell phone or calling cards
We never ended up finding a place to buy phone card while we were there. Most of the places that sold things that looked like calling cards were actually internet time cards. It was almost 7 days into travel that we actually got to call home to talk to Diesel, and even then we had to bite the bullet and call from the hotel room without any cards. All-in-all, I think we spent $75-100 calling home, and we only made about 6 calls in 2.5 weeks. Not as much as I hoped.

#12 Bring your USB cord
While it is true that you can get your memory card burned onto a disc really cheapy in Vietnam, it’s just like the internet cafe’s, not convenient. Hotel’s don’t have card readers…..unless you being your own laptop and it does. :-)

#13 Bring your own hair dryer
If your hair is longer than the bottom of your ears and you blowdry it on a regular basis, do yourself a favor and bring your own hair dryer. The hotels have them in the rooms but I dried my hair twice and got it caught in the back of the dryer both times. I had to rip it out of the fan…it sucked. Invest in a hairdryer that has a foldable handle so it doesn’t take up any extra space in your luggage.

#14 When it comes to your spending money, 5’s and 10’s will be more useful than 1’s
There will be a rare time shopping when you will spend under $5. Most places have things so cheap that you’ll buy more than one item. Thinking that we would need alot of ones, we brought $800 in 1’s, $400 in 5’s, and $400 in 10’s. I wish we would have brought more 5’s and 10’s and less 1’s. We took a total of $2000 spending money but brought home $500 in 1’s.

#15 Be prepared for schedule changes
One of the best things you can do for your sanity is go to Vietnam with an open mind. You’re trying to coordinate things with two governments. While their governing styles may be very different, their redtape is alot of the same BS. Appt’s will change. 9 times out of 10 you’re going to get everything done in the allotted time, but it might not look like the schedule you had in mind before you traveled. Don’t let it stress you out too bad. It’s just the way things work.

#16 Read everything you can on attachment no matter how old your kid is
I’m glad I did.

#17 Be prepared for questions, alot of them!
The Vietnamese people as a group, are open to asking alot of questions about the adoption process. I don’t think I can even remember how many times I was asked how much she cost. The best thing to do is to not let these things get to you. They’re not familiar with the process so just explain it to them. They’re sincerely interested in what it takes (most of the time) so taking a few minutes to talk with them will really make them appreciate you more.

#18 Get kids over 12mo a seat of their own on the plane
If our little one didn’t have her own seat on the plane ride home, things would have been a mess. While it’s nice that your 18 mo doesn’t need a seat, it will save you some agony just to fork out the extra $500 to make your last plane ride easier. Even if your kid won’t let you put them down, at least you can lift up the armrest and lay over 2 seats instead of cramming both of you into 1 seat. Coach seating is getting smaller and smaller it seems (or maybe I’m just getting bigger and bigger…)

#19 Remember, you can always buy luggage in Vietnam
While we only entered the country with 3 pieces of luggage, we left with 4. We bought a great suitcase at an international mall for $20. It was worth it and we just packed all our shopping goodies in it for the ride home. 95% of what we bought made it home safe and we didn’t have to lug it around for our whole trip.

#20 Give yourself at least a 3 hour layover at your first stop back in the US
Our first stop back in the US was at LAX. Great airport but it’s huge! Their international wing is removed from their domestic wing, which means, if you have another flight to catch from LA to home, then you’re going to have to get off the plane, go through 2 customs lines (one for you and one for the baby), collect your baggage, treck to the domestic wing, check in with your domestic carrier, recheck your bags, and go through security all over again. It’s not as bad as it sounds but it’s really time consuming. We ended up with 3 hours and it was just the right amount of time. We arrived at our gate from LAX to PDX with just 30 minutes to spare. Any less and we would have missed our flight. I don’t know about other airports but unless you’ve arrived internationally at the airport before and know the procedure, I would give at least 3 hours where ever you fly into. Just to be on the safe side.

#21 Remember, this is a trip of a lifetime!
The unexpected is going to happen; things are going to cost more and bumps are going to occur, you just have to remind yourself that this is a once in a lifetime trip and you’ll never experience anything quite like it again. Enjoy it for what it is.

#22 Clothes: Not a big deal
Tank tops, shorts, halter tops, tattoos: no problem. Of course when you’re giving interviews with either government, or visiting the orphanage, you want to be dress in something a little more appropriate, but when you’re just kicking around the hotel, sightseeing, or touring the city, dress in whatever is comfortable. I spent most of my time in a tank top and gauchos, while other families lived in their favorite pair of shorts and a t-shirt. It’s up to you. Of course there is a line of what’s appropriate…..and it’s not a thin line, so decide for yourself.

#23 Gifts
We brought gifts for the 11 orphanage workers, government officials at the G&R, as well as the G&R staff. We brought, 5 necklaces, 4 portable desk fans, and 10 sets of hair clips. We gave the first two items for the G&R officials and their staff. The hair clips were originally supposed to go to the orphanage staff but we never ended up giving them over. Instead, all the families pooled together over $110 for the nannies to split. That way our facilitator could make sure that all the nannies got an even take. It’s an extra weeks salary, which I’m sure they could use more than some hair clips.

#24 Sightseeing, not for everyone
Hubs and I had to decide early on in the trip which of us would go sightseeing and which of us would stay with the baby. Matt got the privilege. With the baby being sick and me being super emotional, there was no room for us on excursions. Matt took my camera and had a good time, while I stayed behind and tried to make baby feel more comfortable. It would be a good idea, if you’re traveling with your spouse, to have this conversation before you leave. If you wait until the time comes and you’re on the spot, one of you might feel angry that your getting “left behind” or something like that.

#25 Not all hotels are created equal
While we were waiting for our first INS interview we happened to run into some people we knew from online communities. They were staying at a hotel not far from ours and were having a very, very rough trip that was lasting 3 times longer than expected. While their hotel seemed to be on the nicer end of things, they were missing an important basic: Their hotel was lack of a pool! Other important ammenities include English speaking TV channels and decent room service. While you might say to yourself, “who needs those things while your in a country like Vietnam?” Well normally I might agree with you but with temperatures in Ha Noi, DaNang, and HoChiMinh City ranging between 80-100 degrees (with almost 100% humidity) while we were there, going outside with a cranky baby, or an upset stomach, or almost just in general, doesn’t sound like a good idea most of the time. Without English-speaking TV to keep you sane, a pool to keep you cool, and decent food to keep you strong, you’re going to be screwed. The really crappy thing is that they were paying just as much for their room as we were. So, the moral is, if you’re stuck booking your own hotels, do alot of research because it does matter. And, if your with an agency that is booking your hotels for you, make sure you know what hotels your staying at before you go, so that you can make adjustments to your packing list based on hotel amenities. (ie. you might want to bring a portable DVD player and some DVDs, or it might make the argument stronger for you to bring your laptop; you also might want to stock up on your favorite treats, because if you’re down, peanut M&Ms will always make you feel better.) (If you want hotel recommendations, email me and I’ll let you know what I thought of the hotels we stayed at, or if I have an overwhelming request, I’ll post it here. We were at hotels in HaNoi, DaNang, HoiAn, and HoChiMinh City.)

Home again, Home again, Jiggity, Jig

So here we are again in the comfort of our home. Thank Goodness! I was so ready to come home. The country of Vietnam is beautiful but there’s no place like home!!
In summary our trip was good. Logistically it was awesome! I couldn’t believe how smooth and seamless everything was; babywise, on the other hand, it was just ok. Our first week was a nightmare but it did get progressively better. Thank you a ton to all of people who read and posted/emailed support. It really helped with my sanity.
As I type, Dee and the baby are in the livingroom making a Lego tower. Things with them have been good. I can tell that Dee is getting kindda sick of the novelty of having a baby around all the time, and we’ve only been home a day! haha The sleep department has been hard. We’re all suffering from jetlag to varying degrees. Last night was rough. Hubs ended up sleeping with the baby in her big-girl bed (it’s a full mattress on the bottom bunk.) She slept until Hubs woke her up at like 10 this morning. In turn, Dee slept with me in our bed. He’s had an upset stomach since we got home. I was woken up this morning to Dee pooping in our bed. He says that his “butt threw-up.” It’s gross but it’s a cute mommy thing. Hubs and I chalked it up to stress and anxiety until it got worse today and he ended up throwing up this morning and has had the same problem with the “other end” all day.
As far as the baby goes, she’s happy as pie at home. Smiles and giggles galore. She’s warming up to people much faster than before. My mom and our roommate are not causing her as much anxiety as we thought they would. She reaches for my mom to pick her up and our 6.5 foot tall roommate is one of her favorite play buddies all ready. All and all, homecoming has been a success. The flight home was also cause for celebration. It was amazing how calm and great she was on every flight. There was never once where she threw a fit for no reason. She slept on part of the big flight and played the rest of the time. She was very happy to have her own seat. And we were very happy to have her be happy. Oh and about the flight….we must have had alot of people praying and wishing that we would make that early flight because we made it with plently of time. Not only that, but the flight was delayed an hour. So even if we had been late, we still would have made it. Thank you guys very much!!


PICTURES!

These took some time to get up because my camera takes very large file sizes so I had to re-size all of these….more to come. Eventually. haha

Our hotel in DaNang. The Palm Garden. 

Marble Mountain in DaNang.

Two Women in Hoi An.

Hubs and Me in a temple in Hoi An.

Hubs and Me at the Silk Shop in Hoi An.

Our first hour home from the G&R. We were sleepy. :-)

MeKong Delta

Ha Long Bay

Heading home!!!

Well, it’s been a very hectic 12 hours but to make a long story short, we’re headed home!! Our flight leaves at 11am and has us coming in to PDX about 2 days early. Visas came through just fine, thankfully.
One request, we’re cutting our airport time very short this morning so please, wish, hope, pray, keep your fingers crossed, etc, that we make it in time to catch the flight.
Thanks guys! Next time you hear from me it will be stateside!!!

Hey guys. Here we are and it’s Monday morning in Vietnam. It’s hoped that our visas will be issued today. Fingers are crossed. We have 3 new flight options; Tonight, tomorrow morning, and tomorrow night. Honestly, I’m hoping for tomorrow morning because it would alleviate a need for an overnight in LA. I think we would end up getting in about the same time just without the dreaded layover.
In more positive news, we have turned a corner with the baby. She’s happy as pie (when we’re in the room.) Matt went on a trip to the bay yesterday which left us alone in the room all day. Sounds horrible but it was great. She’s interacting, loving, etc. In fact, yesterday when I came down stairs briefly to check my internet, a Vietnamese woman tried to pick her up and she screamed bloody murder. I felt strangely satisfied. She may not have wanted me at that moment, but she didn’t want anyone else either. I am, however, holding my breath though for that step back that I know is just ahead, but we’ll survive. We brought a picture book with photos of the house and Diesel….she’s totally in love with Dee already. Anytime anyone comes in our room, it’s the first thing she shows them. And she already has a nick-name for him, “Dee-see.” She tries to say Dee and it’s very cute. I can’t wait to see them together for the first time. Non-baby news: Day before yesterday (Saturday) we got the chance to go to the tailor and I ordered a very cute outfit that I’ll have to photograph when we get home. It’s handmade and custom so I hope that it will arrive today before we have to leave. Ekk. Oh, and thank you for all those who have weighed in on the name thing. We’re still up in the air about it and will decide before we head home.

I do want to say that while our emotions have been on overload and things have been stressful, we’ve been very blessed with a smooth trip. Everything has been planned to the last detail. It’s been great not having to worry about anything but the baby. So, for those of you waiting for TA, or referrals, from our agency, have the peace of mind that your travel will be the least of your worries. :-) I’m putting together a more recent packing list for you guys. Things that I wish I would have brought or wish I wouldn’t have. I know that there are a lot of those things out there but they’re all old and pertain to pre-shutdown Vietnam….it seems a lot of things have changed.

We’re in Hanoi

Hey guys. I hope everyone is well. We’re now back in Hanoi. The flight here was hard in the beginning but as it wore on, she got happier. It’s only an hour flight so it wasn’t that long before she warmed up. Things have been getting progressively easier since we had our real blow out a couple days ago. Yesterday afternoon was our best and worst day yet. Our INS appt was at 1:30 and we knew that having her in a building like that wasn’t going to be easy. Thankfully we were up first but she just wouldn’t stop pitching a fit so our facilitator’s helper came in and took her out of the room so that we could actually hear the interviewer. When we emerge from the interview (it went well I might add), the man who had retrieved her, handed her to a pack of well-meaning Vietnamese women who were anxious to caudal her. She had stopped screaming but was not willing to come back to me. As the women remarked that she was too small for 2 years-old, they insisted that she was hungry and that’s why she was crying. To be honest I was insulted; we’d just had a huge breakfast and lunch and if she was crying because she was hungry, then I’m Oprah. We demanded (in a polite way) that we be taken back to the hotel because we were done with the INS and about 2 minutes away from our room. The whole time I’m fighting back tears because, as well meaning as these women were, to physically take a child from their mother and then laugh about it (as they did at one point) is just rude in any culture. Enough with that, on to the good part: Once we returned to the room we proceeded to play, and she played back! By dinner time she was laughing and smiling at us! The first little bit was a riot, as she tried really hard to not smile by pursing her lips together and making a fish-face every time she wanted to smile. Very adorable!! Now that our INS appt is over, and we didn’t get the visa yesterday, we will be here until Monday. We’re hoping that we will be able to contact our travel agent and have him get us out on the first plane. I’ll let you know.
I want to apologize for a couple things; first of all, I really meant to update this thing more often. Internet here is spendy in the hotels that charge (about $4 a half-hour) and the hotels that offer it for free are overrun with kids playing online games and chatting with friends. And, second, I’ve been getting a lot of personal emails that I wish I could return but I don’t have the ability as per #1. I do want to thank all the people out there sending me love and support with their well-wishes and personal stories. They mean a lot and I will get back to you….it just might be after we get home. :-)
I have to run, my half-hour is up.

Back in Danang

So here we are once again, in DaNang. We found out that the passports have been issued and now all we have left is our visa appts (which are scheduled for Friday.) I’m hoping that our visas will be issued the same day, so that we can come home over the weekend, but I’m not holding my breath. We’re staying this time at the Sandy Beach and not at the Palm Garden. That’s ok though, the rooms are nice and I hear their food is alright.

The last couple of days have been rough. Just as it seems that we are making some progress, things seem to take a huge step back. Today was that day. We had just gotten to the place where she was wanting to come to me and making little interactions with food and toys, but today we ended back up with the screaming and not wanting us to touch her. She’ll lunge at just about anyone but us. This includes Joann, little Vietnamese women working in the hotels, and most heartbreaking of all, the other adoptive parents in our group. Of course this really breaks my heart because then it’s not just about race. The only thought we can come up with is that we’re the only family here not to have brought kids. So she’s seeing the other women as mothers to their other kids and me as just some lady. Everyone is supportive that once we get home and she sees me with Dee, that things will click for her. I hope so.

I want to thank everyone for the supportive emails I’ve been getting! They really mean a lot to me. As most have pointed out, this situation is exactly the way that I assumed things would go, but you know, there’s always that glimmer of hope that it will turn out just right. They haven’t worked out yet but they’re coming, I hope.
On another note, we’re thinking about reconsidering names again. The more we get to know her, the more we think that “Corden” is just not right. We haven’t been calling her by it, as we mostly just call her “baby girl” or by her Vietnamese name, “Huong”, so a change wouldn’t mean much. Our latest thought was “Kinhly”; pronounced “Kin-ly”. Her ethnic origin is listed as Kinh, as that is what the Vietnamese are know as, and another mother in the group had considered it for her daughter before they decided to go with Ruby. What do you guys think?
I’ll write more later. I hope everyone is well.

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