Asia Family Travel India

Musings: Independent Travel . . . With Children?

finally got my computer in good enough shape to edit this video and the last bit made me smile. Watch it and you’ll see what I mean. We were staying at this coffee plantation in Madikeri, Karnataka, and took a side trip to see the Dubare Elephant Camp. On the ride there, we met Paul and Kirsten Thompson, a couple from New Zealand, who we instantly took a liking to because we thought they were absolutely bonkers in the best way possible.

They were on a 10 week holiday in India with not one kid, not two, but three. And the names of the children were just brilliant: Merlin, Felix, and Rumi. Merlin, the youngest, was 2, and looked like I’d imagine Merlin the magician to look like at that age, complete with long, wavy blonde hair. Rumi, the eldest was 7, with Felix smack in the middle at about 4! And I remember thinking that this is really encouraging. The spirit of independent travel need not be crushed just because you have children.

Rumi and Navdeep

I got on famously with the eldest kid, Rumi, who we got on camera hosting this video. He did a bang up job too in his cape! What I was really impressed by was how adaptable these kids were, and as cliched as it sounds, how worldly and intelligent Rumi and Felix were. Felix had this really funny way of asking questions. His mum and dad had told him to stop interrupting people and to say “Excuse me,” before speaking. So, armed with “excuse me,” he would interrupt every conversation by repeatedly saying, “Excuse me, ” followed by, “I have a question.” Some of the questions were really interesting, some were entertaining, but most went absolutely nowhere. Rumi was much more reserved and poignant in his observations, and asked really incisive questions. Merlin enjoyed just traipsing about in shoes much too big for him.

Sona was particularly fascinated with what the kids ate and we were both duly impressed that they ate plenty of Indian food, from dosas to dhokla, but stayed away from the usuals: street food using potentially unsanitary water. Although eating unsanitary street food is the most delicious part of India (or any country really), I can’t imagine traveling for a limited amount of time, with three kids who have dodgy tummies or worse! The reason Sona found it so interesting is a) unbeknownst to me, she was thinking about this baby business in “at least a year.” Notice my nervous laughter at the end of the video and the abrupt blank look on my face when Paul mentioned the word, “quantity.” That expression should be right next to a visual dictionary definition for the word “gobsmacked.” And b) Sona’s travels to India never involved street food. This rule about no street food, inflicted by her parents, extended from infancy all the way till past her twenties! Sona’s mother used to pack food like Macaroni and Cheese and cereal for Sona’s brother because he refused to eat Indian food in India. He was nine years old!

I, on the other hand, didn’t know any better. I didn’t know there was another option. I was 2 weeks old when we left England to go to Tanzania, and from there Nigeria, the U.A.E., and of course America. Having been raised in several different countries from such a young age, I thrive in being put into a situation I might not be familliar with. This made traveling in China and communicating with people for things like toilet paper, or cold water using dodgy sign language, not such a big deal. I am very adapatable to different food and customs. My sister, who was much more cognizant of how different the places were from “home,” likes to use the word “adventurous.”

Before travelling with Sona, it was something I’d taken for granted. I don’t get cravings for comfort food and I don’t get nostalgic for that sense of home.But these days, a sense of home is much easier to come by than it was even a few years ago. You’re constantly connected to some version of the familliar. There are bars in Tibet, discos in Nepal, Pizza Hut in China, upscale dining in India, and internet cafes (not to mention wireless cards) all over the world.

Sona and Navdeep Have a Baby!

As a father to a one-year-old, I often think of Paul and Kirsten, and about our next big adventure. Our six month backpacking adventure was a lot of fun, but it was much different to my solo travels. My solo travels were a lot more dangerous, although we did take a really sketchy 15 hour local bus ride in the middle of the night to Srinagar. Travelling with Sona, constantly being together day in and day out, really deepened our understanding of India, of each other, and much later we realized, of ourselves.

I always thought of getting married and having kids as an end to independent travel, exchanging that backpack for a nice carry-on, and being one of those geeky tourists that think they’ve travelled to a country because they booked a ten day tour to the “best” sites. But getting married certainly didn’t have that effect, and thanks to Paul and Kirsten and their trio of swashbucklers, neither will having kids. So, as to the question of quantity? Three sounds like a nice number.

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