New Changes: A Letter from Our Owner on Our Rebrand

Dear Ties Community,

After 30 incredible years of bringing joy and discovery to adoptees and their loved ones through heritage trips, we are embarking on a new chapter. We are rebranding as “Ties”!

Why “Ties”? This name resonates deeply with our cherished community, embodying the strong bonds we’ve forged over the years. It reflects the connections that have been created, the friendships that have blossomed, and the shared experiences that have united us. “Ties” is a name that speaks to the heart of what we do—connecting people to their heritage, culture, and each other.

As we transition to “Ties,” rest assured that our commitment to providing enriching and meaningful experiences remains unwavering. Our mission is still to create unforgettable journeys that celebrate culture, heritage, and connection. We will continue to offer the same high-quality, impactful trips that you have come to expect from us, but now under a name that truly reflects our values and vision.

This rebrand marks the beginning of an exciting new era for us. We are more dedicated than ever to enhancing our programs and expanding our reach, ensuring that even more adoptees and their families can benefit from the transformative power of our heritage trips. We are working hard to develop new initiatives and opportunities that will further support our community and strengthen the ties that bind us all.

Your unwavering support over the years has been the cornerstone of our success. We are deeply grateful for the trust and loyalty you have shown us, and we look forward to continuing this journey together. As “Ties,” we will build on our rich history while embracing new possibilities and adventures.

Join us as we embark on this exciting journey as “Ties.” Together, we will continue to celebrate the beauty of our shared heritage, the richness of our diverse cultures, and the strength of our connections. The ties that bind us are only growing stronger, and we are excited to see where this new chapter will take us.

Thank you for being a part of our story. Here’s to many more years of discovery, connection, and joy with “Ties.”

With heartfelt gratitude,

Tanya Kaanta, Owner and Director of Ties

When Private Travel Is Right

​​For a unique set of reasons and experiences, group heritage travel is most often best for adoptees and those supporting them, but for a subset of adoptees and their loved ones sometimes private or semi-private travel is the right choice. 

What exactly is private and semi-private travel?

If you and your loved ones would like a travel plan created just for your group, that is private travel. This could be anywhere from just the adoptee to an adoptee, parents, siblings, aunt, uncles, and friends (we’ve helped plan for groups of one to fifteen, but we’ve found 5 – 8 people is the sweet spot for these groups). 

If there are two or more adoptees and their loved ones that would like to travel together on a program created exclusively for the those involved, that is semi-private travel. This might be two adoptees that were in the same orphanage in China and have known each other all their lives. Or adoptees that are cousins by adoption and both families desire to travel together. Or a group of adult adoptees from a specific area or region that want an experience just for them. 

When private or semi-private might be the right choice for you:

You set the pace: For a variety of reasons – medical, emotional, and/or logistical – the adoptee or loved ones might need a different pace than what a group setting affords. Sometimes dynamics when private travel might be the best option are:

  • A family member is a wheelchair user, has other health issues, or is a small child (who usually needs more play time than most group trips allow), and you want to make sure that person/those people are able to participate in all the activities and want a slower pace (our group trips do our best to accommodate those with mobility differences but we’re not always able to do so due to challenges presented by a lack of accessibility regulations in many countries outside the U.S).
  • Those traveling in your group have a unique set of experiences, such as a death after an adoption of a sibling of the adoptee traveling that requires more individual and family processing and experience than a group heritage journey provides.
  • You need to travel sooner than our next group trip or the country of origin is not a country where Ties runs regular group trips.
  • You’ve done a Ties Heritage trip to the country of origin in the past and want to do something different this time (although we have many, many families who do our Ties trips over and over again because they love them so much!).
  • There’s a big group of you, say three generations with grandparents, aunts, uncles and young kids.

These are just a few of many reasons why private or semi-private travel might be a good option. As highlighted by Amy Oakley, a parent who traveled privately to Vietnam in 2018, “the flexibility to plan our travel at the best time for our schedule was great and it allowed for a little bit more flexibility where we could plan some activities and days that worked best for our particular interests as a family”. If you are unsure whether a private or semi-private trip is suitable for the adoptee and their loved ones, we encourage you to reach out to our staff. Our experts can provide personalized guidance to help you weigh the possibilities and consider the dynamics and experiences of those traveling with you.

Increased flexibility: This goes hand-in-hand with “you set the pace.” Maybe you like to wander around a little village and explore on your own for days on end. Or you just HAVE to walk into every kimchi shop you see and you don’t want to worry about losing the group when you do that wandering. Or you want to spend several days with your biological family and you can’t do that on our group trips for some reason (Note: Generally speaking we don’t recommend this for a first reconnection visit with birth family, but sometimes it’s a great option for subsequent reconnection visits). All of these are valid reasons why you might need increased flexibility when you travel. All that being said, increased flexibility comes with less support (see less support in-country in “Considerations when choosing private or semi-private travel” below).

More time as a support group: Maybe you want to largely connect or reconnect with loved ones who are traveling with you (Psst…for how to build your support group, check out our blog post “Questions Adoptees Should Ask When Choosing Travel Companions for a Heritage Journey”) and you don’t want to be distracted by other adoptees and their loved ones. Sometimes that’s the best choice, and that’s okay. Reflecting on his family’s 2018 private trip to Vietnam, Jackson Oakley, an adoptee, shared his experience: “We had an outstanding guide who translated for us wherever we went and assisted with transport, from Ho Chi Minh City to Rach Gia. Having that dedicated time with just my family was really special. I experienced a range of emotions with my adoptive family and the extended (biological) family we were able to find. We all have wonderful memories and will always cherish our time together, including our moments with my family in Vietnam and our personal guide.” Rest assured, we are here to support you every step of the way and ensure that your private or semi-private heritage journey is an exceptional and meaningful experience.

Considerations when choosing private or semi-private travel

Less support in-country: Our team staffs group trips with experts in adoption, often adoptees themselves, who understand the unique challenges adoptees and their loved ones face. While our in-country guides can assist with practical matters like finding antidiarrheal medication or locating health clinics, they are not equipped to help with the complex emotions surrounding adoption, identity, birth family, and other topics specific to the adoption experience that often arise during a heritage journey. Amy Oakley, who traveled to Guatemala with her adopted daughters and experienced both private and group trips, reflected on the profound value of community and connection during their group travel. Amy shared, “the community, connection and comfort of being with other families who were also experiencing life as we were was such a wonderful gift to us last summer.”

So what IS included in private and semi-private travel? 

Our process prior to travel is similar to when you travel with a group (although you have a bigger role in planning the itinerary). Just like our group trips, our staff will help you think about the reactions you are most likely to have and feel before, during, and after travel. We’ll help you decide if the time is right to travel, the pros and cons of search and reunion, and many, many more issues as they come up.

Our private and semi-private travel options typically include*:

  • Pre-travel materials, full of helpful information on how to prepare both logistically and emotionally for the journey ahead
  • International airfare assistance (although many book online through airlines and frequent flyer programs, and that’s fine too)
  • In-country airline tickets, rail, boat tickets, and transportation throughout your stay
  • Welcome and transfer to hotel upon arrival and departure
  • Hotel reservations
  • In-country, English speaking guide(s)/translator(s)
  • Sightseeing and meals
  • Permissions and appointments to travel to the adoptees region of birth, orphanage, place of founding, and other important places to the adoptee.
  • Help locating caregivers, directors, and other people of importance.
  • Birth family search and reunion, handled with the extreme care necessary to honor the sensitivities of the situation (Note: the process and ability to search for birth family varies greatly by country).

Cost (could be +/-): The cost of private and semi-private heritage journeys can vary greatly depending on the needs of those traveling, the length of travel, itinerary built, and the quality of in-country transportation, and lodging. Sometimes it costs more. Other times, less than our group trips. With group travel, for example, the cost of transportation and the in-country guide is spread out over the entire group. With private and semi-private travel, the cost of private transportation and guides are divided by a much smaller group of people, which can make it more costly. Activities can also be more costly because group discounts aren’t provided. On the other hand, you can choose to stay for shorter periods of time (say five days instead of the seven to fourteen days our group heritage journeys usually are), or in less expensive hotels. The costs really depend on the trip you want to do.

Have you decided a private or semi-private heritage journey is right for you? Here are the next steps.

To get started, reach out to us and include the following (or what you know so far):

  • When you are hoping to travel
  • Number of adults and children (under 18) traveling and their relationship to each other
  • The duration of the trip
  • Activities/locations on your wishlist 
  • Estimated budget for the trip
  • Preferred accommodations (hotels, short-term rental, hostels)
  • Level of amenities at accommodations (premium, comfort, budget)
  • Occupancy in accommodations (single, double, triple occupancy, for example)
  • Medical or special needs you’d need us to accommodate
  • Any additional information or requests you would like us to know

After receiving your email, we’ll respond, likely with a few questions to better understand your preferences. We’ll also provide you with a registration form that requires a nominal fee to initiate the planning process. 

Once your registration form is in, we will outline a day-by-day schedule, including the things we understand you would like included. At the same time, we may need to ask you for some additional information. Working in partnership with you, we will pass the schedule back and forth, talk on the phone as needed, with the goal of arriving at a schedule to your liking. 

Once we’ve agreed on a loose itinerary, we will send the schedule to our overseas colleagues for pricing, and in turn, send you a summary of your schedule and pricing, along with payment details.

Still unsure if private, semi-private, or group travel is right for you? Reach out to our experts, we’re happy to walk you through the options.

*Items are dependent on the trip you plan with our team

Six Reasons Why Group Travel Is (Usually) The Best Choice For Adoptees and Their Loved Ones

Does group travel conjure up pictures of little old ladies on a bus?  Are you worried that you will lose your flexibility?  Are you saying “I just can’t see us being part of a group tour”?

If so, you’re not alone. Most adoptees and loved ones recoil at the idea of group travel. However, for a unique set of reasons and experiences, group heritage travel is most often best for adoptees and those supporting them while traveling. Here’s why…

  1. Community: It’s not just that those traveling all have a big life experience – being adopted or being a member of the adoption community – in common. It’s that when adoptees and their loved ones travel together in a group, the others in the group “just get it.” There’s no judgment, no unease, and no raised eyebrows as adoptees and their loved ones dive into their stories and challenging topics. Almost instantly, a safe place is created that says “I get you.” This allows for guards to be dropped and everyone gets to be themselves, vulnerabilities and all. With ease, adoptees and their loved ones share and learn, laugh, and cry.

As if that’s not enough, the group embarks on great adventures together! We explore the culture, food, sports, people, and places significant to adoption. In Guatemala, we zipline and kayak together. In China we walk the Great Wall together. Adoptees feel safe, which gives them permission to be interested, engaged, and enthusiastic for all the adventures ahead.

By the end, the group becomes a wonderful support for each other, a rock solid community that goes well beyond the end of the trip, ensuring lifelong friendship (and in a few cases even marriages!).

  1. Adoptees have an unquestioned membership in a group where they belong (some for the first time): Ties staff has long said that there is really no way to overstate the importance of adoptees and their loved ones traveling with other adoptees and their loved ones on this particular journey. So instead of trying to do it myself, I’ll let adoptees who have traveled with us recently share it in their own words. 

“What was really transformative about the experience was sharing it with the other adoptees. I’ve always felt like no one could understand what it’s like to be a Guatemalan adoptee, but after meeting the others, I feel like I belong.” – Isaac, 2023 Guatemalan Ties Participant 

As expressed by a Korean adoptee who shared their profound experience on a Korean Ties heritage trip, “I was able to connect with people who have such different experiences, but similar feelings.”

“Traveling with other adoptees creates a special environment where we can all connect over shared experiences and backgrounds, validating different facets of our identities in ways that might be new, especially if we didn’t grow up around other adoptees. Being together can also challenge stereotypes and preconceptions we’ve faced, helping us see adoption as a diverse and complex journey.” – Autumn Ackerson, 2014 China Ties Participant and current China Ties Program Coordinator

Belonging, connection, validation – these are the base for positive self-identity. If those aren’t enough of a reason, I don’t know what is! 

  1. Group Activities/Access: Sure, there are things you can do as a private traveler that are more challenging to do in a group. But at Ties, we work hard for you to have these individual experiences while also being a part of a group.

Individual experiences that are more challenging to have in a group setting are generally one-on-one experiences designed to build connections with locals. At Ties we build in time for these individual, one-on-one experiences, so you have the best of both worlds. Our staff works hard to ensure adoptees and their loved ones on our trips have experiences that are as unique as they are. For some this might include a side trip to the orphanage they spent time in, a visit with a foster family or caregiver, even time with family of origin. Other times this is a tea ceremony, having dinner in a host family’s home, or speaking with a birth mother about her experiences.

Also, there are group experiences that you can’t have as private travelers. In Guatemala we visit an after school program, where local children perform traditional dances. You can’t have that experience as an individual (and if you tried, it would be very expensive). In Korea, our groups go to baseball games…baseball is always better with friends! Sure you could visit China’s Forbidden City or Tiananmen Square as an individual, but how are you going to know who the very best guide is? The one that will tell you the little hidden symbols and the stories behind all the rooms? We know, so you don’t have to.

  1. Those traveling tend to be WONDERFUL: It’s not uncommon to see a group of adoptees meandering around a hotel together. Or a group of loved ones sharing a meal or drinks together. Or groups of adoptees and loved ones exploring the sights together. Laughter and fun on the buses abound because the people you travel with us are just as incredible as you are!
  1. Ease of plans…We take care of the details! How do you get from the airport to the hotel? Which areas of town are safe to stay in? Where can you eat and (most likely) not get sick? Can you drink the water? What do you pack? You found your birth family and they want to meet, what do you do next? All these questions can be daunting, but we’re here to help!

Our staff takes care of all these details on both our private and group trips, but with group trips there are far less questions for you to answer, because over the last 30 years we’ve perfected the itinerary and planning process.

And when there is a hiccup? Our staff has a plan b, and a plan c…and we’re often implementing plan d without travelers knowing that there was even an issue.

As one adoptive mom recently remarked, “The staff took care of every critical detail to ensure the logistics were smooth as we visited beautiful parts of the geographically and culturally rich terrain. And they provided a safe and caring space for navigating all types of emotions, for adoptees and parents alike.”

  1. Help available 24/7: Ties staff the group trips not just with tour guides, but experts in adoption, often adoptees, who know the challenges adoptees and their loved ones face. So not only can we give you antidiarrheals when your stomach is acting up, or know where the best health clinics in the area are (if you need one, which is rare!), but when you’ve learned something new about your adoption and are processing your feelings at 10 p.m. and need someone to talk to, our staff is there.

All this being said, sometimes private travel or semi-private travel are the best choice for an adoptee and their loved ones. For more on this, check out our companion post, When Private Travel Is Right.

Questions Adoptees Should Ask When Choosing Travel Companions for a Heritage Journey

When Ties Adoptive Family Travel started 30 years ago nearly all adoptees traveled with their adoptive parents for heritage journeys. Over the last decade, as many transnational adoptees have reached adulthood, a shift has occurred in the types of groups supporting them. These groups, now referred to by Ties as “loved ones,” offer a range of support tailored to adoptees’ needs. Many adoptees of all age ranges travel with adoptive parents, but they also travel with loved ones that are important to them. Some of the groups we see nearly every year on our group heritage journeys include:

  • Adoptee + significant other + adoptive parents
  • Adoptee + parents + aunts/uncles and cousins
  • Adoptee + grandparents + adoptive parents
  • Adoptee + adoptee
  • Adoptee + divorced parents + significant others (additional parental figures)
  • Adoptee + siblings (sometimes biological siblings, sometimes not)
  • Adoptee + their children
  • Adoptee + significant other
An adult sibling accompanying an adoptee on a Guatemalan Ties trip.

Today, the loved ones traveling with adoptees are as diverse as the adoptee experience itself. As adoptees prepare for their heritage journey, it’s important for them to thoughtfully consider who among their loved ones is best positioned to support them on this meaningful trip. Here’s some questions to ask as you prepare:

How centered do I want my adoption story to be?

There are so many ways for an adoptee to experience their country of birth. Generally adoptees choose either group or solo experiences. For purposes of brevity, let’s focus on group travel. If you are considering traveling privately or independently, reach out to our team to discuss why you feel like this is the best fit for you. We’re happy to discuss options with you.

Group experiences often fit into three main categories:

  • Non-adoptee specific group travel: Some adoptees may prefer that their adoptee experience and identity not be the primary focus of their journey back to their country of birth. For other adoptees, this is a wonderful choice. However, we’ve found that most adoptees, including a number of our current staff members who traveled this way, often end up regretting the decision to make their first trip under these circumstances. Adoptees may end up feeling isolated and lonely because the feelings, emotions, and the questions they encounter aren’t typical tourist questions, making it challenging to fully process their unique experiences. 
  • Motherland Trips: Motherland trips for adoptees, most common in South Korea, are adoptee-only group trips that focus on the shared adoptee experience. We’re big fans of adoptees traveling together, as it’s the center of our work and can provide a significant identity-building experience. However, one challenge with motherland trips is that they often exclude an adoptee’s existing support system from the journey. The trip is something separate from their lives, rather than being something that is incorporated into their life, with their built- in support system around them. This can make the transition back home and the subsequent culture shock that follows more challenging.
  • Heritage Journeys: We’re big fans of heritage journeys, having facilitated them for over 30 years, because they center the adoptee and their experiences while surrounding them with a circle of support. This support system includes loved ones, adoption experts, and in-country specialists. In our experience this circle of support best allows adoptees to delve into both their personal adoption story and a country’s adoption history to the level they are comfortable with. Some on heritage journeys want to dive deeply, and others don’t. The make-up of a group on a heritage journey (adoptees and their loved ones) allows for flexibility for each individual to engage with their heritage as much or as little as they wish.

Once you’ve chosen a heritage journey as the right path for you, the next step is to consider who you want by your side to support you on this transformative experience. Here are five questions to help you decide:

Who has seen you through transitions in your life?

Chances are if you made it this far, you’ve been through some challenges and some transitions in your life. The people who have been there for you are the people you want to have on this journey, too. Who showed up for you during tough times and major life transitions? Who went to your plays, sports games, or graduations? Who did you call last week when you had a hard day at work (and did they listen/were they supportive)? Who do you rely on when you need emotional support? And who will pick up the phone when you are home from the heritage journey and you are struggling with reverse culture shock? Or are you (further) processing that visit with your birth family?  Make a list of those people (there may only be a few, and that’s perfectly normal) and use this list as your starting point when deciding who should join you on this journey. 

So now that you know who’s been there for you, take this list and ask yourself…

Who do you know that appropriately centers the adoptee experience for you?

We can break this into three parts.

  1. Adoptees have different relationships with their adoption. Some enjoy discussing their adoption story often, while others feel that it isn’t a prevalent part of their everyday life. Some experience their unique adoptee identity in almost every aspect of each day. All of these perspectives are valid, and adoptee needs and experiences also change over time. So, who in your support network makes you and your adoptee experience feel “comfortable” today? Who listens to where you are and meets you there? That’s probably a good person you want to bring along. 
  2. Next, consider who always, or almost always, sees you as the expert in your adoption story and country of birth? You know your story best because it’s yours. Surround yourself with people who respect and acknowledge your authority over your own journey.
  3. Finally, ask yourself who do you think is going to put you and your needs first while on a heritage journey? Are they committed to focusing on what you want to do and see, or are they interested in exploring your country of birth for their own reasons? While it’s great that they have interests in aspects of your birth culture, they need to be able to put all or some of those aside to appropriately support you because above all else, this is your experience as an adoptee.
An adult adoptee and her spouse on a Next Gen: Korea trip

Who within your adoption or family network can support you on this journey?

Sometimes, it’s not just about who can provide support, but who has been a part of your adoption and family story that you want to go through this experience with? This might be an adoptive parent, as it can be a bonding and full circle experience for adoptees to travel back to their country of birth with their adoptive parents. Alternatively, it could be siblings who were there at the time of your adoption. Or a grandparent who played a key role in your upbringing. 

Who can afford the trip?

International travel can be costly, and a heritage journey with a full circle of support may not be  the most budget-friendly option, but in our experience, it is often the most ideal and enriching experience. Sometimes, the people we want to travel with may not be able to afford it. Parents and grandparents may have more disposable income than younger friends and could be open to assisting with the costs of other loved ones, such as spouses, siblings, or friends. 

Who do you like to travel with?

International travel of any kind is a challenge. You might find yourself in unfamiliar environments, facing language barriers, and adjusting to different foods and customs. These factors can sometimes lead to frustration or “hanger”. Consider who among your loved ones can weather these challenges with you and whose travel style aligns with yours. For instance, you may prefer early mornings and a day full of exploration followed by a quiet evening, while your friends may enjoy late-night outings. Think about who you enjoy traveling with most and who can navigate the inevitable hiccups of travel with humor and grace. A good travel partner is someone who can roll with the punches, share in the laughter, and offer support during stressful moments.

If you’re still unsure about whoIf you’re still unsure about who would be the best travel companion, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of experts. We’re happy to talk you through it.