Travel to India without children seems daunting to most people, much less with small kids in tow. However, it can be a rich and rewarding experience for the entire family. Yes, it can be difficult, but I have to say that it is not that much harder than a trip to Europe. On any trip you have to adjust to jet lag, different foods, the culture, language and customs. One of the things that makes India so special with children is that Indians LOVE children and children are welcome everywhere, it’s just everything else in the country that makes it difficult! Here are a few things to do to make your trip the best it can be.
Prepare your itinerary in advance. Book hotels, transportation between cities and extra activities if you will be in places for limited time. By booking ahead you take away some of the hassle, but know that this doesn’t eliminate it. Your home-stay could cancel at the last minute due to a fire (which happened to a family we met along the way on our recent trip). But having most things figured out in advance helps you have less to deal with on a daily basis so you can enjoy your time more.
Take Your Time
India moves at a different pace and you cannot do as much in a day as you can in your home country. Distances may be short on google maps, but the road conditions are usually quite poor which makes travel longer. You cannot see everything in this massive country, so do not even try. Make a list of your must see/do items and space them out accordingly. Also make sure to allow time at the beginning of your trip for everyone to overcome jet lag and acclimate to their new surroundings. If possible, choose a place with a mellow vibe and not a long list of things to do for your first destination, so that you can acclimate slowly and don’t feel like you are missing out on seeing things.
Let Kids Be Kids
Plan activities for your children to BE children. This does not have to be done in advance, but create space in your day to visit local parks/playgrounds, the beach, zoos, etc. Think about booking hotels with swimming pools as that is always a hit with children, especially in India where it is often so hot and sticky. I try to add in at least one child friendly activity to the itinerary for each day. We have found that once our son knows he has his own activity coming up, that he can get through even the most boring of tours or sightseeing activities. For long travel days, make time to stop at playgrounds along the way.
Keep Bugs Away
Take precautions, but don’t become consumed by fear. Visit your doctor to make sure all of your vaccinations are up to date. For our family, we typically get the typhoid vaccination and take diligent precautions for mosquitos since even the best malaria pills do not help against other mosquito borne diseases. Focus on keeping covered with mosquito repellant (get the locally made Odomos for the best protection) to avoid bites all together. These mosquito wrist bands are also very effective. For children, use the wrist bands on all limbs at all times for maximum protection.
Be cautious with water, especially during bath or shower time. Instruct your children to not drink or open their mouths during the bath. This is hard for children to remember so pay close attention during bath time. Drink only closed bottled water and drinks with no ice. In larger cities many restaurants might try to give you drinks with ice, make sure to ask for it without. Also, recognize that many restaurants will give you freshly cleaned glasses with water drops still on it. To be ultra safe, wipe it out with a napkin before pouring in your water. Bring or purchase rehydration salts (for adults and children) in case someone gets the runs!
Eat What You Can
Don’t worry if your little one doesn’t love the food. There are plenty of kid friendly options in India even without a kids menu (which you will almost never see!). Indian breads (roti, chapati, naan, paratha), rice and yogurt, sliced up cucumber, carrots, grilled chicken or fish, paneer, dosas and of course eggs can be found anywhere. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Indians are so open to children and almost every restaurant will make you something to order for your child. If you see chicken or fish tandoori on a menu, ask for it without spices/flavorings. Worst case scenario is your kid lives on corn flakes or biscuits! Most food is freshly made to order, so plan well in advance for meals; don’t wait until you are hungry as the restaurant experience in India is often quite slow.
Prepare for Poverty
This proves to be the hardest for many children to deal with. The sight of children weaving between traffic begging, skinny stray animals and the multitude of people sleeping on the streets is common throughout India. I had warned my son prior to our trip that he might see kids his age begging for money or food. He knows about homeless from living in a large city, so this wasn’t too big of a shock to him. For him, he was the most upset about the stray animals and wanted to bring them all home with us!
Personal Space & Touching
There is no such thing as personal space in India! You will be rubbed up against, stared at and touched more than you might want. This invasion of privacy and anonymity is difficult for some people to get used to. Indians also like to grab little kid’s cheeks and squeeze. Not softly either. Prepare your child in advance that this might happen and coach them on what to say to people who are wanting to touch them or grab their cheeks. For our son this happened even before we landed in India!
Supplies for Kids
While Indians LOVE children and children are welcome everywhere, it is not necessarily a child friendly country. You will be hard pressed to find a kids menu, changing tables, high chairs, places to use a stroller, car seats or even prepackaged baby food. If you need diapers, bring enough for your trip or stock up in larger cities. The same goes for baby food. You will not typically find squeeze pouches, peanut butter, goldfish, etc, so bring whatever you will need for your trip. You can find raisins, apricots, nuts and plenty of local snacks for the children to sample. Forget the stroller and bring a wrap or carrier if your child is still small.
Packing: Don’t Go Too Light
Travel gurus will always tell you to pack light. I agree for most everything, except for places like India. It is hot and sticky even in the cooler seasons, so it’s not usually possible to reuse clothes. It is cheap and easy to have the hotel clean clothes for you, but it is not quick (outside of 5 stars) because everything is dried on the line outside. If you have ever tried to air dry something in 80% humidity, you will know it takes a little bit of time! Pack light, but bring enough clothes that you don’t have to constantly do laundry. For us this typically means bringing more pants/shorts for our son and more shirts/tops for the adults.
Embrace the Differences
The rules are different in India – embrace this. Yes it is not that safe to let your 4 yr old drive an auto rickshaw, but it is allowed and accepted and your kids will LOVE it and remember it forever. The squat toilet is hard for us as adults, but kids can do it so easily. Hotel staff will offer to play with your child or show them around, let them! Things will also not go according to plan, so be flexible and try to go with the flow. Things operate differently in India and if you can manage to embrace these differences you will have lifelong memories and the whole family will beg to return.
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