Ditching the four walls of their house, Ashmi and Manan—along with their toddler daughter, Zaha—packed their backpacks and headed on a nationwide adventure. Together known as Traveling with a Tot, the three slow travel enthusiasts journeyed through farmhouses in Maharashtra, hill stations in Himachal Pradesh, and coffee estates of Karnataka—all during COVID-19. They share with us their experiences, learnings, and tips. By Bayar Jain
Travel + Leisure India: Why did you choose to become a travelling family?
Traveling with a Tot: Travelling was always a part of our lives, even before we had a child. Although everyone told us that life would completely change once we had a child, we promised each other that we wouldn’t let that affect our love for travelling, even if everything else changes. And so, we stuck to our promise and continue to travel with our toddler daughter!
In fact, during the pandemic, she became our sole purpose to travel. We travelled to keep her safe from COVID-19, and away from the masked and over-sanitised life.
Travel + Leisure India: Where have you travelled with your toddler?
Traveling with a Tot: July 2020 has been the most amazing and memorable time for us. We slow travelled to a farm in Mulshi, Maharashtra followed by Bir, Shoja, Jibhi, and Gushaini in Himachal Pradesh; and Mulki and Coorg in Karnataka. We experienced our country’s extreme weathers—from heavy monsoons in Maharashtra to winters in Himachal, and summers down south in Karnataka. Our slow and immersive travel experience to all these places made it even more special and enriching.
Travel + Leisure India: How do you choose your next destination and plan for it?
Traveling with a Tot: While we have a long bucket list of places we wish to travel to, we are also very impulsive. When we travel, we love to chat with other like-minded travellers, as well as locals, who sometimes share their insight about other amazing places. This helps us choose our next destinations. 2020, especially, has been a unique year as everyone’s plans went out of the window and situations were changing every day. Nothing could be planned in advance, so being impulsive and spontaneous helped us make the most of this situation.
Travel + Leisure India: Why do you prefer slow travelling with your toddler?
We do not enjoy doing the typical touristy hopping around. We love to stay and soak in the local culture, food and lifestyle. The more time you spend in a place, the more you get to explore and feel one with the place.
In 2020, we slow travelled by spending four months at a farm, three months in the mountains, and one month at the beach and a coffee estate—making travelling not a holiday anymore, but a way of life.
Slow travelling is also more sustainable, environmentally as well as monetarily. And now we’re so addicted to this way of travel that we can’t think of taking shorter trips anymore!
Travel + Leisure India: What were the various challenges you had to overcome to travel during the lockdown?
For us, staying locked up in the city seemed way more challenging than travelling during the lockdown. We didn’t want Zaha to grow up confined within the four walls. We wanted her to enjoy her childhood, run around freely, and not worry about the pandemic. So, we found remote destinations which were not yet affected by the virus and we followed all travel safety protocols—be it a road trip, flight, taxi, or bus.
Travel + Leisure India: How do you cope with Zaha’s formal education, and how do you think travelling impacts her upbringing?
Typically, parents plan vacations during school holidays, but—thanks to the lockdown and the physical schools being shut—we took this opportunity to travel. While most schools went online, we were not ready to expose Zaha to digital screens just yet; and, fortunately, her school also felt the same. We homeschooled her with the help of the curriculum shared by her school.
With no compromise on her formal education, she also learnt a lot more while travelling. She got closer to nature and animals while living at the farm. We helped villagers by working on their rice fields. We even celebrated birthdays and festivals in simple yet creative ways, which made us realise how little we need to lead a happy and content life. Pushing the boundaries in Himachal Pradesh while paragliding and taking up challenging 24-kilometre-long treks and another 10-kilometre-long snow trek made her more fearless and strong. Living in a monastery, which is now an institute, gave us the true taste of communal living and upbringing. She interacted with people from different walks of life, making her more social in times of social distancing.
Surviving the extreme weather conditions taught her to adapt and be more tolerant. She learnt various fun things like slacklining and hula-hooping while hanging around at the surf school. She even caught on to the basics of kayaking and stand-up paddling just by watching and mastered the surfing pop-ups. This entire experience made us realise that travelling is truly the best teacher.
Travel + Leisure India: How did travelling help you all bond better?
Traveling with a Tot: Travelling together helps us spend a lot more quality time. Cherishing beautiful moments, watching sunsets and landscapes, and exploring the world together is truly priceless. Even the challenging and rigorous experiences where we push, support and encourage each other brings us closer.
Travel + Leisure India: Things to keep in mind when you travel with a toddler, especially during a pandemic.
Traveling with a Tot: Apart from the obvious safety precautions like masking and sanitising, some other things we kept in mind was to avoid popular tourist destinations. Instead, we picked smaller, offbeat places with lesser people and plenty of open spaces for our child to run and play freely—something children have been missing out on during the pandemic. We also avoid visiting crowded markets and tourist spots. Sometimes, we were the only people at the guesthouse or the homestay we picked.
Travel + Leisure India: How do you ensure hygiene while travelling?
Traveling with a Tot: While we take care, we don’t over obsess about hygiene. We are happy to drink water from a clean running stream and eat at local dhabas, instead of relying on bottled water and packaged food. We also avoid over-sanitisation.
Travel + Leisure India: How are you teaching your daughter about safety protocols?
Traveling with a Tot: Children mostly learn by observing. So we ensure to follow the safety protocols properly ourselves, and she follows.
Travel + Leisure India: What are your bucket list destinations to visit as a family?
The list is long and endless. We, as a family, love nature, adventure, exploring cultures, and trying local food and experiences. So there’s always something for us to look forward to everywhere. And we would love to travel to every corner of this world!