‘Nature is truly the best teacher’: Dilshad Master.

Travel for outdoor activities and soft adventure has seen a rise in the past few years, amongst family travelers. So I am thrilled to interview Dilshad Master for my Family Traveler Series. She and her husband, Akshay are adventure travel enthusiasts who have converted their passion for adventure holidays into a successful business.

There has never been a better time to get to the outdoors! Hope this interview inspires you to get out with your friends & family.

What kind of travel do you like to do with your family?

Our family getaways are never without some sort of adventure activity involved. So it’s either a 4 to 5-day trek in the Himalaya. Or we head to Gulmarg for skiing, or to Rishikesh for white water rafting. We love long drives – Tirthan valley near Manali is a favourite destination. There are some great hiking routes in the Great Himalayan National Park.

Great family time!

I honestly cannot remember if we have ever had a holiday where we just sat back on a beach and lazed!

Even when we went to Goa, we picked up bicycles and biked our way through the little by-lanes and on the beach roads. Or my daughter and husband will find a neat little patch to fish out their rollerblades!

Why do you think family travel is important?

I think it’s extremely important for children and adults to step out of their comfort zones. And the great outdoors makes you do exactly that.

Camping on the green bugyals, living in tents, washing your own dishes when you’re done, and making sure we clean up and leave no trace –  these are life lessons and it’s important to learn them young.

On my group tours, I’ve had concerned parents ask me several times: “Will my child be able to do this trek?”

My response is always the same: “The child will for sure, I can’t say the same about you!”

This constant hovering we do around our kids – we’re doing them a disservice. We’ve taken away their ability to practice risk assessment.

“If I jump off that rock, what will happen? How badly will I be hurt?

“Will I need first aid? What care do I need to take to ensure I land safely?”

These are questions we have to teach our children to ask early on in life. The adventure holidays we do with our own kid and with clients allow this natural process to take place.

Children often surprise their parents & themselves with their ability to tackle a rocky terrain, an icy wall, a shaky bridge.

And then, of course, the kind of holidays we do, there’s no internet connection – 2G bandwidth at best. So mobile phones, iPads, and cool gadgets are useless here – giving families more time with one another.

The last time we were at our rafting camp, my 8-year old daughter woke us up at 4 am to spot the rings of Saturn. She’d read somewhere that we could spot Saturn with the naked eye early in the morning, and she didn’t want to miss the sighting. What better way to learn?

What resources do you use to plan your trips?

It really depends on where we’re headed. If we’re familiar with the place (which we often are, being professionals in the business) then we know the real good places to stay. We know the routes to take and if we don’t, then google maps is our best resource!

Last December we took a group of clients to Italy. We’d never skied there before, but we had contacts in the region.

We try to use local resources as best as possible.

Google and TripAdvisor come in when we have to check that we’ve made the right choices. On our Turkey holiday some years back, we booked with Airbnb – for the first time ever. And fortunately didn’t live to regret it!

Share your favorite Indian and international travel destinations.

As a family, Gulmarg for skiing, Shivpuri (near Rishikesh) for rafting, Himachal for trekking.

Skiing in Gulmarg is a favorite.

Internationally – any place with phenomenal ski slopes or fantastic camping and trekking opportunities – Italy, Canada, USA are the reigning favorites.

Share some travel tips you have used to keep kids engaged during travels.

“When will we reach?”

“Are we there yet?”

Those questions start even before we’ve left the front gate of our house!

We’ve been doing long drives with our daughter (Saira) since she was 18-months old and honestly, it’s not been hard at all. Yes, when they’re younger you’ve got to keep in mind the drive time and the stops to take. Saira would happily sit in her car seat and stare out of the window for about 8 – 10 hours. But after that, if we didn’t stop to let her stretch her legs, there was hell to pay!

When she was younger, we kept a lot of her familiar toys with her in the back seat. There were her dolls, building blocks, sketch pens, art paper, and she’d keep herself occupied for a few hours with that stuff. Then we’d play I-Spy for a while and then she’d sleep a bit, and when she woke up, we made sure we took a pit stop.

Sitting by a blazing bonfire, watching the stars, spotting the constellations, these are lessons only the outdoors can teach you.

Today, she has a book and her music, and yes, that dreaded iPad but it‘s okay because we know that soon she won’t be able to use it any longer! Long international flights are still a challenge. But we’ve managed pretty well between books, the flight entertainment system, her favourite music downloaded on the iPad, and yes, a surprise toy. It works like magic! We usually buy something that she’s been wanting for a while. You’ll be surprised at the peace that prevails 🙂

What are your top tips for parents traveling with toddlers?

We took Saira for her first international trip to Sweden, Denmark, and Istanbul, when she was a little below 2 years old. Her first trek with us was when she was 4 ½, and here are my Top Tips in no particular order.

  • If you can’t avoid the late-night flights, arrive early at the airport…and then proceed to exhaust the toddler. I would arrive a good 3 hours before departure, and once we crossed immigration, the whole airport was our playground! The strategy was simply to tire out the shrimp so that she’d sleep once the plane took off. Always worked!
  • Request for a bassinet seat – these are the front row seats for parents with kids under 2, and I’d strongly advise you insist on one, even if your kid doesn’t quite fit into it. Saira did not just sleep in it for a good two hours. But it’s useful to store all their stuff – toys, books – all necessary accouterments when traveling with kids.
  • Food on the flight or a long drive? Keep it minimal. Don’t try to get them to have a full tummy meal. Your child is not going to pass out if she doesn’t get her full plate. Let them snack instead – every half hour or so. Things that are nourishing, non-messy, and easy to digest…almonds, seedless dates, raisins, cheese slices, crackers, full boiled eggs, and orange juice is what I would arm myself with. You’d be surprised how smart your kid is – they know exactly what they want and how much of it. Just listen to them. Make sure they keep downing water – the only thing you really need to force them to do if they refuse.
  • Traveling with a toddler can be exhausting. It also means you don’t get to cover all the sights and sounds you have on your “to-do” list. Just when you’ve finally got to the front of that long line into the heritage site, your little one’s lost it and wants out! Flea markets and bazaars were great when you were without kids, and old palaces, churches, and temples hold no interest for a 2-year-old. So keep their interests in mind when you’re traveling.

What’s the absolute travel essential(s) you would pack for on family trips?

And here are my top packing tips, always useful, but even more so while traveling with younger kids –

  • Whatever you do, resist the desire to over-pack. Limit the numbers of bags. Trying to push humongous suitcases with one hand while lifting a wailing toddler with the other will drive you nuts. Thumb rule for cold places – layers layers layers. Forget the chunky sweaters that grandma knitted – they just take up precious space. Take a few thermals and fleece bottoms, trekking pants, long sleeves T-shirts, a fleece cap that covers their ears. And a down jacket – just one jacket. Closed shoes and socks are a must. Little freezing toes is a sure shot formula for a runny nose. So ditch those open sandals – they’re never going to wear them!
  • Baby meds – NEVER forget them. Whether you’re traveling internationally or in the wilderness. One bottle of Paracetamol cost us a meal for 3 in Denmark – I learnt the hard way! And you won’t be able to buy the meds you’re looking for without a prescription. I have a simple formula – BCDE. Bricanyl for a bad throat, Crocin for fever, Domstal for nausea, and Enterogermina, for the runs.
  • Ditch that bulky diaper bag with innumerable zippers and pockets. It’s the pits when you have to haul it around on your European holiday where you’ll certainly be doing a lot of walking. Best to get something you sling over your shoulders that leaves your hands free.
Our little one has been traveling in a knapsack carrier since she was 1 and loves it. It’s hugely practical and perfect for treks as well.
  • A slim foldable stroller for your international holiday. They’re a boon, especially if you’re planning to do a lot of walking which usually happens if you’re in Europe.  The other option is a baby knapsack carrier.

What are your top ‘must do’ and top ‘not to do’ on your trips?

Leave the kids alone!

‘Let them be’ would be my must-do advice.

Step in only when you feel they’re going to hurt themselves (even then, don’t overreact) or if you feel they’ll be harmed in some way. Leave them to explore their surroundings.

Trust them, their instincts are sharper than you think.

Don’t plan too much. It takes the joy out of experiencing something you didn’t expect. I’ve often seen people with a long list of to-do things and they’re mostly running from one place to another without absorbing anything.

Dilshad worked in the media and entertainment field for 22 years until the mountains came calling – literally! Today, she is the Director of Himalayan Outward Bound, an international organization that works with children, young people, and professionals empowering them with life skills, by giving them training in the outdoors.

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Author: Shweta Singhal

Hi! I am Shweta, the zest behind this blog . I play several roles – parent to a 6-year old, adventure enthusiast, travel blogger, generally open to trying out new things in life. Besides travel, I love books and theatre and art. I would love to hear from you; do drop a comment. Join me on Instagram / Twitter @zestinatote.

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