• nmcneill5

Traveling Light - Even with a Bunch of Kids

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

Wondering whether it’s safe to play on this stuff in Kiev

In 2010, my wife Rebecca and I set out with our two biological boys (Owen age 3 years and Caleb age 5 months) to adopt an eleven-year-old boy from Ukraine named Yuri. We knew we had to be in-country for several weeks, so we packed everything. What I mean by “everything” is every thing.

We had two roll-aboard suitcases which individually could have stowed both of our little boys. Instead of our boys, though, we loaded them down with nice cloths, play clothes and casual clothes, multiple pairs of shoes per person, toys for the kids, and generally whatever the hell we wanted.

The suitcases, along with two backpacks, a carry-on-size roll-aboard and the fact that one of us was carrying the baby ensured the impossibility of us carrying everything by ourselves without a cart. With a cart, it wasn’t much better.

Our adoption facilitator had a big SUV and even then our stuff and us barely fit. Everywhere else we went, we had to hire two taxis because the trunks were never big enough.

Two experiences stick in my memory the most:

  1. Carrying our massive suitcases one by one up three flights of stairs on our first night in Kiev. The stairway railing was broken up along several sections and the stairs themselves didn’t look much better. It reminded me of that scene in the Matrix (the one in the hotel) and at that moment if I could have had someone pull a plug from the back of my head and suddenly be transported to a colony of refugees living inside a ship in the depths of the earth…well, I wouldn’t have, but it was still pretty bad.

  2. Taking a sleeper train from Kiev to Odessa and lofting the suitcases above my head like the carcasses great vanquished beasts so we could actually sit down. I don’t remember sleeping much on that train for fear that one or more of them would spring to life again and tumble down on us.

Look at the camera Own. Look over here.

Take Two

So when we determined to adopt from Ukraine again in 2012 (this time a 10 year-old-girl named Sveta) I had an agenda. We also had another baby (Eden). She was about ten months old when we took off for what would be seven weeks in Ukraine.

I had so much of an agenda that it nearly landed us in marriage counselling.

A random scene from our bedroom a week or so before leaving:

Nathan (trying to sound casual): “So how many pairs of underwear do you think Owen needs?”

Rebecca: “The kids need underwear. We can’t wash every day”

Nathan: “Right, but we can wash every few days. Anyway, I was just asking”

Rebecca: “Ok”

(long tense pause)

Nathan (looking through her pile on the floor): “Are you taking both of these shirts?”

The final result was that we packed five carry-on size bags for six people — one of whom was a baby (one of the people, not one of the bags. We did not consider the baby a bag, but we still had to carry it).

For the uninitiated, a baby may appear to be just like any other person, just smaller — with presumably smaller luggage requirements. This is not the case. A baby…

  • Is adept at converting food at various levels of digestion into stains on clothing, thus requiring more clothing

  • Requires various guards, shields, garments, towels, wipes etc. to prevent, lessen the extent of, or deal with the consequences of #1

  • Requires a place to sleep that she will not fall off of. We packed a foldable baby bed.

  • Requires harnesses, buggies, wraps, or the like to be transported long distances. We packed a carrier and left the stroller at home.

The end result was that baby Eden probably took up one and a half of our five bags, leaving three and a half bags for the other five people. We could have probably done better at downsizing the baby’s luggage, but for the sake of our marriage, it’s probably best we didn’t.

Our entire family (and luggage) in the last available train car

I was also planning to work remotely while in Ukraine, so I brought a laptop, a charger, and various adaptors.

In addition to a few moments cursing the decision to leave out the fourth pair of kids’ underwear, the extreme downsizing of our luggage had enormously positive results. Here are a few:

  • Our entire family (up to 7 people after the adoption) could — in a pinch — fit in one cab (snugly, comfortably, perhaps not entirely safely) along with all our luggage. I’m not recommending it, but I wouldn’t recommend cabs in Ukraine period, and it was great to be able to find ready transportation.

  • Our entire family and our luggage fit in the last available train cabin on the way back to Kiev from Odessa.

  • With the help of Joel (who was now 13) we could carry all of our own luggage and baby Eden without a cart. This made getting on and off planes, transport from one apartment to another — and generally our life for two months — much easier.

  • No lost luggage. There’s something really sweet about having everything you need right there with you (even if it’s a bit heavy)

Since this extreme makeover, I’ve done a ton of business travel for work and my bag has gotten progressively smaller (unless I have to transport a suit and dress shoes. Ugh). It has also meant that ever since then, we’ve traveled with less luggage no matter where we’ve gone and no matter how much room we have to work with.

We do, however, now usually pack the fourth pair of kid’s undies.

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