If you have any more advice to add, either specific to Bulgaria, or generally about international travel, would you please leave it in the comments? Thank you so much! Most of this has come from others; I simply copied and pasted their advice.
I will add to this as needed, and am hoping it will be a helpful resource for future Bulgaria adoptive families.
You’ll be paying your hotel bills with a credit card. Notify your credit card company of your pending travel plans to avoid any difficulties with your credit cards. Make copies of your credit cards; take some copies along and leave a copy at home.
Not a bad idea to notify your bank as well.
Verify with your cell phone company what international calling plans are available to avoid high roaming charges on international calls. Purchasing an international phone card is also recommended.
During the time you are with Toni, you will use a cell phone that she will give you.
Bulgaria does not require foreign visitors to have any immunizations prior to entering the country.
This trip I am taking a rolling carry-on bag because my backpack was so heavy and lugging it all over Frankfurt was a real pain.
Try rolling your clothing rather than folding it in the traditional manner.
Use the plastic bags with zippers for nearly everything. I even do this traveling from IN to PA by car. It keeps your rolled undies and such neat and easy to find.
Take a sweater or jacket along on the flight, even if it is hot outside. It can be chilly and airy on the plane. Tie it around your waist or over your purse. Blankets may not be provided by airline, so a wrap makes a good blanket, too.
Of course, stuff socks in shoes if you take sneakers, though I don’t recommend sneakers in the airport. Easy on-off shoes are necessary there, preferably with a nice soft sole.
I wore sandals the entire time. I did wear socks for the plane trip just so I wouldn’t have to walk totally bare-foot in the security area (AND sometimes airplanes are so cold.)
I would NOT wear flip-flops for the flights, because we had to literally RUN to catch several flights, due to delays and such. It is hard to run with luggage in flip-flops.
Wear shoes that slip on/off if at all possible when traveling. You have to take your shoes off at security, and again, this ensures that you are able to keep moving through the jam-packed security area. Also, some people’s feet swell when traveling on long overseas flights. So, if you can easily slip your shoes off on the plane (and get them back on easily if you need to get up to go to the bathroom), that just makes your life a little easier.
ID all your bags inside and out, your handbag and carry-on as well as your checked luggage.
Make several copies of your itinerary, drivers’ license, birth certificate, and passport, and keep in your carry-on bag, your purse and on your body someplace, and leave some at home as well.
[For a pumping mom] Don’t try to use hand pumps for the whole trip. You can use those during the flight, but you will definitely want to have an electric pump that has battery capability for the rest of the time. Pack extra batteries for the electric pump. Pack a small satchel in your carry-on with the hand pumps, so that you can avoid advertising your errands to the other passengers.
A small purse
Use a purse that can be worn across the neck and shoulder.
Keep the following in a separate pouch within purse to avoid confusion: passport, drivers’ license, birth certificate, airline ticket/boarding pass/flight itinerary, credit cards, small amount of money in Euros, and a list of all phone numbers you may possibly need. Keep them on your person at all times.
Take a small notepad and a couple of pens.
Pack gum for ear popping.
Pack tissues (my nose got dry on the long flight and bled), lip balm, and headache medication.
Pack Melatonin to help you sleep when you need to sleep.
Pack sunglasses because it can be very bright on top of the clouds!
Of course, you’ll take a small camera, but keep it with you at all times. Once I stuck it in my luggage to have less to carry, and that was the last time I saw that camera!
Pack your camera with extra batteries.
Little wisp toothbrush things are nice for the flight.
Stain wipes are nice to have.
Handiwipes would be a good idea for quick hand wash or for wiping down an item. Hand sanitizer, too.
For the money and passport the best option is a pocket hanging down your neck under your clothes or money belt. But be sure to have some small bills in your purse or pocket to pay for food and drinks at the airports. Be aware also that in Europe you can only pay in Euros. You can order some at your bank. Small bills are the best.
This should hold all the rest of your money in envelopes that are labeled with what they are designated for. Keep the money belt down in the carry-on while at the airport, so that if you have to be searched at security, it isn’t visible. When you get through security, immediately go to the closest bathroom and put the money belt on. Wear the money belt on the plane, since your carry-on will go in the storage compartment and be out of your eyesight. If you are changing planes, there is always a bathroom before the next security check point. So you can easily move the money belt back and forth as needed (there’s even one as you come into customs in the US…which is the last bathroom opportunity until you go through security again after customs).
Wish I had brought my money pouch. Something around your neck or your waist, inside your clothing is the way to go. Fanny packs are too easy for pick pockets.
Laptop inside a “sleeve”, so that it comes out easily going through security. Cases take too long and require you to leave your bag open longer and for your stuff to be separated going through the scanner.
Change of clothes and several pairs of undies in case your checked luggage is lost. This goes in a gallon-sized ziplock bag at the very bottom of the carry-on bag since you won’t need it at all on the flight.
Something to read. I carry the iPad with the kindle app, so again, it’s in a sleeve and NOT a case so that it comes out easily for security.
If any adoption documents for either yourself or another family are going with you, those go in an envelope in the carry-on bag.
A quart-size ziplock bag with travel size liquid toiletries, no more than 3 oz. each.
Pack all necessary medications in original prescription bottles, accompanied by a physician’s note.
I ALWAYS take a change of underwear and any personal items with us on the plane so that if our bags were lost we could still get by.
Everything that is in your carry-on bag needs to be appropriately packed for ease of use at security check points. Have cell phone, electronic equipment, cameras easily accessible during airport screening.
DO NOT put put any valuables or things important to you into your checked luggage – just to be safe! Personal valuables should be kept at a minimum. Keep all necessary valuables on your person with carry-on luggage.
They have adapters at the hotel Budapest for you to use and you can also purchase them cheaper there at the appliance stores. It is cheaper to purchase a hairdryer there than to buy an adapter for one. I know the hotel room in Sofia (the Budapest) had a hair dryer.
We bought an adapter on Amazon.com to take, and it worked fine. The second time we bought an additional adapter; we got it at Walmart, but Amazon was cheaper. For my laptop, I used the adapter with no problems.
You can get an adaptor at any Radio Shack or maybe even Walmart. The outlets in Bulgaria are the recessed kind. Mine can be used for several different style outlets and then I used an extension bar with multiple plugs.
All my electronic cords…..camera cords, chargers, adapters, etc…go into one gallon size ziplock bag. This keeps them all together and if security wants to check out what they are (they sometimes do in Germany), it is ONE ziplock bag to pull out and my entire back pack isn’t exposed with me pulling everything out to dig out all the cords. This also keeps them from getting lost in country if they’re all in one clear bag that I can easily look at to make sure they are all in there.
Pack all over-the-counter medicines/supplements/etc. in checked luggage for ease in security.
Pack liquid toiletries in plastic bags and loosen caps slightly to avoid strain due to changes in air pressure.
For easier spotting of your luggage, use brightly-colored tags or ribbon to mark each piece. It’s amazing how all the luggage looks alike when there are hundreds of pieces all together.
Gifts to the director and the personnel are appropriate on both trips. Nothing too much – just some toiletries, lotions, not too expensive perfumes, etc. It’s easy to pack gift bags and tissue paper–they lie flat and don’t take up much space.
American chocolate is a welcome gift, and small snack sizes are a big hit over there.
Take lightweight, small or collapsible toys for your time with your child. You can also take small treats like crackers or puffs if your child eats solid foods.
What about a little bottle of baby lotion to massage your little one when you’re with her? Be sure to put it into the checked luggage, as it is a liquid.
Take a small photo album with pictures of your family and home to show your child. You may be allowed to leave it there with her.
Take the items for your child in a zippered tote bag and request to meet your child’s baba or lelya. You can leave the bag of items with her and ask her to use them for your child in between trips. This becomes a familiar item that will travel home with your child. If you leave them with caregivers, they may be dispersed and not used for your child.
Take a measuring tape to get your child’s measurements for approximate clothing and shoe sizes.
Checking in and Security
Arrive at airport minimum of 3 hours prior for all departures for ease in security screening.
You can check in online up to 24 hours prior to your flight. If you check in prior to arriving at the airport, you can give your checked luggage to a porter at the curb, and bypass the queue at the check-in counter.
If you haven’t checked in prior to arriving at the airport, you will need to go straight to one of the check-in counters for your airline. If you have checked in prior to arriving, you can go straight to security.
Tip the porter $2 for each bag he takes to the check-in counter, or $1 for each bag that was previously checked online (curbside check-in).
I don’t recommend checking in ahead of time, because sometimes the worker at the counter will check a suitcase of orphanage donations without charge if they are asked.
Be sure to have your valid government-issued US passport to present upon check-in at the counter. Keep all travel documents in one location to avoid confusion.
Make sure to have your luggage checked all the way through to Sofia (SOF), and on return have it checked all the way through to Philadelphia (PHL), or your final US destination.
Don’t lock your luggage. It won’t stop a determined thief, and it will slow you down in the event that security asks you to open it to be searched. You don’t want to be fumbling with it under the grim eye of the officer while the guy in line behind you sighs loudly for the fourth time.
Get rid of all drinks prior to entering security.
The toiletries that you put in your carry on bag in a clear baggy must be removed from inside the carry on while going through security.
A woman wearing a skirt is more likely to be flagged and searched, because of how easy it is to hide items under skirts.
Don’t allow yourself to be separated from your passport at any time, for any reason. Not even when going through security. Hold onto that passport; it’s your ticket to freedom.
After security screening, buy snack items for the plane to keep you going in case the plane is on the tarmac for an extended period.
For safety in airports just be aware of your surroundings and stay in public areas.
I wear plain comfortable clothing and I don’t talk much to other travelers.
I always sit with my back against a wall (not in those chairs where someone sits in a chair behind you) and facing out so that I can see the terminal area (can you tell my husband is military and I’ve been “well trained”?????)
Sit close to the checkout counter.
I try to sit near other English-speaking people when possible.
When carrying a purse, I keep it hooked over my shoulder and neck (across my body) and hold it in front of me.
When sitting at the airport, my carry-on is in between my feet with one strap wrapped around my leg, so no one can grab it and run.
I read while waiting at airports, which helps to avoid eye contact and discourages strangers from trying to sit next to me and chat.
Also, don’t get engaged in communicating with someone who doesn’t know English but is asking for directions or informations. It’s a ploy to get you distracted. (I know that one from experience too, having a backpack stolen in Paris.)
Keep money and passport and your carry-on very close at all times.
I kept small amounts of money easy to get to, and the real money tucked deep in my bag which was kept slung over my shoulder under a light jacket.
When using a public restroom, never hang your bags on the hook on the back of the door, or allow them to show from the outside of the stall. This prevents people from reaching a hand over the top of the door, snatching, and running, knowing that you are in a “compromised” position, so to speak. Learn to use the potty with your bags on you.
When you are alone and in an elevator, always stand by the buttons. Then, you can push a button (or the alarm) and/or get out quickly if someone tries to mess with you.
During the flight
When you get on the plane, start chewing gum because of change in pressurization.
En route on the plane, drink lots of water and walk around about every two hours (unless you’re able to sleep a bit; sleeping on the plane is recommended).
Use Melatonin and caffeine to help your body adjust to the new sleeping schedule, both in country and once you return home.
Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated while on the plane. You can take your own water to the airport but once you get through security you will need to buy a new bottle. Get the largest you can for the plane trip to your stopover and drink it all.
Make sure you do not stay seated the entire flight. As I did and got pulmonary embolisms. Recently a hemotologist told us the air pressure also can be a contributing factor to blood clots. So move your feet and don’t stay cramped!
[For pumping moms] Tell the flight attendant right away about your pumping needs. She may be able to provide a suitable place other than the restroom.
When you arrive, try to acclimate to the time zone as quickly as possible and get out into the sun to re-set your time clock. For better or worse, it’s usually harder getting adjusted to the local time when going East to West then West to East (so easier time going to Bulgaria, harder time after you arrive home).
Have you been forewarned that everyone smokes like smokestacks?! Maybe you are around smokers, but this was by far the very hardest thing about our first trip. I was VERY glad that K. told me. It didn’t make breathing the second-hand smoke any easier, but it did help to know. The trips to and from the orphanage are the worst, because they seem to “tag team!” Ha! They can’t all smoke at the same time because each will open only his/her window in order to try to vent the smoke. K. explained it like this…”Tobacco is one of Bulgaria’s biggest cash crops, so apparently it is considered very nationalistic to smoke…sort of supporting the economy!!”
Update the local address in your passport in pencil when you are going different places.
The only tips to be given are when you pay the bill for your bill at the restaurants and it is usually 10% of the sum. I [Toni] will be letting you know, don’t worry!
There won’t be an extra charge for using the internet in the hotel. It will be for free and included in the price for the room.
While you are there at the Budapest, go to the center, and down the main street there is a place to eat called Aladians. They have great food. They have some tables outside where you can eat. On the opposite side of the street there is a pizza shop and the people there are so nice, pizza is great: only 1 lev per slice and cokes 1 lev. So you can eat for about $1.50 a person.
At Aladians they have great hamburgers which are not hamburger, they are slices of beef and lamb. Very good and great fries. About $4.00 each sandwich, with fries and drinks .70.
Go to the market around the corner, and they have one of the best shops for chocolates.
Down the main street is a nice toy store to shop at.
You can buy diapers in the market from a small store cheaper than bringing from home (diapers take up a lot of luggage space, and the cost of diapers there is similar to US prices) if anyone needs diapers while there.
You will definitely be able to meet the director. In fact, that’s the first meeting we will have. You won’t be able to see your child before meeting the director. You will be able to ask the director all the questions about their needs, granny program, etc. I don’t know if you will be allowed to take pictures of other children or not, though. There is no way to know it up front. We will just ask when we get there. Just write down your questions to make sure we ask everything you want to know. I am pretty sure you’ll be allowed on your child’s floor and you will be able to see the other kids there.
Yes, you may post pictures of the first trip on your blog. Just don’t give any more identifying information than you have to.
And the best advice of all