In part 1, I discussed the reasons why travelling to your child’s country is a very important piece of the adoption journey. While some of you are completely on board with adoption travel and also look forward to it, I know there are others of you who may not be that enthusiastic (and perhaps others who are more than a little afraid) about navigating in another country and culture. For the more trepidatious among you, let me give you some tips as to how you can up your adventurousness quotient.
1. Work on your own food pickiness.
Conquering this one thing, even partially, will help significantly with international travel. I have some room to talk here, because I have personally done this. I was an extremely picky eater, to the point where my mother routinely told me I would never become a world traveler. This pickiness remained up into my early adult years when I had an epiphany. I was eating out with a friend (who shared my pickiness) and we were looking at a rather extensive menu. I was vaguely thinking to myself that I wasn’t sure that there was anything on the menu that I thought looked good, but that since this was a perpetual state for me, I didn’t think much about it. At least not until my friend said out loud, “There is nothing on this menu that I like!” I heard that, looked at the menu which contained possibly 50 or more items, and realized how ludicrous and self-absorbed that sounded. I am not terribly picky anymore, though it was a long road to get here. Being an adventurous eater is still something I have to make a conscious effort to do, but it can be done. I’m not asking you to eat the scorpions on a stick, but work to be able to try some local food without extreme anxiety.
A few hints if you desire to change this trait in yourself. First, remember it really does take a lot of tastes of something to get used to it. Try things. You don’t have to eat an entire serving; just taste it. If you have children at home already, make it a game with them. Buy something new at the grocery store and try it together. Sometimes, setting a good example is just the push I need to put it in my mouth. I also remind myself it’s not going to hurt. For some reason, part of my previous pickiness stems from a fear that not liking something and it hurting in my mouth are the same thing. They’re not, and I have to remind myself of this. I also give myself (and my children) permission to spit something out if it tastes just too vile. Lastly, it is good to know that the brain cells that discern taste are some of the most quickly renewed, so continuing to expose yourself to different tastes really will work in the long run.
2. Try new things in your own country.
It is far easier to learn adventurousness in an environment that is familiar than it is in another culture where everything is different. Try something you wouldn’t normally try. Explore a new place. Go to a city with ethnic neighborhoods and investigate. If this sounds too intimidating, find an adventurous friend who would be willing to go with you. I’m a natural introvert, but I enjoy exploring new neighborhoods with my more extroverted friends. They are more likely to initiate conversations, and I slowly learn, by their example, how to do the same thing. Work on developing a more adventurous mind-set at home. It takes practice.
Also, if you are adopting from a country in Asia, you will probably be spending the bulk of your time in big cities. I’ve found that big cities in different countries are more similar than dissimilar. Sometimes, people’s discomfort with travelling isn’t so much about the different country than it is about the different setting. Are you comfortable travelling about in cities? If this scares you a bit, it might not hurt trying out a city in your own country before venturing abroad. Make a point to get comfortable riding public transportation. We found that our experience riding the L in Chicago made it possible to navigate the subway in Guangzhou without too much difficulty.
3. Research where you are going.
Read about the area, talk to people who have been there (Facebook groups are excellent for making these contacts), learn a few important words in the language, and try some of the food at home if you can find it. Sometimes, it is the unknown that causes the most fear, and knowing what to expect can help with this. Ask people who have travelled to the areas you are going what are some of the things they did. If you are travelling with a group and you don’t feel able to go explore on your own, chances are there are at least a couple of adventurous types in your group—ask to join them. Often, things feel safer when you are with other people.
4. Adjust your expectations.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard of people about to travel who declare that they can only stay in 5-star hotels, that they will die if their flat iron doesn’t work, that they have no intention of venturing out of the hotel. This makes me so sad: sad for them and sad for their children. Instead of going with a flexible attitude and a sense of humor, these people are heading out pretty much expecting to be disappointed. In the end, any trip is what you make of it. Even the most rotten trip can create good memories if you maintain your sense of humor, and even the most potentially wonderful trip can feel rotten if you refuse to let go of your entitlement and fears.