The ‘Family Traveler Interview‘ series is shaping to be fun and engaging. I am enjoying talking to different Indian families who are raising future travelers and are creating memorable experiences on the way!
In this 3rd interview of the series, Tulika introduces us to her family adventures with her husband, Anshuman and 2 kids, Neva (9 years old) and Mir (about 4 years old). Hope you enjoy her tales and travails as much as I did!
1. How would you describe your style of family travel?
Our travel style can best be described as serendipitous: follow the wind, or snowstorms, or cherry blossoms, or just the road and you might discover your favorite place on earth!
Of late, especially after the kids came along, we have just booked air tickets and decided the itinerary on the go.
Our accommodation bookings have also been a mix of pre-booking on Airbnb.com and last minute deals on booking.com / hotels.com / other such websites. It has worked out beautifully so far and has added to our adventures.
While we adults are open to a bunch of crazy stuff, we see to it that the kids also get to experience what they like. Places with beaches and parks are a hit anyday with the kids. Neva likes to go on hikes so a place that allows a hike or two works really well. She also loves adventure and thrill. Mir loves animals and to generally run around. All of us also love road trips.
2. Why do you think family travel is important?
Family travel has taught us to make the best out of every situation.
Let me share an anecdote. In Switzerland, we were trying to get to a village called Murren, which is supposed to have the picture perfect rolling greens. But the place looked like a ghost town when we reached. We realized then that we had landed a few weeks ahead of summer and most places were still shut! Soon enough we found ourselves trapped inside a hotel with a snowstorm outside instead of sunny rolling hills.
Once we accepted the situation, we were out and about, making snow angels. Neva collected fresh snow to make the best “strawberry snow tarts” ever. Mir jumped at the sight of his snowman with eyes made of strawberries and nose made of chocolate. 2 days later when the sun finally came out and the roads cleared up for us to drive out, we were sad to leave our snowy adventure behind.
When traveling together, it is clear that everyone has to be flexible and pitch in to make things work, including the kids.
In Japan we had to cook and carry food for Mir (1.5 years old then) as he had a health condition at that time and the local food did not work for him. We had to be flexible to allow sufficient time in the morning for cooking and cleaning before we left for sightseeing. Neva would do her bit by babysitting Mir and helping out with the dishes.
We all lead such packed lives otherwise. When we don’t have to worry about the mundane everyday stuff, we actually talk and rediscover ourselves and each other. I rediscovered my love for thrill rides when I found myself on a mother daughter trip to Disneyland.
3. What resources do you use to plan your trips?
Anshuman ran a travel startup called mygola.com and is familiar with many travel blogs and websites. My contribution, for the most part, has been to just decide the destination. Other than that, we rely on the usual suspects – Tripadvisor, advice from friends who’ve been to the destinations we’re considering.
4. Share your favourite Indian and International travel destinations.
Our top destination in India has to be Ladakh. The road trip from Srinagar to Leh offers unparalleled views and is great for acclimatization. Neva was 4 years old when we did this trip and she managed really well. You can stay in yurts, or tents made of yak skin with a “bukhara” inside to heat it. We would wake up in our yurt to find a yak right outside our window. At night, the Milky Way is visible from several spots.
Jaisalmer has a rustic charm. The sandstone colored buildings glow magically as the sun’s rays fall on them. Parts of the fort have been converted to hotels where you can stay and enjoy the view below through the traditional Rajasthani “jharokhas”. Camel rides over the sand dunes are something that the kids will definitely enjoy.
New Zealand is a country where you can skydive, swim with dolphins, catch the moonset and watch several galaxies from one of the few “dark sky reserves” in the world. Not to forget riding one of the original horses from LOTR.
Our campervan road trip in New Zealand gave me a toy house to play with. The kids would help arrange the seating so that it became a bed at night. We learned how to clean the toilet ourselves and charge the van so we’d have power to run heating and appliances inside the van.
Japan’s zen gardens, the deep aesthetics in every small thing, the beautiful cherry blossoms, the anime and manga culture make it a fascinating destination, especially for us sushi lovers.
5. What are some of the ideas that you have used to keep your kids engaged during travels?
We like to get our kids excited and ready for upcoming trips. For instance, we talked to Neva (7 year old then) about cherry blossoms before our trip to Japan. She was excited to see them, except the season was ending as we landed in Tokyo. She kept researching on the go and followed the blossoms on a website.
She told us that we still had a chance of catching them in the Fuji Lakes area so we made a hurried trip on the Shinkansen to reach Kawaguchiko where we were able to do hanami or cherry blossom viewing to our heart’s content.
In cities, it is a good idea to play the game of reaching from point A to point B by helping kids learn to read maps. That way they feel they’re a part of the day-to-day planning.
Participating in a new activity and building up the excitement leading upto it gets them excited as well. Neva looked forward to and loved taking surfing lessons with her papa in Sri Lanka.
6. What are your travel tip for parents traveling with toddlers?
No matter how well behaved your toddler is, she/he has the potential to turn into a monster during the trip. So be prepared and yet flexible for this.
Imagine that you’re all excited about snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, you are about to jump in the water and your toddler starts bawling, you have to be ok with taking turns in the water instead of trying to make it a complete family experience.
Or if your toddler suddenly gives up on milk during the trip, it is ok to substitute with milk tea or an occasional strawberry milk or some such not-so-healthy option.
Small carry-along toys like cars or animal figures have been a big hit with Mir whereas toddler books and doodle pads were my goto for Neva when she was that age.
7. What’s the absolute travel essential(s) you would pack for travel with kids?
With or without kids, I always pack swimwear. You never know when you might come across a beautiful lake or the open ocean where you’ll feel the urge to jump in.
The usual suspects for the kids are some basic medicines, sunscreens, raincoats and waterproof sacks for keeping wet clothes in or water out. I carry waist pouches so we can keep our hands and backs free when we want to.
Also, always carry some extra cash for that rare chance of being stranded in a snowstorm without an ATM in sight.
8. What are your top “not to do” during travels?
I don’t introduce a new food in a new country to my kid at night as I don’t want to deal with food allergy related medical emergencies.
Also, we try not to make every activity a group activity. It’s ok to split or take turns instead of expecting everyone to enjoy the same thing!
Other than that, we just keep ourselves open to experiences.
9. What are your top “must-do” on travels?
Visit the local markets and try out local, street food wherever possible, be it fried cricket in Thailand, ceviche in Peru or crepes-on-the-go in Paris. These local markets are where you get the most authentic flavour of the place.
For non-English speaking countries, I would learn some basic phrases to get around.
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A civil engineer by profession, Tulika is also a co-founder of Bangalore based theatre group, Playtonik Productions. She has lived and worked across various geographies in India and abroad. Currently a PhD candidate at Stanford University, she dreams of working or studying in every continent.
Do you plan / book your travel itinerary in advance or just ‘wing it’? Share with us in the comments below.
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