You’ll be surprised just how easy and rewarding a family trip to India can be. We were! Here are our tips and tricks for making your Indian adventure a breeze.
Getting around Rajasthan is straightforward. You will probably travel between towns and cities by either train or hired taxi. Indian trains are a great experience – and an overnight train will save you a night’s accommodation and is bound to be a highlight of your child’s adventure. For a family, you’ll probably book a first-class air conditioned 4 bunk compartment which will be the most comfortable on offer, but, not at all swanky.
Bedding is supplied but we used the sleeping bags we had brought from home. Pack lots of snacks and drinks and use the toilets as early into the trip as you can. By morning the toilets will be nowhere near as fresh (read: very unpleasant). Hand sanitiser: use it often and thoroughly.
Between smaller towns and within cities, you’ll most likely use a taxi and driver. This is a great option for families – it’s economical and your driver will wait while you visit a site and then drive you on to the next. It is a very flexible way to get around. It is, however, unlikely your taxi will have working seat belts, making car seats redundant. You will have to leave it up to the skill of your driver and karma to ensure a safe drive. This can be challenging as a parent who is used to strapping a child into a 5 point harness. But, we had no close calls or incidents. The reduction in safety features in India is one of many good reasons to make sure you have comprehensive medical coverage on your travel insurance.
For shorter journeys, you will probably flag down an autorickshaw (or tuk tuk). This is a great option if you have been out walking and little feet are starting to drag – there will always be one nearby to take you back to where you started! Again, you won’t be strapped in and will be sharing the road with other assorted and unpredictable traffic. We always held Meg tightly on our laps. After a few initial white-knuckle rides she got used to, and enjoyed, tuk tuk travel. Again – we had no incidents, but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen.
A child who is a keen walker is going to be an easy and more pleasant travel companion. You may like to do some longer practice walks as a family at home before your trip. Wandering through the countryside is a great way to explore – just set a slower pace with lots of stops and pack snacks and drinks (and lollies/sweets for bribery purposes!)
Food and snacks
You can take many foods into India so you may wish to pack some of your child’s favorite snack foods (crackers, muesli bars etc) for a familiar taste of home whilst they are still adjusting to their new environment. When your supply from home runs out, you’ll find no shortage of packaged snacks in India and the variety of biscuits, chips and sweets/lollies will feel familiar to most youngsters.
We found it relatively tricky to find cereals, breads and spreads so you may wish to bring staples (peanut butter or jam etc) with you if your children are particular about their breakfast. Most places we stayed at did offer toast as a breakfast option. For the more adventurous eaters in your family eating in India will be fun but keep in mind that foods will be spicier than at home! Remember the basics: stick to freshly cooked food (a good deep fry will pretty much kill any germs!) and stay away from foods that may have been sitting for some time. Peel fruits and vegetables and avoid pre-cut pieces. Ensure your kids give their hands a really good wash (with sanitiser) before touching anything they are going to eat. And if your child chooses not to eat a particularly varied diet, take a deep breath and…. let it go. Our daughter, who is very particular about her food, happily survived a month in India on a diet of rice, naan, bananas and biscuits. Taking a multivitamin can reassure you your child will have adequate nutrition until you get home and in to your regular eating routine.
Safety around animals
Much of your time in India will be spent around and sharing space (especially the road) with a variety of animals. Most will pay you no attention if you do the same. Stray dogs are everywhere. Some are well looked after (many in Delhi being provided with warm dog coats for the winter!), others are not and survive scrounging through rubbish. Many free-roaming dogs have rabies and you may consider having the rabies vaccine before visiting India (we chose not but only because we perceived the risk of dog bite to be slight). If your child is a dog lover, stress to them the importance of not approaching, feeding or touching dogs. We had no problems with dogs at all and felt very at ease around them.
Sacred to Hindus, cows live and wander the streets of most Indian towns and cities. All are docile, slow and well used to avoiding people and traffic. While urban cows will be an amusement rather than a danger, stress to your child that cows are also not to be fed or touched.
Monkeys will be a big novelty to most and are common – they too will mostly ignore you. Our only too-close-for-comfort animal encounter was with a monkey who for some unbeknownst reason took a running leap at us but was quickly deterred by a karate kick to it’s stomach. Which surprised the monkey, myself and the rest of the family. I put my unexpectedly fast reaction down to mothering instinct!
Domesticated goats are also common and well looked after, some sporting sweatshirts for winter warmth. Again, look but don’t touch or feed.
Sharing the streets
Indian streets can be narrow, busy and lack footpaths (sidewalks). You’ll be sharing the road with pedestrians, motorbikes and animals. While it may seems chaotic, it works well with little confusion and even fewer mishaps. As a pedestrian, a good approach is to walk confidently and trust that traffic will move around you. And it will. Try not to second guess other road users, they know what they are doing. Holding your child’s hand and walking with them between the curb and yourself will provide a safety buffer. A child who is prone to run off by themselves could be a problem – set some pretty hard ground rules in this regard!
Before visiting India we had read mixed reports about using pushchairs or buggies. Whilst our daughter was beyond pushchair age, we did conclude that a good all-terrain buggy for a small child would be a great way to get around. There didn’t appear many impediments for buggy use and for smaller children, being able to rest their legs – or even take a nap – in a pushchair seemed like a great idea. Taking a backpack to carry a smaller child would also be worth considering.
Ensure your child has sturdy, closed-toed shoes: roads can be rough and not particularly clean (think cow pats).
Watching your child make new friends is huge delight and a lack of shared language is no hindrance when it comes to play. Our daughter enjoyed dancing, learning clapping games, hopscotch and ball games with new friends. You may wish to bring some photos from home for your child to show new friends – their school, their friends or a pet. You may also like to pack a few small gifts your child can give to special people. We didn’t and Meg (rather generously) gave away some of her favorite small toys (recently aquired Christmas gifts) without us knowing
Coping with a minor celebratory status
Indians love children and yours will be of great novelty. If you have an outgoing child, they’ll may cope well with the attention. A shy child, like ours, will find the photo calls, hair stroking and cheek pinching overwhelming. Picking them up so they are out of the fray can make them feel less exposed. Groups of school girls, in particular, would shriek in delight and make a bee line for Meg to shake her hand. Mothers were cheek pinchers – quite hard too according to the recipient.
You’ll find that most of your accommodation will be away from the hustle and bustle of the streets and will provide cool and quiet respite – take regular breaks there for some welcome time out.
The photo below shows our daughter stopping to buy a lollipop surrounded by intrigued locals. Note the gentleman offering to pay for her and his companion snapping a photo on his cellphone. This was in a smaller town off the beaten track, in larger places more frequented by tourists, your children will be, welcomingly, less novel!
Know your child’s limits and protect them with lots of down time. Allow your child to say no when the attention is too much and speak for them when they are feeling shy. We agreed with Meg that she didn’t have to shake hands or speak but instead could just wave and smile at people who wished to introduce themselves. We only had one incident – a girl pulled Meg’s hair, we assume accidently, but the shock made her cry. She still talks about that hair pulling girl with great indignation!
Providing your child with a small digital camera lets them record their own experiences of their trip. What they choose to photograph maybe quite different from your own subjects and their photos can be quite insightful – Meg had a photo collection that included bathrooms and close ups of cushions!
An older child could be easily encouraged to keep a travel dairy. A blank journal can be intimidating so get them started with some pre-written questions: “Today my favorite thing to eat was….”, “The strangest thing I saw today was…”, ” It was funny when…”, “Out my window I can see…” etc. Include pens, scissors, tape or glue and small envelopes for saving ticket stubs and found objects.
Kids will be drawn to Indian music which you will hear loud and often. With a big beat and catchy melodies it’s worth picking up a CD or two of the latest Bollywood hits so the dance party continues long after you get home.
Toys and activities
If your child is young and has a favourite snuggly toy – bring it along. Going to sleep in an unfamiliar place is easier if you have a familiar cuddly toy to sleep with. You’ll find lots of cheap toys in the markets (of the $2 shop variety) so it may be easier to buy small toys as you go rather than to bring from home. This keeps the novelty value up (new toy!) and you can pass them on to a local child, who may very much appreciate the gift, when it’s time to move on. Things to bring from home could include colouring and activity books (and pens), board games and playing cards. Without a common language, colouring-in can be a fun activity to do with a new friend. And a game of snap (FAIRY snap in our case!) can be easily picked up by kids and *ahem* grown men…
A little spending money can go a long way and learning to haggle can be fun! Meg’s first experience bargaining went unexpectedly well. After realising she didn’t have nearly enough pocket money to purchase a highly coveted bracelet, she broke down in tears much to the mortification of the shop keeper who quickly let her have the bracelet for an exceedingly good price! Another fun purchase can be made at a local tailor – choose a fabric and have it made up into a made-to-measure dress or shirt. Little girls with an eye for the colourful and the ornate will especially enjoy this activity!
Play and playgrounds
Playgrounds were far and few between on our trip and the ones we did discover were a little woeful in their upkeep. When there was no play equipment on offer there was always plenty of things to climb, clamber around on and jump off with no shortage of ancient monuments and ruins to explore! Our daughter, at 4, was particularly into jumping off things and could possibly claim to have jumped off most places of interest in Rajasthan! Which is all to say, a kid will make good use of what is around them and India holds continual opportunity for active play.
Trying new things
Trying new things is part of the adventure and our daughter especially enjoyed helping to make bread, print making and getting mehendi (henna designs on her hands). She was quite shy about getting involved – let your kids join in at their pace and you’ll find it won’t take long for their confidence to grow.
Completely a matter of personal choice, but, you may consider loading up an ipad or phone with books, favorite films and games. As well as being very welcome on a long plane trip, some time out with a familiar character can be a distraction from a busy day out exploring. We are not big consumers of technology at home but when dinner is taking a while, you are getting restless and you don’t appreciate the (stunning) view as much as your parents – a little ipad time can ensure a pleasant evening for all the family.