In the 5th Family Traveler Interview series, meet Devika Sehgal who identifies herself as a wandering soul. She loves to travel to unfamiliar lands, and considers herself lucky that her husband Varun and her daughters Meera and Radha are equally adventurous and ready to pack their bags for all the unconventional family trips.
Devika’s eyes sparkled as she reminisced about all the past family adventures and fun trips for this interview. Read on to find out more about her way of family travel – usually when one holiday is ending, she is already planning the next one!
What kind of travel do you like to do with your family?
Traveling with family is a mixed bag. One needs to ensure that everyone returns happy with the bag full of memories, an experience that changes your perspective and a bond that has an everlasting celebration in the family.
As a family we all love the outdoors. So even if I plan a city holiday, it would be bundled with cycling, walking tours and often feature a offbeat location or activity. History, culture & local cuisine is added as well. Our early evenings are usually spent sitting in small roadside cafés/bars for coffee, crepes & beer.
Why do you think family travel is important?
It’s important to let the family loose and see much more than what a daily routine can give.
This year my elder daughter turned 10. She is Potter Head and as her birthday gift, I planned a mother daughter trip to London, Warner Bros studio. These were the most pleasurable 8 days I have spent with her. Not only did my 10-year-old plan the itinerary in London, she was most enthusiastic once we reached there.
She was keen to learn about underground transport system, discuss street fashion, walk around museums, share her opinions on British rule in India and how she felt about ‘Kohinoor’ being in Tower of London. Before this trip I had never experienced her being so talkative, independent and curious. This trip was very enriching for me as I learned so much from my daughter.
Another exciting trip was to Bhutan for all of us – a 12-day outdoor trip – where we hiked for about 2.5 to 4 hours every day. It built a sense of appreciation for the open skies and tested our endurance levels. Along with our treks, we did mad child-like activities like rolling down the Meadow Mountains, collecting wild strawberries, sharing Buddha and Yeti stories. Star gazing in the nights led to learning about the constellations from my husband who is an avid reader on astronomy.
My daughters came back with an understanding on why Bhutan is the ‘Country of Happiness’ and what it takes to keep ourselves happy, some profound thoughts at the age of 10 and 8.
I believe travel is the best education I can give my children – the experience and exposure sets their way of thinking in life.
What resources do you use to plan your trips?
I like to plan the family trips myself – from booking the tickets, hotels or homestays, to figuring out local sightseeing and where to eat.
I do have a few favourite sites, blogs, friends & books that I refer back to every now and then. TripAdvisor is my preferred site for reviews. For booking flights and hotels, I use whichever platform offers me the cheapest and maximum bang-for-the-buck. Music is an integral part of our trips, we like to catch local live bands. Google, Zomato, Easy diner and various blogs keep us posted about the local entertainment.
I usually start with a spreadsheet putting in all possible options and then keep narrowing it down to ideally what to do. But I always keep some flexibility to make changes after reaching the destination because travel can never be completely planned with children.
Share your favourite Indian and International travel destinations.
As a family, it’s never difficult to choose a destination because we wear our adventurous hats for mountains, and are as enthusiastic for a beach destination or being in a cosmopolitan city or a small village, wide-eyed to go on a safari.
In 2010, when my elder daughter was 2.5 years and younger one was about 2 months, I was on my maternity leave. From Mumbai, we spontaneously planned a road trip in our Tata Safari down south.
We traversed across 3800 kms in 26 days. Mumbai-Goa-Chikmanglur-Belur-Coorg- Mysore-Bangalore-Hampi-Satara-Mumbai.
We stayed in home stays at most places, so I had the flexibility of making small meals for my daughter. The trip had experiences from a beach, temples, coffee estates, mountains, elephant orphanage, to history and culture at Hampi and star gazing at a campsite in Satara.
Turkey has beautiful places to visit and is another destination that brings back smiles on our faces. We were there in Istanbul during Ramadan. What an unforgettable sight it was in the evening when hordes of families came together to Blue Mosque to do Iftar, waiting for the evening prayer before they break their fast with a date.
Kids playing all around, stunning architecture, sumptuous food stalls and welcoming local faces is what I remember of Sultanahmet area. The soulful dance of the swirling dervishes was another mesmerising experience. For the kids, the most delightful moments were feeding the pigeons and the delicious Turkish ice cream stalls.
Another unforgettable holiday for our family was a recent trip to Switzerland. This included lakes and the highest of the Alps mountains – Lucerne, Titles, Jungfrau & Matterhorn. Montreux was a lovely city with jazz music to be enjoyed and a memorable experience on the Chocolate Train. Interlaken will remain special to me because I did my first Skydive adventure there.
My kids’ favourite destination is Bali – the name itself brings back wide smiles on their faces. The water park, water sports, paddy fields, rich art & craft villages, temple dances with amazing masks, the tamak safari and lazying in cozy cafés is treasured by all 4 of us.
Share some travel tips you have used to keep your kids engaged during travels.
One of our key rules is that we try to keep our trips electronics free as far as possible. Never forget children are inquisitive, unhindered by fear and ready to discover, so we let them be.
We usually carry one odd game like Dooble or Cards for all of us. Besides this, Varun and my daughters love to sketch. Books are essential and there are fun music-and-dance evenings. One of the daughter becomes the DJ to play a song of every family member’s choice. Here, Varun usually adds by sharing the life of the artist and this turns into a story telling session as well. Our favourite is to play antakshri – both Hindi & English songs – on all our long drives.
What are your top tips for parents traveling with toddlers?
To not be over-protective is my way to travel with kids. Be as carefree as possible because kids can sense any kind of anxiety.
Food is not on top of my priority list. If the kids don’t want to eat, I don’t insist. We buy a lot of fruits as snacks and I let them experience the local cuisine. Drinking water is what I try to be careful with and like to ensure its bottled or filtered.
What’s the absolute travel essential(s) you would pack for on family trips?
Besides medicines/ first aid, wet wipes, sanitizer and the doctor’s phone number, my backpack always has water, snacks, raincoat, portable speaker and swimwear.
What are your top ‘must do’ and ‘not to do’ on your trips?
Don’t be a ‘tourist’ … when you travel be like a local. Try to use local transport, eat local cuisine, visit the local grocery stores and shop and avoid malls.
On family trips, kids observe parents for longer periods so it is important that adults be respectful to each other and towards extended family members in conversations.
Avoid too much use of eletronics, be it TV, Ipad or a phone. Avoid over-feeding. Let the kids enjoy outdoors as much possible.
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Devika is a zestful gypsy who loves to explore, is adventurous by nature, spontaneous in planning, happy to travel solo and with family. Her dream is a to travel around the globe on a road trip in a caravan. Follow Devika’s journeys on Instagram.
Family Travel brings out the child in us. Yay or Nay? Share with us in the comments section below.
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