Tips for Traveling Overseas with a Kid Who Doesn’t Understand a Word You Say

Previous Adventures , Traveling Jun 05, 2011 No Comments

In 2002, Bret and I traveled to Russia to adopt our daughter. Not sure why, really, except I knew I didn’t always want to be a mother-in-law, I wanted to have a grown daughter who I could be good friends with someday. I should have probably thought more about the 18 years between the adoption and the grown-daughter part, but I digress.

Traveling in Russia in 2002 was an adventure I’ll never forget. Having never been to an non-English speaking country before, there was an absolute thrill for me in being surrounded by foreign words, sounds and even letters. At first, I found myself trying to translate the Cyrillic alphabet to the English alphabet. Feeling triumphant that I had correctly looked up every letter and made the proper substitution, I realized that the word I had “translated” was still a foreign word and had no meaning to me. From that point forward, I relied on Bret (he managed to figured out enough Russian on our flight over that he fooled our guide/interpreter into thinking he was a native Russian speaker) and Olga, our chaperone for the trip.

There are so many things I could say about Russia! We loved our trip there. The people were friendly, the parts of Moscow we saw were clean and safe and the countryside was lovely. I was thrilled to realize that their way of cooking was not unlike what we were used to: lots of sour cream, fish, noodles and soup; comfort food at its best. We plan to take our kids there again someday, when the country is a bit more ready for tourism and the kids are old enough to appreciate the history to be found there. I can’t wait!

The top things I learned in Russia in 2002:

  • Don’t drink the water! Both still and carbonated water is provided everywhere!
  • Don’t brush your teeth with the carbonated water, even if it’s all you have!
  • Bring a lot of reading material! There’s no English TV at night in your room!
    Beer is cheaper than soda or water, but isn’t so much like American beer
  • The subways are amazingly gorgeous
  • The beautiful church (St. Basil’s Cathedral) in all of the photos of Red Square really is even more stunning in person
  • The Moscow airport is a very scary place. Even though it looks dark and creepy and like you will be shot on site, you’re probably going to be just fine. Just don’t smile!
  • When leaving the airport, “Neit” is the most important word you can know
  • Make sure you’re with someone who speaks Russian

The top things I learned about traveling with a child who doesn’t understand a word I’m saying:

  • Learn how to ask the basics: “Do you have to go potty?” “Are you hungry?” “Are you tired?” The rest doesn’t matter because you won’t understand the answer anyway
  • Dramamine is your best friend. Our nearly-four year old slept from Moscow to Atlanta (23 hrs), only to wake long enough to be carried through the airport. Can’t say I blamed her, I think being adopted might make you tired
  • One baby doll and one other toy is more than enough to entertain a kid on a plane, especially one who has never owned her own toy. More than that is overwhelming
  • A kid brought up in an orphanage will eat anything and A LOT of it. Monitor this or make sure to have a sick bag with you at all times
  • Kids who aren’t used to buttons will push all of them. In planes, in bathrooms, on cell phones, on computers, in hotels…

And the number one lesson I learned on our trip to Russia was:

Never let go of your child’s hand and everything will work out just fine.


Tracie is an Assist U Virtual Assistant who loves that she can take her business along on family road trips. Traveling in Lewis, her trusty Ford Flex, Tracie works while her husband Bret drives and three teenage children experience America as it should be - from the backseat. Along with their giant poodle, the family takes extended trips pulling Clark, their short, comfy travel trailer.

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