We got a VIP reception when we reached Casa Red Hills (now known as Redhill Nature Resort),
We got a VIP reception when we reached Casa Red Hills (now known as Redhill Nature Resort),but then a homestay about 30km from Ooty in the Nilgiris. Our six-week-old daughter, Gayatri, was their youngest guest ever, we were told. The year was 2003 and since then she and her older sibling, Aprajita, have been on innumerable vacations with us, and sometimes with the extended family including the grandparents. As a traveller, I believe that there is no greater teacher than travel. Wishing to give my children ‘real education’, I have dedicatedly invested an amount, equivalent to their annual school fee, on travel each year. Luckily for us they don’t go to expensive schools and that also means that the vacations are usually modest. It’s not just about learning and growth, travelling with the children has given us the chance to build a memory bank that both the children and we, the parents, will turn to for the rest of our lives. Over the years, I have learnt a few things that have helped us get the most out of our travel adventures with the children.
INVOLVE THE KIDS WHEN PLANNING A HOLIDAY
A holiday is exciting for everyone and talking about the plans takes the excitement to a new level. You’ll be surprised and impressed to see how much your children know. Whether they are thinking of adventures that match up to the ones they have read in Magic Tree House books or aspiring to trace Percy Jackson’s life, travel planning kindles their imagination. History and geography come to life, and they’ll develop an interest in research. Everyone has a bucket list of things they would like to do and travel is a great time to open that list and do those things. Go over budgets, weather, dates, accommodation options, flight connections and narrow down on what will work for the family. Of course, it’ll be impossible to do everything that everyone wants but it’s important to let the kids know their opinion counts, and when you explain why some things are not possible, they’ll appreciate and understand things better.
ENCOURAGE THEM TO KEEP A SCRAPBOOK
Older children may like to keep a travel diary while younger ones may not like to write too much—see what works for your child’s personality. Either way, the idea is to turn your little travellers into storytellers. Packing a scrapbook with a small glue stick and a few sketch pens is all that is needed to put together pieces of everyday excitement. We have saved entry ticket stubs, boarding passes, coasters, pressed leaves from a garden we visited and, of course, lots of photographs. Ask them to add facts about the country and its people, new or unique things they observed, and even stories they heard from the guides. Not only will you all enjoy the nostalgia of going through these later but these scrapbooks have often earned my children brownie points at school. The last time they needed to miss classes to travel, the school was supportive and I suspect that the scrapbooks helped.
GIVE THEM RESPONSIBILITIES DURING THE TRIP
Whether it is packing their own bags, filling out immigration forms, or figuring out train or bus schedules, giving children appropriate responsibilities helps them become confident and independent. Even when my children were just four or five years old they were encouraged to take decisions on the games and toys they wanted to take on the trip. And they had to be responsible for them. I remember when one of them forgot her new toy in the hotel room. She might have been heartbroken at that point, but that was the last time she ever forgot something. I also give them a small shopping allowance when the trip starts. They are free to decide whether they want to spend it on themselves or to pick souvenirs for their friends.
USE GADGETS JUDICIOUSLY
Enough is written about the negative impact of gadgets on children. But let’s face it: phones and iPads are here to stay. Rather than fighting this, it’s best to negotiate the usage of the gadgets on holidays. Rather than squabble about gadgets eating into family time, give them 30 minutes to an hour of internet or phone access with no questions asked. I have occasionally seen my children feed their curiosity, created by a place or a guide’s story, by researching facts and myths at the end of the day. Allow them to use phone cameras if they are not comfortable handling bigger ones. If they are inclined to using equipment like cameras, GPS, etc, encourage them.
KEEP SOME UNCOMFORTABLE EXPERIENCES ON YOUR TRIP
Safety is obviously a top priority when travelling with your family. However, there is a difference between staying safe and becoming overly protective. Even if you can afford the most luxurious holidays, sometimes priceless experiences come from having to sleep on the floor at a simple homestay, pitching your own tent, having to cook your own meal or having to go without a bath for a couple of days. Holidays like these are truly character building and, more significantly, they make for amazing tales after the trip is over.
MAKE IT A HAPPY HOLIDAY
Where there’s more than one person, there will be conflict. As parents, you are, of course, the final authority but it’s important to set aside your own ego and accept that it is not just your holiday, it’s everyone’s holiday. And if you want to really use the chance to recharge your own batteries and bond with the kids, it’s best to be open-minded, flexible and keep the peace. Our children usually manage their sibling fights on their own but on the odd occasion, when their personality clashes are about to ruin the day, we’ve banned them from speaking to each other. The truth is that they have fun with each other, so they quietly get back to their best behaviour and make up.
SET UP A FAMILY CHALLENGE TO DO SOMETHING NEW
With very young children you are probably better off going with the sun, sand and water combination, but most hildren above the age of five enjoy some challenge. Take them outdoors and try to include a new experience on every holiday. We’ve done hiking, rafting, zip-lining, quad biking, snorkelling, cycling and a lot of other things. Don’t go overboard and ensure that you keep the pace of your trip to suit your child’s abilities. But do remember that children are strong and resilient, and most love a physical challenge and they will probably outdo you.
This is just good advice, irrespective of whether you are travelling with family or on your own. Children should be able to manage their own luggage (a small stroller is usually enough for a child) and the same goes for the parents. Leave all expensive things , including their party wear, at home and have them travel without jewellery. You should aim for no more than 10 kilos for a week-long holiday and you really don’t need seven pairs of shoes! Back home, we try to be one up on each other on whose bag will weigh the least at the check-in counter.
PLAN THE FOOD
This could make or break your family holiday and it is important that you always have access to food the children are familiar with. Today we are fairly adventurous when it comes to sampling local food and my 15-year-old even tried fried worms on her recent trip to South Africa. But I haven’t forgotten our trips a few years ago when yogurt and cucumber were life-saving foods because there was no way we could get Gayatri to eat anything she was not familiar with. Instead of letting food ruin your travel, spend a little time working on Plan B and carry whatever you feel is necessary but encourage the kids to try different things as Plan A.
MAKE THE BEST OF WHAT YOU HAVE
A few years ago, towards the fag end of a family holiday in Sikkim, we were stranded in Darjeeling after a cyclone. After staying at some stunning hotels, we had to spend two nights in a non-descript room on the third floor of a building with no elevator, no electricity, no hot water, and by then, we had also run out of clean clothes. There was no room service and we had to go out and find food. What could have been a very stressful situation actually ended up being the most memorable time of our holiday. Everyone had to cuddle up on a queen-sized bed; we spent a lot of time telling each other stories. We played games and laughed at our situation. However much you plan ahead, when you add a dash of acceptance, humour and spontaneity to uncertainty, you don’t just make the best of what you have but you can turn adversity into an adventure you’ll never forget.
Travelling with the family has given me some of the most amazing moments of my life as a parent and I would like to believe that our family adventures have also given the children the chance to learn a lot about the world, and even about their parents. You don’t need to break your bank to make family travel dazzling and unforgettable, you just need to have the heart of an explorer and let go so that everyone can have fun.
Holidays With Children