You’ll be surprised just how rewarding a family trip abroad can be. We were! Here are 10+ tips that made our travelling with kids in India a breeze.
Travelling with kids: Getting around India
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.
- Bedding is supplied, but we used the sleeping bags we brought home.
- Pack lots of snacks and drinks
- Use the toilets early into the trip. By morning the toilets will be nowhere near as fresh (read: very unpleasant)
- Hand sanitiser: use it often and thoroughly
You will probably flag down an autorickshaw (or tuk-tuk) for short journeys. 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! But, 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.
You’ll most likely use a taxi and driver between smaller towns and within cities. This is an excellent 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. So, you will have to leave it up to the skill of your driver and karma to ensure a safe drive. This can be challenging for 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 ensure comprehensive medical coverage on your travel insurance.
Travelling with kids: Food and snacks in India
You may wish to pack some of your child’s favourite snack foods for a familiar taste of home whilst they are still adjusting to their new environment. The variety of biscuits, chips and sweets/lollies in India will feel familiar to most youngsters. We found it relatively tricky to find cereals, pieces of bread and spreads, so you may wish to pack some peanut butter or jam if your children are particular about their breakfast. Most places we stayed at did offer toast as a breakfast option.
Eating in India will be fun for the more adventurous eaters in your family, 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!)
- 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.
Travelling with kids: Safety around animals
Much of your time in India will be spent around and sharing space (especially the road) with various 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 the rubbish. Many free-roaming dogs have rabies so consider having a rabies vaccine before visiting India. If your child is a dog lover, stress the importance of not approaching, feeding or touching dogs. We had no problems with dogs and felt very at ease around them.
Monkeys will be a big novelty to most and are common – they will mostly ignore you.
Domesticated goats are also common and well looked after, some sporting sweatshirts for winter warmth. Again, look but don’t touch or feed.
Sacred to Hindus, cows live and wander the streets of most Indian towns and cities. All are docile, slow and used to avoiding people and traffic. While urban cows will be amusement rather than a danger, stress to your child that cows are also not to be fed or touched.
Travelling with kids in India: Making friends
Watching your child make new friends is a huge delight, and a lack of shared language is no hindrance to playing. 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.
Travelling with kids in India: Sharing the streets
Indian streets can be narrow, busy and lack sidewalks. You’ll be sharing the road with pedestrians, motorbikes and animals. While it may seem 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 guess other road users second; 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 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. Taking a backpack to carry a younger 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).
Travelling with kids in India: Coping with admiration
Indians love children, and yours will be of significant novelty. If you have an outgoing child, they may cope well with the attention. However, 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, shriek in delight and make a beeline for Meg to shake her hand. Mothers were cheek pinchers – quite hard, too, according to the recipient.
Know your child’s limits and protect them with lots of downtimes. Allow your child to say no when the attention is too much and speak for them when they feel 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 accidentally, but the shock made her cry. She still talks about that hair-pulling girl with great anger!
Travelling with kids: Keepsakes
- Providing your child with a small digital camera lets them record their own experiences of their trip. What they choose to photograph may be quite different from your own subjects, and their photos can be pretty insightful – Meg had a photo collection that included bathrooms and close-up cushions!
- An older child could be easily encouraged to keep a travel diary.
- Kids will be drawn to Indian music, which you often hear loudly. 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.
Travelling with kids: Toys and activities
If your child has a favourite snuggly toy – bring it along. Sleeping 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, so buying small toys as you go may be easier than bringing them home. This keeps the novelty value up (new toy!), and you can pass them on to a local child, who may appreciate the gift when it’s time to move on. Things to bring from home could include colouring, 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.
Travelling with kids: Play and playgrounds in India
Playgrounds were far and few between our trip and the ones we discovered were a little woeful in their upkeep. However, when there was no play equipment on offer, there were always plenty of things to climb, clamber around, 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 opportunities for active play.
Trying new things when travelling with kids
Trying new things is part of any adventure. Our daughter especially enjoyed helping to make bread, printmaking and getting Mehendi (henna designs on her hands). However, she was pretty 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.
Travelling with kids: Shopping
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 shopkeeper, who quickly let her have the bracelet for an exceedingly reasonable 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!
Travelling with kids: Technology at your service
Thoroughly a matter of personal choice, you may consider loading up an iPad or phone with books, favourite 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 takes a while, you are getting restless and don’t appreciate the (stunning) view as much as your parents – a little iPad time can ensure a pleasant evening for all the family.