How to Survive and Enjoy India with Kids
India is an incredible travel destination. It is vibrant and visceral; colorful and chaotic; sometimes unnerving, but mostly just fun. For a first time Western traveler, India is likely to induce culture shock; yet, for most, this soon wears off and is replaced by awe and delight.
If you want to ensure that your family are among the intrepid explorers who fall in love with India, then a bit of planning and know-how is what you need. Here are some practical tips to get you going:
Book ahead (but not too much)
I don’t advocate booking all your accommodation in advance. Often, after a couple of days settling into a new place, you’ll find far better accommodation at a fraction of the price and in a nicer part of town. I do however recommend that you book the first two nights in any new destinations. This will put your mind at ease and avoid the stress of finding somewhere when it’s late at night and you have bags and children in tow.
Expect to be shocked. Embrace the chaos.
India is an astounding place where the beautiful and grotesque rub shoulders. You’ll experience exquisite natural beauty in the countryside but filthy squalor in some cities. You’ll see wealthy people and big cars but also destitution, begging and extreme poverty. As you walk along a street, you’ll smell both aromatic spice and raw sewage. India really is a country where everything is on show. This can be both provocative and illuminating.
Go in expecting to be a little shocked but rest assured you’ll soon get over it. This is when the magic really begins.
Staring and photos
Western travelers and especially blonde children will inevitably cause a stir in India (as in Thailand). You’ll find yourself being stared at openly. It feels odd at first but, once again, you’ll soon get used to it. Don’t be surprised if locals want to take photos of your kids. You may need to be assertive at times, but you’ll soon establish your boundaries and it can be lots of fun joking around with people.
Ditch the stroller
Don’t bring a stroller, you won’t use it. Indian roads and paths are generally full of potholes (understatement). A decent baby carrier is the way to go. I’ve written a whole guide on them if you’d like to learn more.
Water and food
India is renowned for its mouth-watering, aromatic and spiced cuisine. It is very cheap and eating out every day is possible on a budget. However, with more bugs about, getting diarrhea or an upset stomach is fairly common. You can’t always avoid it, but here are some rules that will help:
- Always drink bottled water, never from the tap.
- It’s safest to eat at established restaurants and not street-side food vendors.
- Avoid uncooked food like cold salads, and also ice (unless you check it has been made from bottled water.)
I’d recommend going veggie. India has a huge vegetarian population and an astounding array of veggie cuisine. It’s generally safer to eat.
Pack a decent medical kit and hand sanitizer
Make sure you have a good quality medical kit; your kids are bound to pick up a few bruises and scratches. Include plasters, antiseptic, a thermometer, and over the counter remedies for upset tummies and diarrhoea.
If you get through a trip to India without getting the dreaded “runs”, then you’re lucky. Iodine and rehydration sachets are good to have on standby. Hand sanitizer is a must.
India is vast. If you are traveling from one end to the other, then flights are the way to go. Do your research and learn how much they charge for children and luggage. For shorter journeys, ie, less than 10-15 hours! you might opt for train travel. This gives you a real taste of India and you’ll see some stunning sights through the window.
Indians are hospitable and kind, yet, as with many countries, poverty and petty crime is something to be alert to. You may want to leave tablets and smartphones at home. There will be plenty of other ways to occupy the kids during long journeys.
India is a magical place, like nowhere else on Earth. It has a vibrant, fun and chaotic charm that will expand the minds of both older and younger travelers. It can induce culture shock and does present some unique challenges; however, if you are prepared, follow a few simple rules, and go with an open-mind, then you are sure to have an adventure of a lifetime.
Neve is a mother of two, blogger, and avid traveller. Her in-laws have an apartment in India and the family try to visit whenever they can. When she’s not on the move, she writes at WeTheParents.org, bringing out the humor in parenting and reviewing the gear that moms and dads (apparently) need.