Before you jump on a plane to India with your two toddlers inspired by our easy, breezy vacation (ha!), let me share a bit more about the reality. It’s something of a blogging tic to show just the beautiful pictures and joyous memories, but I don’t think it’s always fair to the readers. Because let’s be totally honest- there are moments when traveling with little ones where you consider throwing yourself out of the plane. Many many moments.
Reality #1: Lest you think we’re backpacking around India, hanging out in hostels, taking crowded trains, and eating street samosas, let me tell you- we travel well. We stay in nice hotels, eat at nice restaurants, and have a driver and tour guide in every city. This helps us stay healthy (we only fell ill once due to some bad food), rested, and on those days when the boys are feeling tired, we have a nice hotel, with a pool and open space in which to wile away our time. We are very, very fortunate- period. We also have friends all over India and were so blessed to spend time in people’s homes, having dinner, visiting and drinking copious amounts of tea. This helped us feel more at home.
Reality #2: We brought along a sitter. Let’s all agree to be cool about this admission, and not freak out thinking everything about our life is a sham and we really have an army of nannies and never see our kids. For some reason people get all huffy about sitters on blogs- I have never understood that. At home, I work for 10-12 hours a week on my book and various other projects. Liz is our sitter during those hours, she has been for almost 2 years now. She is a college student, and the most amazingly helpful, sweet, kind sitter for our boys. She had a coinciding school break and we asked if she would want to come along to India- all expenses paid, but no pay during the trip. She was all in. When my husband was working, it was just me and Liz and the boys. So often the boys shoot off in two directions, and in India, where it is crowded and there is traffic everywhere-I really wouldn’t feel safe sightseeing and traveling around all by myself with the boys. When my husband wasn’t working, it was the three adults and two kids- basically, it just gave my husband and I some breathing room. Liz never left the hotel alone with the boys, and she rarely stayed alone with them in the hotel (only if I had to go along on a business dinner, and a few times while the boys napped and my husband and I ran out). Mainly, it was all five of us- and honestly, it was still full-on in terms of child care. But having Liz along made the trip a thousand times better for everyone- we all felt rested, we all occasionally had a few minutes of alone time, and there were many helping hands to deal with all the travel, luggage, diaper changes, snack emergencies, nap times and early mornings. Honestly, everywhere we went, it was assumed Liz was my sister, and for us, she really is a part of the family after the past two years. We are so lucky to have her! My husband and I always say that vacationing with kids is hardly a vacation- it can be even more exhausting due to schedule disruptions and unfamiliar surroundings. That is why every vacation we have taken has been with my parents. However, they were in Germany this holiday visiting my brother, who is stationed there. Next time- we hope to do India as a full family- grandma and grandpa included!
Reality #3: Traveling India with someone who speaks the language and knows the culture is the best. It just is. We joke that I’ll call room service and ask for a pot of milk (for Vik’s bottle) and they will say “Not possible.” My husband will call down, and before he hangs up, there is a knock on the door and someone is there with a cow to produce us some fresh milk. I don’t know if I’d want to take on India without my husband- there are so many cultural nuances, language barriers, and tourists can fall prey to so many rip-offs and traps. It’s just the way it is, and it is easier to just accept it, and learn to deal. But it can be so frustrating at times.
Reality #4: I did have to give up some of my travel wishes with the boys along. There were at least a thousand pictures I wish I could have captured, and day-trips and sights I wish I could have seen. But we had to balance our wishes with the boys needs. When they needed to eat, or nap, or take a break- that is what we did. Often that meant sacrificing our own wishes- but that is what we do as parents. It can be hard when you are in a place as magical as India- so many times I would be in the hotel room for hours on end while the boys napped, and I would be thinking “All of India is out there, waiting to be seen, and photographed, and I’m stuck in here. Boo hoo.” But my husband gave me many naptimes to go on little photography adventures, or go shopping- so I was satisfied in the end. Compromise, it’s the name of the game!
Reality #5: We lowered our parenting standards for this trip! Let me explain- when traveling to a place so foreign, we felt it was our job to make the boys as comfortable as possible, and indeed that made things more enjoyable for everyone. You want chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast? Go for it. Ready to leave the Amer Fort when we just arrived? Here, have a KitKat bar. There were a lot of special treats, little presents (aka bribes!), and nutritional compromises. This was tough for me- I hold a line when it comes to junk food at home, but here I did bend it when needed. Let’s just say I’m craving home cooking, green juice, and a good workout! We also let go of all our DVD rules and let the boys unwind with Elmo whenever and wherever (thanks to a cheap portable dvd player and toddler headphones). Again, the videos helped them relax and since I closely monitor screen time at home, it felt like a big treat. I teased my husband- “So this is what it feels like to be a dad. No rules, all fun!” Hey, whatever works!
Reality #6: It’s tough to walk the line between being aware, and not being a nervous wreck. Dirty water, crowded streets, malaria, stray dogs, Delhi belly, food-born illnesses- it’s hard not to want to place the kids in a bubble when facing third world conditions. I was aware, but we let them explore and found plenty of open-space activities to foster their exploration and curiosity (visiting farms, villages, palaces, forts, less crowded spaces). But I’ll admit- we went through a TON of hand wipes!
Finally, I promised a bit of advice for traveling with toddlers. I assume that anyone with kids knows the basics- pack a ton of favorite snacks (graham crackers, apple sauce squeezies, Cliff bars, Lara bars and trail mix are our favorites), pack the comforts of home (blankie, stuffed animals, turtle night light, favorite books and toys), get a small, simple dvd player, pack small new toys to pull out on the plane and on long car rides, pack crayons, paper, markers, stickers, anything to pass the time, pack a well stocked medicine bag cause you never know….blah, blah blah. But here is one piece of advice you might not have heard. Pack a sack of “less-loved” toys and give them away. A few of you wondered how it worked when the boys played with kids in the villages and farmland. The answer is- we brought enough toys that we were able to give them away. We would pack a small bag of Vijay and Vik’s less favorite toys, and head out for the day. When we would stop for lunch, or meet kids in the village or on the farm, the boys would pull out their trucks and play. When it was time to go, we would tell the boys to gift each of their new friends a truck. We always made sure we had the boys favorite trucks waiting in the car so they wouldn’t be left with no toys. This worked remarkably well, and led to some great conversations with the boys about sharing, and how fortunate they were to have so many nice toys. However, we were smart about it- when we were swarmed with kids in one village, and they got grabby, the toys went away, and that was that. So- use your best judgement with this one, but in family-to-family situations this worked wonders to break the ice. That’s all for now- and please take this all with a grain of salt- this is our family’s reality, that is all- nothing more, nothing less.