The Great Indian Road Trip – Rajasthan

People think twice about a Rajasthan road trip with a kid in tow, but here is a fellow travel happy mom, Shweta Singhal, showing you how its done with a special recommendation for Suryagarh.

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The plan to visit Jaisalmer has been on the cards for the past 8 years, ever since we moved to NCR. But never happened since it demands more than a long weekend. And with a child who hates car rides and is only open to overnight train rides, it increasingly looked difficult. And then, when the plans finally got in place like a neat stack of cards, I was overjoyed! My husband, R and I were going to do Jodhpur – Jaisalmer – Bikaner by road, while my in-laws with daughter would fly in and out of Jodhpur. Everyone is happy…well, almost.

The pre-planning to get all the 5 suitcases in our SUV required military attention, but it got done. We started off at about 715 am to make the best use of the morning time. Our first stop was directly in Jaipur, where we reached at 1130 am. We had planned to eat at Sharma dhaba, and catching up with a cousin of mine. She informed me, though that no dhaba would be serving lunch at that time. So we ended up at a relative’s house to enjoy a veritable feast for lunch, not a smart idea when about 340 km more needs to be done. We finally left Jaipur at 130 with enough gajak, mathri and kachori packed for the next 7 days! That’s marwari khatirdari for you J

Jaipur – Kishangarh – Beawar – Jodhpur – this route suggested on google maps takes one through excellent roads, even though there are some 7/8 odd places to stop for toll. I wanted to take a coffee break around 5 pm at Chatra Sagar in Pali. But putting pali dam in google maps took us to a private property near chatra sagar, with almost an hour wasted, we turned and continued onto Jodhpur. Pali has to wait for some other day. The evening drive for an hour after sunset (at about 6 pm) was the toughest, with no street lights and oncoming vehicles using high beam. We reached our hotel in Jodhpur, quite exhausted at 7 pm. Shower – dinner – sleep.

After a lazy morning breakfast at the hotel and a second one for local treats at Janta Sweet Home, we picked up parents and daughter from the airport and started onward to Jaisalmer. We weren’t expecting a 4 lane highway like the one from Jaipur to Sikar, but the road to Jaisalmer was worse than expected, with a lot of construction going on in parts. We took a much needed break at about 5 pm at Heritage resorts. They have a nice garden and clean loos. We crossed Jaisalmer town and I got the first view of the Jaisalmer fort. It looked beautiful, all lit up in the evening. Our hotel was 15 kms away from the town towards sand dunes. And much before we reached it, we got our first sight of a fort palace on a hill top. Even if you have visited Jaisalmer before, Suryagarh is reason enough for a re-visit. It is a stunning newly built fort palace hotel.

suryagarh-pretties-itself-with-lights

<The evening, when Suryagarh pretties itself up with subtle lighting>

K loved Suryagarh. Her favourite part was the morning lavish breakfast spread. The hotel has many pets, all of who come to the courtyard and she delighted in that – petting the baby donkey, seeing the sparrows (non pets!) come to the table and drink water from our glasses, getting close to the resident peacock strutting about and playing with the white masakalis (pigeon-like).

 

We spent the next 2 days leisurely soaking in the desert atmosphere and hospitality there. A visit to Jaisalmer fort is a must. However, what we didn’t anticipate was the strong sun and the heat even in the third week of December. We hired a guide to show us around one of the largest inhabited forts in India.

jaisalmer-fort

<Jaisalmer Fort, the largest inhabited fort in India>

jharokha-in-the-fort

< The fort has lovely jharokhas with jaali work>

Then we went to Trio for lunch, spicy and decent food. I couldn’t convince everyone to see the patwon ki haveli and we came back to the hotel after the fort visit. The evening cultural program, the leisurely meals in the open courtyard, the endless nooks and corners to read a book, the organic garden behind with rows of neat herbs and other plants – so many ways to relax at Suryagarh that the night and the next day quickly passed by.

sunrise-before-cycling-trip

<Sunrise the next morning, just before our cycling trip>

The next morning, we did end up having a small adventure. The hotel does have few unadvertised bikes for guests, and while the staff said they couldn’t be taken out of the hotel premises, the hotel manager was perfectly fine with our request. So, dressed warmly and with 3 small water bottles stuffed in our side pockets (since the bikes have no holder for a bottle), R and I left for a cycling trip. The idea was to do a short trip, not more than 10 – 15 kms. I googled Bada Bag, a picturesque cenotaph and the map gave me couple of options. I selected the closest one and after cycling for 5 kms, landed near a stone quarry. The weather was nippy and it was lovely to see the open wide landscape, with nothing but gigantic windmills dotting all over.

bada-bag2

cycling-across-a-windfarm

<cycling across a windfarm>

We asked a local near the quarry and got redirected to Ludarva, another site that showed as about 10 km away. We gamely cycled till there. What we didn’t realise was that the route back to the hotel would be another 25 – 27 km!! Soon, we ran out of water and enthusiasm to cycle. R who is used to cycling was game for this, but the last 5 km was sheer torture for me. We had started our trip at 710 and my watch showed 1010 am, the only thing that kept me going (for the last 5 km) was the thought that the lavish breakfast spread at the hotel would end at 1030!

roads-maintained-by-bro

<beautiful straight empty roads in most parts, maintained by BRO>

balcony-at-suryagarh-fort

<Breakfast at Suryagarh in the open courtyard was a sublime experience with this artist playing from one of the balconies>

The last day in Jaisalmer was spent at Damodra Desert camp, an excellent choice to spend the night in the desert. We had an early light lunch at Suryagarh and left for Damodra. We reached the campsite, we were shown into our tents; had some tea / coffee and set off in a jeep towards the dunes. Half an hour later, we were transferred to camels which I loved, so much so, that after getting off everyone on the dunes, I asked the camel guy to take me solo with the camel running. Exhilarating, a bit scary only when the camel decided to run down a dune in full speed!

My daughter, K loved the Thar desert as well. Not every kid (or adult) enjoys a camel ride and K hated it. But no child can resist running up and down the dunes, trying sand boarding and enjoying the dramatic sunset.

 

It’s a great way to spend the evening. We were back at the camp post sunset. All the rolling around in the sand required a bath, which delayed us for the evening cultural program. The camp hostess had mulled some wine in true Christmas spirit and gave it to all the guests. Great way to start the evening. Good food, great cultural show and the most magnificent sky with a canopy of stars that I had seen in a while.

The next morning, post a quick breakfast, we set off back to Jodhpur. A quick lunch at Samsara resorts (much grander than our stop en route to Jaisalmer), and we reached the city around 330 pm. We decided to visit Mehrangarh fort before checking into our hotel. The fort perched on its own hilltop looms majestically and can be seen from almost everywhere in the old city. The entrance gates, the vast expanse within, the artefacts showcased in the palace rooms all make for a stunning experience. But it is quite a walk and we were really tired after the journey from Jaisalmer and the tour of the fort.

Since this was our last night in Jodhpur before going back home the next day via Bikaner, my husband and I wanted to make the most of the night. Dinner was at Pal Haveli rooftop, with stunning views of Mehrangarh fort lit up in the evening. (Another great spot in the old city is the restaurant at Raas, but that was all reserved for in-house guests).

mehrangarh-fort

<view of Mehrangarh Fort from Pal Haveli roof-top restaurant>

Another quick stop at Janta Sweet Home, this time with parents and my daughter, and then we were off to Bikaner.

K loved Rajasthani sweets especially the halwa at Suryagarh and jalebis at Janta sweet home (besides the firangi chocolate pastries). But She found Rajasthani food at restaurants quite spicy. We usually ordered pasta or pizza for her outside the main hotels.

A bit of the earlier day repeat – 4.5 hour car trip to Bikaner city, parking the SUV in the old city then a mad dash in an auto to reach Junagarh Fort before the last entry at 430 pm. We made it! After the crowds at Jaisalmer and Mehrangarh forts, this one seemed almost empty at that hour. Which is a shame – this is one of the most beautiful palaces from inside, with stunning work done on the walls and ceilings in several rooms – anoop mahal, music room etc. We then made our way to the newly opened Narendra Bhawan, a beautiful residence of the last king of Bikaner, now converted into a hotel.

And finally the long journey back to Gurgaon.

~~

Shweta also shared her Vietnam adventures with us, you can find that here. 

 

 

Backpacking Mama nominated for the Liebster Award!

I was recently nominated for the Liebster Award by Lianna who blogs at from lianna with love. It’s delightful to be nominated by a fellow travel blogger!

She is probably the only person I know who has tasted food from 8 countries in one day. Her blog navigates travel and growing up as a 20 something with as much ease, all the while giving great travel advice in pieces like these : Tips for travelling with Pets and How to make do in NYC without a phone!

What exactly is the Liebster Award?

The Liebster Award is an online award given to bloggers by bloggers, helping each other promote their sites and connect! You can find a post detailing the official rules here (this is also where you’ll submit a link to your post when you’re done).

The basics are:

  • Display the award on your blog
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their site
  • Answer their questions about yourself (feel free to include photos!)
  • Write your own set of questions for your nominees

My answers to from lianna with love’s questions:

  • How many languages do you know?

I love languages and travel makes it so much more fun to learn them. I currently speak – English, Hindi, Bengali and Spanish; I can understand bits of Gujarati, Italian and French.

  • What’s your favorite method of travel (plane, boat, car, etc.)?

I travel with kids, lets get there sooner! Though, the slower the mode of transport,the more culture one gets to soak in .. so left to myself, i’d hike everywhere.

  • Who is your favorite person to travel with (or do you prefer to travel solo)?

Crazy as it may sound, i actually em enjoying travelling with the entire family. While it is quite tasking to manage two kids, we get to see a whole different side of the destination.

  • What is your most memorable travel experience?

Strangely, the most memorable travel experience has been the one where I cribbed everyday! It was our first trip to South America and we moved every single night covering Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. Half the trip was deathly cold, despite it being their summer time, we spent no more than $ 20 a night on accommodation and travelled like locals. It was the trip when we got stranded on a floating island in Bolivia and had to be rescued by a paddle boat, when our luggage was stolen by a local bus crossing into Bolivia from Peru and we had to chase in what was the slowest possible taxi in the country, when we witnessed the vastness of the continent, the awe inspiring Iguazu Falls, the quiet inducing Macchu Picchu, stood at the Magellan Strait that I had never thought of as real as I read about it in geography books years ago, hiked to the Torres Del Paine over the boulders thinking that was the path as indicated by LP. It was the trip of a lifetime!

  • How do you save money while traveling?

Given the number of trips we take in a year, we do have to save money, so here are the tricks

a. Plan 3m-6m in advance and keep an eye on the fares

b. Choose credit cards that have a good tie up with multiple airlines and accumulate and use points for flights and stay

c. Plan a budget for daily spends and balance that out between indulgent meals and frugal air bnb cooking

d. Find out about the free attractions for kids for each destination so we aren’t spending on making them happy or warding off a tantrum

  • What’s your favorite destination?

I absolutely love Africa, particularly the south. The sun shines brighter there, believe me! I’d go there in a heartbeat.

  • Least favorite destination?

None, really!

  • Three things you’ve learned from traveling?

Let it go! Don’t try to control everything about the trip or the day and i’ll have more fun

Pack once, then remove 30% of the items. We do just fine without them.

If I can manage to secure garbage bags from a neighbour in Germany, without knowing a word in the language, i’ll get by just fine in life.

  • What blogs do you read regularly?

I’m a blog flirt. I like reading different ones every week. Though mommygolightly and greatbong are places that I usually find interesting reads.

  • Where are you going next?

This new years, we are headed to Mauritius for a bit if the sea and then Almaty for a bit of the snow.

  • One interesting fact about yourself (travel related or not)?

I approach even the most dangerous animals as one would approach a baby! I have held a teen croc, an eagle, lion cubs with as much ease as my two kids… or maybe its the other way round!

My nominees for the Liebster Award are…

First Time Mommy – “I am a first time mommy, Anshu Bhojnagarwala, just like you. I stay in Mumbai with my husband, Rishi and adorable little toddler Aanya. Bringing up a child all alone is no mean feat which I am learning the hard way. In this blog, I share with you some sweet and some scary experiences of pregnancy and motherhood. Be a part of my journey, a journey of a mother! This could be your journey too.”

Wholesome Mama – “WholesomeMamma is a blog about Aloka’s personal journey parenting from an evolutionary or natural perspective and trusting her instincts to do what’s best for the kids over conventional ways.

I blog about breastfeeding, co sleeping, cloth diapering, babywearing, babyled weaning, nutrition, play, books and all such things that I have experienced with my boys aged 4 and 1.5 and love sharing my experiences.”

Mom-Bai – “A humourous blog about a Mom-Bai’s (Mumbai’s Mother-Maid) life with her preschooler: the madness that is mommy hood. This blog has no advice on how to handle children; only proof that the Mom-Bai needs a lot of advice!”

My Flock Of Four – “I am a working mom. I do daycare/school drop-offs and pick-ups, I cook, I clean, I run, do a lot of laundry and some how manage to be a very relaxed person and have somewhat of a social life. I often get the question, ‘how do you do all of that?’. This blog was started because of that question, and of course, my passions.”

I Pen Life – ” I am Reenu Jerath. I love to write, and through this blog I share with you the everyday life snippets that resonate with me.

My parents raised me to be a medical doctor – renowned and famous- like them. But soon they figured that I did not have the guts to cut open the frogs and mice. The closest I could get to the medical profession was to be a Healthcare Business Analyst. After spending years in the corporate landscape, I now pursue my long-time passion for writing.”


My 11 questions for my nominees:

  1. What is the first thing you do on waking up in the morning
  2. What is the craziest thing your child/children have told you
  3. Which is your dream holiday destination
  4. What worries you most about travelling with kids
  5. What is the strangest food you have eaten
  6. Pink, blue or black
  7. What are you currently reading
  8. What is your must have travel thing, when travelling with kids
  9. Mountains or beaches
  10. One interesting fact about yourself (travel or not)

Now it’s your turn to pass the award on to bloggers who you think deserve it!

Throwback Monday – Open Play Area

Every trip we plan, has a day or two on which we spend time outdoors in an open play area in the city. With the last few days of smog, I cant help but think of the unfettered fun times we have had in the free open play areas around the globe. The one above is from Amsterdam on our way back from Italy in June 2016. Everything was shut because it was a Sunday, and there was some football match. But the open play area, well, it was open.

Related Links

 

Some of the most fun open play spaces we have visited have been:

Melbourne, Australia: Ian Potter’s Children’s Garden.

Singapore: Jacob Ballas Garden in the botanical garden and by far the most fun, since it was a water play area – Children’s Garden at Gardens by The Bay

What is Throwback-Monday?

What better way to beat the Monday-morning-blues than to think about vacation. Believe me some weeks it’s just the memories of old vacations and plans of the next one that keep me going.

So here’s a way to beat ’em blues with posting a vacation photo every Monday, right here.

  • Post a photo of your vacation, with or without kids. Of course it should be suitable for public viewing.
  • The focus of the blog should be the photo. You could write a bit about it, or not.
  • It need not be a professional photo, but who needs to be a professional. With a great phone camera and some imagination, the stage is yours.
  • Link back here so that your readers can see all the other great Throwback Monday posts.

Vietnam with Kids

Over 2000 miles of coastline with some fantastic beaches. No hordes of tourists (as yet) like some of its neighbouring countries. Great fresh seafood (not withstanding some of the articles about mercury poisoning in the fish). So don’t let the violent patches in the country’s history keep you away. The country is changing rapidly. Go to Vietnam now, and take your kids with you.

North Vietnam – Hanoi & Ha Long bay

We started our trip, like a lot others, in Hanoi. The city, despite the hot and humid weather that we encountered in June, is beautiful and stately. (The immediate comparison to Lutyen’s Delhi comes to mind while Ho Chi Minh City is more like Mumbai).

We took a connection via Bangkok and after the night flights, reached in the morning, checked into the hotel and promptly crashed. Alas, I had messed up Rule #1 – never plan anything on the first day post night travel! I had booked a really interesting and unusual tour with HanoiKids Voluntary English Club  and with great reluctance, husband (R) and daughter (K) got out of bed. These are university kids who take you to see places in the city, all for the chance to practice their English and to get some insight into your culture (you can find them on FB, but best to e mail them at hanoikidsvn@gmail.com with the sites you want to cover).

Our first stop was very interesting – The Temple of Literature is a sort of place where Confucius is worshiped and the place of the first university in Vietnam.

museum-of-literature
K posing within the Temple of Literature

But after an hour or so within the complex, the heat sapped our energy. K had slept off and it was getting increasingly difficult for R to walk carrying a sleeping child. We ended up cancelling the visit to Ho Chi Minh palace / museum post this and were happy to go to a little hole-in-the wall café in the old part of the city. We were so glad we didn’t give the old quarter a miss. While R was happy with the local beer, I tried the egg coffee – thick, creamy, intense, and a complete delight. K slept through the coffee break peacefully on a bench.

egg-coffee
Egg coffee, what a find!

With energy restored, we meandered through the French quarters, took in the beautiful buildings in that area including the Opera House and called it a day. Our hosts were so keen to show us a typical book store, talk more about education, lifestyle, culture in India (that can take months!) but we bid goodbye and decided to have a drink at the grand Hotel Metropole before heading back to our hotel.

Ha Long Bay. – A UNESCO heritage site with over 2000 lime karsts rising out of the water.

halong-bay

halong-bay

halong-2

K really enjoyed this part of the trip. This may end up being a bit difficult with kids, but she thought staying in a boat cabin was heavenly. The road trip to reach the bay was a different matter altogether. It takes 4 hours from Hanoi – through some really dilapidated and un-scenic parts and in my opinion, this is worth only if you are going for a night stay. It is too crazy to do this for a day trip! We booked ‘Dragon Legend’.

dl

Also the bay is loveliest in the evening when all the other junks (yes, that’s exactly what they are called!) that carry day trippers have gone.

After a hearty lunch, there was an option to visit a small beach via a smaller boat or a kayak. We opted for kayaking. We all got a quick theory session on dos and don’ts and a stern warning about the presence of jelly fish in the water in parts. Our guide, an expert kayaker, offered to take the 5 year old daughter in his kayak, leaving us to enjoy in a separate one. K was a bit psyched about being alone with a stranger, but she stayed calm and kept us in her vision.

kayak
K with the expert guide in a kayak

The destination was super fun for her – she thoroughly enjoyed the pristine beach, making sand castles and frolicking in the bay. We took the boat back to our catamaran.

sandcastles-halong
We can never get enough of making sandcastles

Central Vietnam – Da Nang, Hoi An & Hue

Central Vietnam with its endless beaches and the charming town of Hoi An is a delight for kids. There are several beach resorts at Da Nang, and this would be an ideal place for families to stay.

Our first day was spent lazing by the poolside and doing pretty much nothing all day. Bliss! In the evening, we took the hotel shuttle to go visit the Hoi An town. It is a nice stroll within the town where cars have been banned. However, It can be quite crowded on some streets in the evening so make sure you hold on to your kids / toddlers. Hoi An has some amazing restaurants (the best food in Vietnam according to many travellers) and kids would have love the dishes, be it vegetables, fish or meat. My personal recommendations for the restaurants – Morning Glory, Mango Mango.

As an aside note, my daughter only eats fried fish, not steamed or poached or even pan fried. Morning Glory has some amazing food and very different local recipes to enjoy. But there was no deep fried fish on the menu. However, once we explained what we want to the staff, they were more than happy to get us de-boned fried fish with some vegetables and chips.

The next day, we were all set for our countryside cycling tour. We took a taxi to the Heaven and Earth Tours shop in Hoi An town. They had our bicycles ready – one for R with a seat behind to comfortably seat our daughter and another one for me.

First the cycles had to be loaded onto a boat and we crossed the river to the other side. In many places, nets were pulled out of the water, seemingly sunning themselves. Our guide explained that the nets are lowered in the water mornings and evenings to catch the fish.

bike-on-bridge
Happy to pose once I had crossed the rickety bridge. R took a different narrow road, didn’t want to take a chance with K riding pillion

 

The cycling trip began once we reached the other side of the river. This is a beautiful way to experience the countryside and the village life. It is not strenuous at all, with breaks to visit a traditional house in the village, see an old woman weave a mat, see how rice liquor is made (you may wish to keep your kids outside the room where rice is being fermented!), see how a coracle is painted and even take a joy ride in a coracle. A bit like a typical Kerala village life, I think.

ricewine
Rice being fermented for the wine. Not a nice smell!

We had booked a day trip to Hue the next day. The 3 to 4 hour journey would be more convenient to travel in an air-conditioned car. For some reason, we thought it would be a hoot to travel in an old topless jeep (probably left behind by the US army).

jeep
The US Army jeep. (we had a driver, he was the one who took this photo)

The Hai Van pass (which you cross en route to Hue) is the highlight of the road trip and has some stunning vistas. Overall, it is a beautiful drive – with me constantly surprised by the quality of the highways.

american-bunker
A short stop to capture the American bunker in the background. At this point, we were entering into North part of Vietnam

Our guide suggested a break at the Elephant waterfall. While a nice stop for the locals to cool in the water and spend the day picnicking, I wished we hadn’t taken this detour – it meant getting into Hue much later than what I had planned for. My daughter thought completely the opposite. She loved getting in the cool water and it took quite an effort to get back on the road.

ss-nam
The Elephant waterfalls, I was carrying no change for K, but she was delighted to be in the cool water nonetheless

We finally reached Hue, had a quick lunch and went to visit the main attraction of the city. The citadel, from where the Nguyen emperors once ruled is a really large complex. Too large to explore in half a day. While open with beautiful buildings and trees-laden pathways, it can be challenge to explore on a hot day. After exploring the To Mieu Temple complex, R and K decided to laze on a bench while I explored some of the other buildings and gardens.

citadel
One of the main buildings in the immense citadel. Never seen so many lotuses blooming in the moat outside this one
pathways
Beautifully decorated pathways connect buildings

We decided to ditch the jeep and come back via a car. The journey back was on a different route, and there is loads to keep you engaged looking out the window – the coastline, green fields, the rows of boats where people cook and live.

We rounded up the stay at Hoi An with a day spent entirely by the pool side and the beach, before flying to Ho Chi Minh city.

South Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh city & Con Dao island

You could do away with Ho Chi Minh City from a family holiday itinerary without feeling the pinch. North & Central Vietnam have much more to offer to kids than this. It was a short break, 2 days before going to Con Dao island. We decided to skip the war museum in HCMC as friends suggested that some of the stuff / information displayed would be too gory for a 5 year old. But we did go to Cu Chi tunnels with K. And I think she was fine with all the American Vietnam war information – over-whelming in parts – that is available there. Cu Chi tunnels are out of the city and a good 1.5 / 2 hour drive one way. So stock up on water and snacks for the journey. The jungle, though largely sanitised for tourists, is quite thick and dense and its scary to imagine the guerrilla war being carried out there. There is a good documentary film shown and a model on display that shows the various tunnels at various levels. Guides who take a small team of tourists through a well-marked path on a regular basis are well informed.

One highlight for those who are not claustrophobic is to experience the thrill of going through a short or a long tunnel. I tried the short one – no steps to climb into, you can get in and do a short drop. I could walk standing up but not the American tourist behind me who was 6 ft 4 inches. It is clean except for some dried leaves / twigs and gives you a good sense of what it must have been for the Vietnamese soldiers / villagers to live, plan, cook in these tunnels. R tried the long tunnel later but here the guide leads.

tunnel-0
You can experience going into a tunnel. It is quite sanitised – no creepy crawlies.

There is also a section at the end of the walk before the souvenir shop, where you can try your hand at an AK-47. We didn’t try because of K.

The last leg – Con Dao island

We had researched and debated a lot before deciding on Con Dao island as the last leg of our holiday. Na Trang is for the party goers and Phu Quoc for both couples and families but this sleepy island where nothing much happens suited us perfectly.

Con Dao – a penal settlement used by the French and the Americans to house prisoners once upon a time – has been off the tourist track for so long that its really pristine. A small airplane service from Ho Chi Minh city connects to this island in the south on a daily basis. The plane was small, trembled violently in the rains, and was largely full of local tourists.

4 days of R & R is what we went for at this island, so the rains in the first 2 days didn’t bother us as much. The island is perfect for mountain biking and scuba diving (and also hiking) and we tried both once the rains stopped. K had decided – very conveniently for us – that the lady at the resort’s kid centre was her best friend and that she didn’t want to see her parents much.

 

The town centre is really tiny and we tried a café, but compared to the dining options at our resort – didn’t care for it much. One can go to visit the prisons used at one point of time, but we decided to give it a go

We flew back to Ho Chi Minh city and spent a day there before heading home. This last day was spent in shopping and trying out a bohemian café in the city.

Vietnam is not a natural choice for a lot of Indian families. We don’t know anyone from our circle of friends and acquaintances who has been there with kids. And after the trip, we kept wondering – why not? Great beaches, stunning scenery, fresh food, good resorts and no crazy crowds unlike its neighbours – whats not to like.

~~~

This is a guest post by Shweta Singhal.

Shweta is a corporate executive, mother of a 5 year old, generally enthusiastic to plan and try out new things in life. Loves to read and of course travel. She’d like to believe she is NOT an adventure junkie but has tried sky diving, rappelling, glacier climbing, trekking, para gliding, mountain biking, scuba diving.

Throwback Monday: Safari

Somebody once told me that “If there is something so creative for you that you lose your sense of time pursuing it, then it is indeed your passion”
I believe photography ( along with cricket and running ) is that passion for me .

Hence, I try to take couple of trips a year ( or as many my employer and my bank balance allow) to pursue my passion .

Here’s one of my recent pictures from one such trips – a safari into the heart of Kruger National Park, South Africa.

This is a guest post by Shubhashish Beura. You can see more of his work at  Https://Instagram.com/wanderer_shubh

Related Links

Though I wouldn’t recommend a jungle safari with kids under five and we have not gone for one yet, here is a resource of the child friendly stays with the option of a jungle safari.

http://www.kidsstoppress.com/2015/05/11-wildlife-holidays-in-india-with-child-friendly-stays-you-will-love/

What is Throwback-Monday?

What better way to beat the Monday-morning-blues than to think about vacation. Believe me some weeks it’s just the memories of old vacations and plans of the next one that keep me going.

So here’s a way to beat ’em blues with posting a vacation photo every Monday, right here.

  • Post a photo of your vacation, with or without kids. Of course it should be suitable for public viewing.
  • The focus of the blog should be the photo. You could write a bit about it, or not.
  • It need not be a professional photo, but who needs to be a professional. With a great phone camera and some imagination, the stage is yours.
  • Link back here so that your readers can see all the other great Photo Monday posts.

Throwback-Monday: Food

Whats travel without sampling the local food. I’ve had some interesting food tasting experiences while travelling – black pudding in London, live heart of a fish in Easter Island. Feeding young kids in a different country can be a pain sometimes though. sigh!

The one above, is of the five layered fresh juice in Oman. the. most. amazing. juice. ever.

Related Links

https://thebackpackingmama.com/2015/01/17/baby-food-travel/

https://thebackpackingmama.com/2015/01/08/oman/

What is Throwback-Monday?

What better way to beat the Monday-morning-blues than to think about vacation. Believe me some weeks it’s just the memories of old vacations and plans of the next one that keep me going.

So here’s a way to beat ’em blues with posting a vacation photo every Monday, right here.

  • Post a photo of your vacation, with or without kids. Of course it should be suitable for public viewing.
  • The focus of the blog should be the photo. You could write a bit about it, or not.
  • It need not be a professional photo, but who needs to be a professional. With a great phone camera and some imagination, the stage is yours.
  • Link back here so that your readers can see all the other great Photo Monday posts.

Throwback-Monday: Live Matches

Watching matches live with kids can be so much fun! The city is unusually alive and its almost carnival like. We’ve had the best experiences in South Africa and Australia. This one is from the recent EuroCup 2016 match at Lens.

Related Links

Indiaaaa, India…clap clap – OR how to watch a match in the stadium with kiddos

What is Throwback-Monday?

What better way to beat the Monday-morning-blues than to think about vacation. Believe me some weeks it’s just the memories of old vacations and plans of the next one that keep me going.

So here’s a way to beat ’em blues with posting a vacation photo every Monday, right here.

  • Post a photo of your vacation, with or without kids. Of course it should be suitable for public viewing.
  • The focus of the blog should be the photo. You could write a bit about it, or not.
  • It need not be a professional photo, but who needs to be a professional. With a great phone camera and some imagination, the stage is yours.
  • Link back here so that your readers can see all the other great Photo Monday posts.

12 Hours In A Houseboat, With Kids

So our much awaited whole family trip to Italy got converted into half the family meeting in Kerala. Its a long story which deserves another post, but let me just say, if you have issues dealing with ambiguity, spend a month in Italy and be cured.

Kerala, although it was a really short trip, delivered beautifully on the ‘God’s Own Country’ experience. The backwaters are truly amazing and unlike any other water holiday experience (barring the Amazon, of course. South America has tuned down the rest of the world for me.). The highlight for us was the 1 night stay in the houseboat in Kumarkom, and here’s how it was with 2 feisty and active kids confined to a boat.

We were amazed at how close the water was, and i was worried about how big the windows were! img_8788

Admiring self(ie)

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And then we wanted to throwing everything that we could find including didi’s toy phone, into the water. Till didi dear had a brilliant idea and gave him bits of paper to throw instead.

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And when she sees paper, cards have to be made.

And then we took a break and admired the scenery outside.

When resting was done in about 5 minutes, we ran up and down the lone corridor.

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Everyone was made to exercise.

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And then we made salad

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and served everyone aboard

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and steered the boat

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and made our own steering wheel

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and monkeyed around

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and finally, crashed. Phew!

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20 Tips For Travelling With Kids

 

As we pack our bags and head to Rome this week, I realised how different our travel itinerary and our bags have become! From 2 rucksacks and 1 carry-on to a suitcase, a rucksack, 2 carry-ons, a bag for S, a pram, a camera bag and a sling, phew! When we step out of the door, it looks more like a strange crooked backed, wheeled beast has stepped out. But the beast does manage to have fun, and here are some hacks that work for us.

  1. The goody bag: If there is a train or car ride or flying during the day involved in the trip, I keep a goody bag for the kids. This has little new things that can amuse them for some time. A sticker book, a magic painting book, a small loom band set, a magnifying glass, cotton balls, a small wind up toy – anything small and new that can be handed out to ward off a potential meltdown.
  2. Games for long rides: There’s no better way to get involved in travel than observe the surroundings so we usually play games like I spy or Name-place-animal-thing to pass time.
  3. Snacks: Sweet as well as savoury ones. Can’t step out without them. I get hungry every couple of hours and so do the kids with all the walking. Nothing ruins the mood like hunger, so cheese cubes, fruit, chocolate bars, fruit loops, chocos, buiscits go along with us. Raid the breakfast spread, if there is one.
  4. Time to explore: Kids like to spend time exploring wherever they are. We are almost never able to just leave our bags in the room and step out or just do a look see at a park. So plan for time to explore the room and the park or any other place that is going to be what you though of as a short pit stop. It won’t be short.
  5. Sketchbook: To fill with experiences. S loves to draw and copied the Duomo in Florence. That way she remembers where she’s been.
  6. Medicine kit: Goes without saying. Finding Crocin in a different country or in the middle of the night can be a challenge.
  7. Self-packed bag by kids, edited: S usually likes to pack her own bag which she claims she will carry all they way. We let her put things together to make sure she is well occupied and carries the toys she likes, but it is always edited for any heavy, noisy or bulky items because there will come a time when she will simply hand over the bag to me and run off.
  8. Wipes and sanitiser: Self explanatory. No matter how old the kids are.
  9. Child-locator/ Branding: This I haven’t tried, but found recommended on many a site. Kids do wander off in large places so maybe this time we will put a bracelet on each kid with our local phone numbers on them.
  10. Public Transport: Always a better option than hiring a car. One doesn’t have to figure directions with constant cries of are we there yet, I’m hungry, I want to drive ….Besides, the kids seem to enjoy these more.
  11. Factor their itinerary: Everyday has at least one activity that the kids would love to do – pool, beach, park, play area. At the end of they day, it should have been fun for them too. If nothing else, ice-cream works.
  12. An extra t-shirt: In the day bag, for mess ups or chilly evenings or strong AC environment. Along with the stole, of course.
  13. Scan the documents: All of them. Passports, VISAs, tickets, hotel bookings. Having everything on the phone is a big boon if a bag is stolen or you can’t remember the name of the apartment after a long day.
  14. Mind the money: We’ve found it best to carry little cash and use the ATM to withdraw local currency as required. But be sure to activate roaming on the credit cards (yes, at least 2) and have a decent limit on international spends. Getting caught out without money or cards is no fun.
  15. Carry-on packing: The carry on bag carries 2 sets of clothing for kids, diapers for half of Africa and 1 extra t-shirt for each of us, just in case of a leaky poop or worse.
  16. One Parent-in-charge: This actually worked by default rather than by design. With M’s enthusiasm for planning the vacation, he has it all laid out – flight tickets, mode of transports, lodging and day plans. I don’t lift a finger, you know, because what if he thought I was doing the day plan and I thought he was in charge 🙂
  17. A plan for the day and check the opening times etc the night before: Going over the next day plans the night before is always a good idea, particularly if you are visiting a museum or driving to somewhere. The opening timings or renovations can throw your day out of sync if discovered at the gate of the sight. Of course if you are in Italy, the trains get cancelled and ATCs go on strike without notice.
  18. Play-dates: I really really want to make this work, but haven’t found a reliable way yet. S craves company of her age after about a week. So longer vacations have many more melt-downs unless she has some kids to play with. If we are travelling with friends (which is rare) it works, but on solo family vacations I try and fix up play-dates with locals through common friends. It’s yet to work as a system though, sigh!
  19. One swim bag: Oh yes, everyones swim things go in one bag that can be grabbed on the go. No fishing out swimming goggles for one and upturning the suitcase to find the swimming tube.
  20. Packing cubes: This is my latest discovery. Pack each person’s clothes and or inners in one bag/packing cube. Colour code them and let each person know their colour. No more pulling out the wrong socks.

Ha. That’s the list. Do add more points and make our trips smoother!

Jet-lag Hacks

One of the things about going around the world with little kids, that you will not see on FB and Instagram, is the jet lag after. I can barely manage to settle my own clock. I remember sleeping for 14 straight hours when we flew to Chile, but that luxury (along with a few others) is wiped away with the arrival of the diapered ones in your travel itinerary.

Dealing with jet-lag, for adults, involves a few simple tricks

  • Keep awake/asleep through the flight depending on what time of the day (at destination) you arrive, so you can switch the clock to fit the local time.
  • Wake up with sunrise and exercise to get the blood circulation, and hence oxygen to brain, going.
  • Eat more fruits and salads at more frequent intervals and make sure you drink enough water/liquids

With young children and babies, things get more complicated. While S, the older one, is a delightful traveler who enjoys company in the flight, eats most of the local food and wakes up enthusiastically even for the early morning activities, even she used to get high fever for 1 day whenever we returned. K, now almost 2 years old, is a different story altogether. He takes upto 10 days to get over jet-lag and that too after making sure we are easing him into the new timing.

For kids, or at least K, there seems to be a sleep disruption as well as a tummy disruption. Traveling East to West is easier. As the day ends later than ours began, we take a short nap on arrival and then definitely wake up for then next meal at local time. East to West is more complicated. The day ends sooner than our body clock and its difficult to sleep earlier. So, we have been there, done that and found a few hacks –

  1. Night flights – if the flying distance is longer than 4 hours, we prefer night flights. We then land when it’s getting day and can make do with a short afternoon nap and adjust to the time more easily. Also, for the younger ones, managing a night flight is easier since there is little or no physical activity possible during the day and the kid gets all wound up. It isn’t exactly convenient, because the kids are rested and you are not, upon landing; but I’d rather have happy kids and cranky mom than cranky kids and cranky mom. For older kids (above 4-5 maybe) you could well take the day flight so you and the kids are able to sleep at the same time.
  2. Work with the sun – our bodies are tuned to naturally wake up when the sunlight pours in, so keep the curtains drawn open and allow the morning sun to wake you and the kids up. Equally, switch off the lights at night to send the body sleep signals. Even if the kids wake up at night, try to do activities in low light or choose calm activities like reading or colouring etc. You will find K running around and shrieking though, even in the dark.
  3. Swap the time one hour a day – when flying West to East, the kids will stay awake at night and then sleep through till even noon, sunshine or not. We advance the wake up  time one hour per day (if you have the luxury of course). So wake up at noon and sleep at midnight on day 1, wake up at 11 and sleep at 11 the next and so on. Afternoon naps, if any, should fit this moving cycle, else the night sleep time does not adjust well.
  4. Exhaust – swimming/park time are my best friends for combating jet-lag. Being out helps the body adjust to the sun – natural wake-sleep cycle and the activity helps night time jumping around less likely.
  5. Feed frequently – I didn’t have a clue what a disruption feeding cycles can be for a toddler. K has bad bouts of colic when we travel. So we now make sure he eats something every 2 hours if awake – 1 biscuit, half an egg, 4 grapes – literally anything that prevents a build up of gas in the tummy. Also, he has milk 5-6 times a day in stead of his usual 3 times. The child might refuse to eat and may look fine and active, but do make sure she eats, even if its just 2 bites. Even cake will do, though pure sugar like candy usually is worse than being hungry.
  6. Avoid cycle interference – (if its beginning to sound like a PhD, it’s because I have gone through some bad times). Apparently, the feeding cycle and the sleep cycle may  not sync up at the same time. Kids can sleep at the right times and still wake up due to hunger or an unsettled tummy. So we make sure dinner is slightly earlier, there is a small snack just before sleeping and there is a bottle of coconut water right next to the bed for night-time hunger pangs. Giving K water or coconut water every-time he wakes up at night, helps.
  7. Be ready to dance – given the sleep time is so disrupted, its possible the child wakes up just as he is about to nod off. Prepare to spend anywhere between 2x-3x the time it usually takes to put the kid to bed.
  8. Linger – my kids frequently wake up within 10 mins to half hour of  sleeping off, so I usually linger around the room to calm them immediately and prevent a full wake up. Cuddle up for longer, keep singing/humming, even if they look asleep.

Load up on patience & coffee. We have found jet-lag to be the most troublesome part of travelling with kids so far.