Who travels to Cuba with their 3-month old baby? The Backpacking Mama does!

I am letting you onto a secret. It was Pooja Sardana a.k.a The Backpacking Mama who made me first write my first travel story. We had come back from a fabulous 2-week trip to Vietnam, and she asked me to pen down the travel journey to a country where not many Indian families travel to.

Yayy to new experiences!

So, it was amazing to interview Pooja for the second edition of my Family Traveler Series – interviews with families that love to travel, can’t get enough of new experiences and love creating lasting memories.

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

The craziest kind!

We’ve been traveling for the last 16 years and have had some pretty interesting and adventurous trips and experiences and this didn’t change post kids. Our first trip with the first child (now 6 year old) was when she was 6 weeks old – to Pashangarh in India. The first international trip with her was to US West Coast, Mexico and Cuba when she was 3 months old. Since then we’ve never hesitated and have been to live sports events, adventure destinations and beaches alike. 

Baby’s Day Out in the iconic Cuban car.

In general, we are frugal travellers and prefer to keep baggage and expenses to the minimum – eat local and fresh, stay in Airbnb’s and other apartments with the occasional hotel thrown in (as long as it comes from credit card/frequent flyer points).

Where we splurge, it is usually on the choice of destination itself or on some one-of-its-kind experience. 

Why do you think family travel is important?

For us it isn’t so much about including travel as one of the many experiences that our kids have, as it is about being who we are. Having kids usually means a lot of our personal selves gets put on a shelf for later use, but we did not want to do that with travel.

Some parents sing, some cook, we travel. And now with a 6-yr-old girl and a 3-yr-old boy, we are seeing how it is shaping them up as people. My son wakes up everyday with the same question – ‘aaj hum aeroplane mein ja rahe hain?’ and has invited everyone in his school and daycare to the upcoming trip to Russia!

Swim in the Amazon river.

The daughter actively plans the itinerary with her dad and is so much more open to new experiences. Would you believe it that she was the one who jumped first into the Amazon River for a swim and was cajoling her dad to jump in after her. 

It expands their comfort zone – they’ve tried squids, spent an entire day at a train station because of cancellations, gone for days without technology, washed their own utensils and stared at other kids having ice-cream because we ran out of cash.

In our very privileged life-style, frugal travel gives them some measure of a different perspective. 

What resources do you use to plan your trips?

Fortunately for me, the husband loves planning the travel as much as the trip itself. He plans for months in advance and I pitch in with the important decisions on the itinerary.  I like exploring the place on google maps, reading a bit about the local culture, maybe a novel or two from the region (if I can) and get a feel of the place. 

Our go-to is, without a doubt, the Lonely Planet Guide. Other than that Frommers and Trip Advisor are must checks; Seat 61 for train travel in general and loco2 for booking trains in Europe.

Share your favourite Indian and International travel destinations.

I find it very difficult to pick favorites in travel destinations. I could revisit every place, yet haven’t repeated many. There is so much to experience and the desire to see more overpowers the desire to go back.

That said, we had the most fun in Kerala, what with the fresh sea-food and lovely houseboat experiences. 

Quintessential Kerala with the greenery, the backwaters and the boats

Internationally, I’m in love with Southern Africa for the wild life and raw experiences it offers. The kids have swum with wild penguins, pet lions, seen whales and sharks and had some really interesting food. The sun does shine brighter there and it feels like a place that I am somehow deeply connected with. 

Need weekend getaway ideas in India, here are some short trips within India.

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

Plan with them in mind. When doing the itinerary, we plan slow days and ensure that there is at least 1 activity in each day or two that the kids will look forward to. For instance, this time in Moscow, we will watch a ballet performance recommended for kids and visit the circus. We make sure we plan for good places to eat ones that have a play space around or are near a park. Even in a city like Cairo, we found Al Azhar Park. 

When they start to lead the way.

I also usually carry a goody bag with small knick-knacks that can be used to distract and ward off a tantrum – it has things like new stickers, new books, small cars.

My favorite is the Litjoys Travel Diary in which the kids keep a sort of a travel journal with things they collect on the journey. 

Since my kids do enjoy the company of other kids, I try and find people we may know in other countries and do a sort of play-and-coffee date. In Paris, we had caught up with a fellow travel blogger and her kids.

What are your top tips for parents traveling with toddlers?

I think 2 – 4 years is the rather troublesome travel age where one doesn’t know what will kick off a tantrum. Plus food choices are a bit limited – and if your son is anything like mine – you can be prepared for a diet of bread, fries, 1-2 fruits and milk for all 3 weeks of travel. That said, it still is fun.

One has to take it a lot slower. While we used to move every night or 2 when we traveled on our own, with kids we try and make a base and do more day trips. 

With toddlers, we make sure there is enough time and space to let them run around and get all that energy out, else everyday will end with tears. 

Also, we make sure to locate the play area at the airport and spend a good amount of time there so that the kids have spent their energy and are a lot more peaceful on the flight. 

Letting go of your fear!

Finally, go forth and conquer, it’ll be all good. 

Do read – Travelling the world with your Toddler

What’s the absolute travel essential(s) you would pack for your kids?

With or without kids, my absolute travel essential is the stole.

A stole that one item that can double up as a sarong, a towel, a mat, a bag, a cover up – what have you.

The other things we do carry include favourite snacks, wipes, medicines and sun screen. And even with the younger one being 3 yo now, we do take the pram. 

What’s your top ‘not to do’ during travels?

We try to NOT have ‘to-do’ activities on the first day of landing in any country. It is better to relax and have the flexibility to nap and get over the jet lag.

What’s your top ‘must do’?

Plan well! We usually check for top things to do for kids before heading to any place. 

Braving the cold for the Golden Dome photo op in Israel.

Read local – pick up a few books (translated) for the kids, it’s a great way to get to know the place better. 

Pin it for later!


Entrepreneur by day and blogger by night, Pooja is that rare travel blogger who goes to exotic destinations with toddlers in tow. The family has been to over 60 countries so far. Of these, about 30 have been with their 2 kids. Pooja also has a personal blog where she shares all her travel stories: The Backpacking Mama.

Do you like traveling solo, with friends or with family? Share with us in the comments below.

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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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