My earliest memories are of the epic journeys my parents set out on every year with four kids in an ambassador from Bihar to Bangalore. The hot breeze making all of us drowsy, a radio tied to the window and having to be constantly tuned, we picked up smatterings of other languages from the ads and endured miles of bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…squawk. The fights we siblings had for the coveted window seats and a well-aimed whack when we started squabbling. What fun it was to sing along and stop at dhabas or picnic near a stream with mum’s kerosene stove and cook up a meal.
This early exposure to travel made me bully my husband and we set off with kids and did our fair share of travelling. The children had their memories and they too now have a love for travelling and can rough it out.
►Travel gives memories, which is much more enduring than things. We remember beautiful and nasty places, nice people we met on the way and even the music we listened to. Keep track of these memories with photos, a scrap book or a blog to last you a life time.
►Travel exposes your family to all kinds of situations – waiting in a queue at a toll booth, shivering at the side of the road while a flat tyre is being changed, marvelling at the colours of the sky at sunrise, driving through a national forest or a reserve area and catching sight of a wild animal, giving a lift to some stranger, and eating food that you have never heard of that is surprisingly delicious (or not)
►Travel helps you realise that you are not alone, the many people whom you meet along the way from different parts of the world add to the sense of adventure.
►Kids who travel do much better in school as they benefit from family bonding and exposure to different cultures. They learn to calculate distances and compare so many things. They learn new languages and get a firsthand experience of geography and history and science!
►Mix up fun things with serious things like a visit to the museum with a day at the beach. Don’t be in a hurry like so many of these travel companies that promise – ‘See 11 countries in Europe in 7days!’ Go slow, soak in the culture see the sights take time to rest from travel, make allowances for toilet breaks and refreshments.
►Involve the children in the planning and get them to find out about the places they are going to. Let them chart the course with you or mark the places on a map. Let them decide what they should carry and let them pack their small bag too. Try and make sure everyone gets to look forward and plan for something. Go prepared – carry books, colours, scribble pads, iPads and games to keep your kids entertained. Carry food and water for the ‘Mama, I am hungry’ moments.
►Go armed with tissue, wet wipes and toiletries children need in the loo at the most improbable places. When the kids were young and we used to go on our ‘Mumbai darshan’ trips I knew where all the good toilets were.
►This is hard but do try and limit Wi-Fi time. As soon as we go anywhere the first question is –‘What’s the Wi-Fi password?’ Set some boundaries or all will be in one room glued to their individual devices.
►Carry a set of sheets and towels. If nothing else at some time you can make an interesting tent for them.
►Go with the flow be flexible with kids. Planning everything in advance is not possible – upset tummies, tiredness and just being kids ruins the best laid plans.
Be adventurous whether its food or new experiences marvel at the differences and enjoy the new flavours, music, languages and nature.
►Include time in nature. Visit parks, forests, mountains, beaches. Go hiking or spend a day at a turtle nesting site, an elephant nursery or a bird sanctuary. Every day our reserves are being destroyed at the altar of progress. Let your kids develop a sense of appreciation and responsibility by cleaning after themselves and picking up litter. Go to a variety of places, cold and snowy, hot beaches, steamy forests and bare deserts.
►Even now my kids remember their holidays with chuckles and remember things that we as adults didn’t consider important. My son remembers the beaches and the seafood, for my daughter it is the tribal art and the crafts she saw on her travels. For me, now that my kids are grown, the loveliest memories are of the four of us squeezed tight on a double bed as no one wanted to sleep alone! Happy parenting! Let every mile you travel hold cherished memories that will bind your family together.
Happy New Year 2021. May we be able to travel freely.
(Writer is a volunteer in local schools and a trustee with Sethu)