Shweta Markandeya has been traveling the world with her husband, Anupam and daughter, Kimaya since she was a month and a half old. Read her travel tales, sensible tips for family travel and what makes her family want to explore even more.
How would you describe your style of family travel?
We’re kind of Do-It-Yourself travellers.
I’m a stickler for having the accommodation and inter-city travel completely sorted, other than that we keep our schedules flexible. Instead of ticking off a list, we like to discover the local places, sit back and take in a place. For example, when we visited Avignon, a medieval city in Provence, instead of doing a tour of the Palace of the Pope that would’ve been of little interest to the kids, we strolled along the river Rhone and let the kids cartwheel around Rocher des Doms, a hilltop park.
Why do you think family travel is important?
Travel expands your understanding and appreciation of the world. For kids, it helps them experience ways of life that are different from their own, to reflect and in some cases, bond with nature.
And not just for kids, for everyone, travel makes one push boundaries and learn how to adapt and cope.
It could be something as innocuous as unfamiliar food or a long layover or something serious like losing your passports in a foreign country. Anything that doesn’t kill you, makes you wiser. It inculcates risk-taking ability. We’ve been traveling with Kimaya, our daughter, since she was a month and a half old. She’s a little explorer, venturing into the hills or the sea or bookshops. Her enthusiasm rubs off on us. And needless to say, the shared adventure, away from the daily routine, creates memories and a strong bond!
What resources do you use to plan your trips?
I rely a lot on recommendations from friends and family – for where to stay, eat and visit – these tend to be more authentic and appropriate in terms of interests. You also end up saving a lot of money!
For flights, I go to kayak and google flights to find the best and cheapest connections. For accommodation – airbnb and booking.com. For train travel in Europe – The Man in Seat Sixty One and loco2.com.
Conde Nast Traveller for travel inspiration and finding shiny new properties. I like The Telegraph and The Guardian Travel Guides – they are curated and well researched. At times, local travel websites have tips and local secrets that the global sites miss out on. And, Instagram is now a great resource for tips and tricks and connecting with like-minded travellers.
Share your favourite Indian and International travel destinations.
In India, skiing in Gulmarg was truly memorable. Kerala is one destination that has a variety of experiences to offer – mountains, wildlife, sea, backwaters, cultural immersion – and some fantastic quaint properties. Kimaya thoroughly enjoyed her stay at Taj Bekal.
Goa – as clichéd as it may sound – is also one place that we can keep going back – it’s consistent and kid friendly. We had a great time at the W in Vagator.
California has a lot to offer, especially with kids – there’s city life, theme parks, zoos, vineyards, strawberry fields, the mountains and lakes in Tahoe, national parks like Yosemite for camping and hiking and of course, and the beautiful beaches. Greece is also a favourite, for the stunning seascapes, the endless history and the delectable food.
Share some of the ideas that you have used to keep your kid engaged during travels.
We’ve found it helpful to travel along with families with similarly aged kids. The key to keeping them engaged is balance their curiosity and energy.
We do talk a lot with Kimaya about the places we visit before and after the trip. For Greece, we bought a set of Leslie Patricelli’s Mini Myths books, while for a recent trip to France, Spain and Portugal, we made a travel journal with basic info on the places we were visiting and local phrases etc that Kimaya filled out each night. We also made up stories with a local character or flavor for each town we visited – like for Malaga, the tale was of her encounter with Picasso and his paintings.
I like to point out sights and sounds as we go along. Kimaya loved navigating her way through the Paris Metro and the London tube. Or trying to decipher signs in the local languages. Or counting the number of cats in a sleepy fishing village in Portugal. At Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, she keenly listened to its history.
I also look for playgrounds wherever we go.
It’s a great way for the kids to work off all the excess energy and we’ve found lovely play structures on Costa del Sol beaches, San Francisco down town etc.
What are your top tips for parents traveling with toddlers?
Relax. Let go of FOMO!
You can always come back to enjoy ‘Don Giovanni’ at the Royal Opera House or enjoy degustation at a Michelin Star tapas bar, but your child will never be two again! So let her run around in circles in the restaurant (hopefully not a fine dine restaurant!), play in the sand at the beach or sleep in her pram as you watch the sunset.
Other than that, carry a pram wherever you can and some simple comfort food – like a banana or her favourite cookie. It also helps to split up at times with one parent minding the baby.
What’s the absolute travel essential(s) you would pack for your kid?
Sense of humour? Thick skin? Immense patience?
Seriously, appropriate to the weather, layered clothing – I carry socks, a pair of thermals and a light jacket everywhere. Swim suit because you never know when they’ll want to get into the water.
Hand sanitizer or wet wipes. Pen and paper to keep them occupied. A bottle that you can keep refilling with water.
What are your top “must-do” and “not to do” on your family trips?
Overschedule. Between ticking off everything on our list and sitting back and soaking in the local vibe, we choose the latter. Plus all the things we miss give us a reason to come back!
Travel on an empty stomach.
Traveling gets me into my “hunting and gathering” mode, so if there’s palatable and healthy food, I grab it and cajole Kimaya into eating as well. The last thing you want is a cranky child fussing for an ice cream or junk food just as you’re getting into a museum or setting off on a walking tour.
I insist on a consistent morning routine and a good breakfast before we head out for the day. And trying out the local wines and desserts!
Pin it for later!
After 10 years of climbing the corporate ladder, Shweta Markendeya decided to call it quits and just “chill” with her daughter. When not wandering on foot, she wanders in her mind by reading, writing and planning yet another trip! Check out her blog Voyages Petits and Instagram.
Does DIY travel planning excite you? Share with us in the comments below.
Subscribe to Zest In A Tote Digest, my monthly newsletter, for travel tips and inspiration.