Travelling with kids is a tricky task but with time, more parents are opting for it. From choosing destinations to giving up late night-outs, these vacations need to be planned differently. We spoke to two mothers who gave us an insight on the same! By Japleen Kaur
Meet Gunjal Bhansali, a mother based in Mumbai who has travelled to approximately 30 countries and has no intentions of slowing down. Both her daughters and her husband accompany her for these vacations. She writes down her musings on a blog, Hip Hip Holiday.
Next, meet Deenaz Raisinghani. She is a freelance writer who likes to backpack across the world with her daughter and husband. When not exploring new cities, she contributes to newspapers and magazines.
1. When did you start travelling seriously, and why do you call yourself a traveller?
Gunjan Bhansali (GB): I think I inherited the passion for travelling from my dad. As a child, I have travelled across the length and breadth of our country on road trips. Most of these were unplanned, and impromptu trips with no clear agenda. We stopped at highway motels and ate at dhabas. Those trips gave me an adrenaline rush and I think I am still addicted to it!
I call myself a traveller because of various reasons:
a) I am not at peace if I don’t have at least two holidays planned and booked!
b) I don’t think I have ever come back unhappy or complaining about any place I have visited. Travelling, for me, is all about living in that moment.
c) I call myself a traveller because I remember the minutest details from the oldest holidays — the hotels we stayed at, the food we ate, the days we spent!
d) Planning a holiday is never burdensome. I plan them myself, right from choosing the
destination to the complete itinerary!
Deenaz Raisinghani (DR): I started travelling more after I got married. As I belong to an army family, we have to move stations every couple of years. So, the home has never been a constant base for us. I started backpacking with my husband about a decade ago. So far, we have covered 17 countries and 25 states. I love immersing myself in my journeys and picking up some cultural aspects from each new destination. Travelling has taught me a lot and helped me open up as a person. A lot of our journeys were never recorded on new media as we have been travelling for longer than I can even remember. It started before sharing sites like Instagram came out, so I have never believed in travelling just because everyone else is doing it. Ticking off destinations and checklists are not really my cup of tea, but just the thrill of seeing and experiencing a new place in its entirety is enough for me. Maybe that is why I consider myself a perpetual traveller.
2. How old is/are your kid/s?
GB: Suhaani (11) and Ishaani (5).
DR: I have a four-year-old kid. Her name is Arianna.
3. How many cities/countries have you visited with your child so far?
GB: I have visited 30 countries so far. I can’t recall any region or state in India where I haven’t been yet. Out of these, 26 have been with my children. The best one is difficult to pick, but I think maybe Vietnam, closely followed by Belgium.
DR: As a family, we have travelled to 13 countries with her (Arianna). I haven’t counted the number of cities till now. My best experience was the first time I backpacked as a solo parent across three cities in Germany. My daughter was only a year old then. That was the first time we bonded as mother and child in a foreign land and that experience convinced me to continue backpacking with her.
4. And the worst one?
GB: Every holiday, when it becomes a memory, is amazing. But, we had a couple of crazy incidents in Egypt, so maybe I’ll go with that.
DR: There haven’t been any bad experiences while travelling with her. The only times I got worried while travelling was when she fell during the holiday; once in Manali, and then in Nagaland. Luckily, it was nothing major.
5. Top three tips for mothers travelling with kids?
a) Include your child in the decision-making process, especially while selecting the destination. It gives them something to look forward to and makes them complain less.
b) Try taking a late-night flight or a one-stop flight when travelling to long destinations. This helps one be better prepared upon landing.
c) When planning activities for your holiday, make sure you choose at least one thing for your child to get excited about. It could be something as small as a beach visit or even a temple visit. Build an exciting story around it so the kid looks forward to that experience!
a) Always have a plan B ready. Kids are really unpredictable and anything can happen. Also, backpacking can be a little tough. Then, you are your own beast of burden, and when you have a child along, ‘winging it’ is not an option. It’s best to have your bookings well in place. Invest in a good pram or baby carrier, and take it along if your child is really young.
b) Follow your kids’ cues for sleep, poop and hunger. Try to book accommodations that have kitchen or cooking facilities. This will really help when you are travelling with children. Homestays are a great option too!
c) Check with your family paediatrician before taking a long trip or leaving for a destination outside your home country. Do thorough research on the possible infections which can be caught, and consult with your doctor beforehand regarding the necessary precautions to take.
6. How can people do budget trips with children?
a) Choose Airbnb or homestays over hotels. Space is more and the price is lesser.
b) Use public transport wherever convenient. Kids below the age of five are generally free in most places.
c) Get your fruits, milk, water, bread and butter from supermarkets. This also ensures your child is eating healthy and fresh.
d) Most attractions (other than amusement parks) have free entry for kids, and some even have student discounts. However, most travel agents charge us for these, so it’s better to check once as well!
DR: Most travels with our daughter have been budget trips. We would not have been able to travel as frequently if we did not choose this style of travelling. A lot of pre-travel research goes into it. Most importantly, one requires patience to understand that you may have to adapt to the situation while travelling. If one takes care of expenses on food by cooking at their accommodation, does point to point bookings by themselves, uses local public transport (especially in Western countries), and avoid the regular tourist scams — one can easily do budget trips with kids.
7. Your top travel memories?
a) Germany – The white Christmas in Germany is like every child’s dream come true! The little villages and towns are beautifully decorated, and the fairs are a treat for the full family!
b) Bandhavgarh – Sighting tigers in each of the three safaris we did. It was thrilling and
a) My first solo parent backpacking trip with Arianna across Germany.
b) A family trip across Nagaland, which included experiencing the Hornbill festival and camping with our daughter.
c) My solo parent backpacking trip to Barcelona with my daughter. She is four, so she could understand and relate much more than she could earlier. In fact, she made a super travel companion!
8. How important is it for kids to travel?
GB: It’s probably the single most important thing you can do to educate your child outside the classroom. No amount of tuitions or lectures can compare to practical lessons. The destinations do not need to be exotic. Every step taken outside the house adds to the holistic development of the child.
DR: The sooner they are exposed to travelling, the better it will be for their overall development — be it cognitive or psychomotor development. In fact, my daughter learnt how to walk properly after we reached the Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul. She was only a year old then and was chasing pigeons and squealing with excitement. Today, she is learning how to be a global citizen. She is meeting new people, getting to experience something new with each journey and learning to be empathetic towards multiple ethnicities and cultures. There have been many moments when she has picked up her own perspective about the places she has been to and the people she has met. She surprises us by saying something very different and contrary to how we perceive a travel experience. It’s only then that I understand the impact of travelling on kids. Thankfully, she has a decent memory and remembers experiences rather than the names of countries.
9. How do you deal with setbacks or compromises?
GB: Being calm is very important. More often than not, a setback looks bigger than it is, especially if we get anxious. I think the locals of a place can help provide the best solution to any problem.
DR: When you are travelling with an infant, the concern is usually related to taking care of them all the time and carrying them around. You can’t even leave them without supervision for an hour. As they grow up, these concerns become different – keeping them occupied at all times, making sure they eat healthily and preventing them from falling sick. Naturally, then, you can’t see and do things which are only for singles or couple-friendly, such as trekking or travelling to high altitudes. You need to compromise on your late night activities because you’ll want your kid to be well rested. Long haul flights, long train journeys and also eating food on the go are some of the challenges parents could face, but these are doable things and can be managed with careful planning. That being said, we haven’t really changed our style of accommodation while travelling with our daughter. We continue backpacking and prefer staying at hostels and BnBs, as opposed to hotels. We travel across geographies by all forms of transport. We take both, adventure and slow travel trips. She has adapted to this style pretty well!
10. Best way to make any trip child-friendly?
GB: Include your child’s opinions while selecting the destination, while packing their own bags, and selecting their clothes and toys to carry. You can help them by giving them multiple choices to choose from. This way, they think they are a part of the planning process and are less likely to sulk if things don’t go their way!
DR: Plan as much as you can in advance, read a lot of travel blogs from real time travel parents, pack light and always have a plan B in mind. Don’t make your trip too hectic, and keep a couple of buffer days in hand for any sickness on the go. Plan different kinds of activities for each of you, and research on child-friendly things to do at your destination. I recently took her for a kids’ walking tour in the Old Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, which she absolutely loved. I did a local food trail as well, so this way, both of us got to do stuff we loved.
11. What are some of the good and bad examples from your personal experience of travelling with children?
Good: In Oman, our driver-cum-guide was very good with kids. He kept them entertained
throughout the journey. A new perspective about a new place from a new person added to the kids’ excitement.
Bad: While in a resort in Kerala, my daughter’s leg got stuck in the spokes of a cycle wheel. She was badly bruised and bleeding profusely. Even though the resort manager helped us get to the closest clinic, it was still more than 45 minutes’ drive away. We realised most doctors in Kerala offer Ayurvedic treatments which, personally, we were not very sure of. It was one stressful incident even though things turned out fine eventually.
DR: I once stayed with her in a semi-red-light area as the hostel website was misleading and I had not checked reviews from other real travellers. That experience, while being very interesting, was an eye-opener and it taught me a lot about pre-planning and looking for honest reviews before travelling to someplace.
At the same time, most of my travel experiences with her have been amazing. We love being in each others’ company and love exploring places together. We like to travel like locals, so she gets equally excited when I try out a local dish with her, or cook a really good meal using local ingredients in the hostel kitchen while she watches. Travelling with her in buses or subways at a foreign destination and figuring out our way across new cities is a shared challenge and, so far, I have totally enjoyed it.