How to travel with small children

I did my first trip with my 6 month old child to Thailand. My next trip was to Seychelles when she was 1.5 years old. Later I travelled to Pench, Kanha, Kovalam and several other places with 2 small children.

It may sound like a lot of work but it’s not if you have decided you want to travel with your little one and have done some pre planning.

If you have 2 or more children of similar age group, travelling might be easier than travelling with one child. Irrespective, the strategy is more or less the same. You will have to break the trip into smaller parts. First part is keeping kids engaged at the airport before catching the flight. Second part is to plan how to manage them in the flight (most difficult thing to do as kids are stuck at one place). The third part is managing them at the destination. You will have to find answers to each of these.

I observed during my various trips that kids were very happy at the airport. There is a lot of open space and get to run. You could consider assigning one parent to manage the airport formalities and other parent to take care of the kids. It’s better to let them have fun rather than ask them to hold your hand and stand quietly. Treat the airport like a play area under supervision of one parent. There will be ample such open spaces till you get on the flight.

From my experience, managing kids in the flight is the most difficult part. For this part, carry your kid’s favorite toy, their favorite food, juice etc. I remember one of my kids was fond of the game in which you have to get fish out using a fishing rod. My wife found a pocket version of this game at some shop. She would give it to my children in the flight. Sorted for 15 minutes. Then comes the food tray which will take care of 20 minutes of their time. It’s not easy here if you have the feed the child. But remember once the tummy is full, children tend to become more naughty. They may start playing which some aunty in front of them. That will give you few minutes of breathing space. Give them their favorite drink or some chocolates to further keep them engaged before you land. You could even tell them a story (if you have energy left) for their age to keep them engrossed.

The above works for short duration flight. For longer duration go with a night flight so than children can sleep. My brother once told me book an early morning flight even for domestic when travelling with kids. It might be easy to travel if they sleep in the flight.

Once you land at the destination, things begin to ease. They get more space at their hotel and will throw less tantrums. You may have to manage their lunch and dinner while at the destination. If you kid prefers a particular food or a particular food to be cooked in a particular way, don’t feel shy to tell the chef. My sister is an expert at this. According to her if kids are stuffed, parents feel relaxed (or should I say mothers). Use the drawing book, color pencils to keep them busy in the room. When they sleep, you can get some me time or couple time. Try to do different activities or visit nearby places as children get bored with same stuff. They like variety. If at the beach, let them play with sand. Carry their sand toys.

The above thoughts are from my own personal experience and with every trip, things got easier as we applied the learnings from previous trips. Hope this helps you and you can get the more out of your holiday when travelling with your little ones.

Tourist places in South India or best places to visit in South India

An #India holiday is incomplete without visiting South India. It comprises the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana. It also covers the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar island. Let’s look at some popular places in each state and then shortlist the best places to visit in South India.

Tamil Nadu – In 2019, 494 million (or 50 crore) domestic tourists visited Tamil Nadu. And there is a reason for this. With big cities like Chennai, hill stations like Kodaikanal, Ooty and Coonoor, beach destinations like Kanyakumari, Puducherry religious places like Mahabalipuram, Madurai, Rameswaram and Kumbakonam and wild life reserves like Periyar National Park, tamil nadu has a bit of everything.

Andhra Pradesh – After Tamil Nadu, the most popular state in South India is Andhra Pradesh. In 2019, the state had 237 million (or 23 crore) domestic tourists. The main city in Andhra Pradesh (AP) is Vishakapatnam. AP has also the most popular temple in India of Shri Tirupati balaji in Tirupati. Tirupati attracts a lot of visitors year round. Vellore is a nice and popular historical city.

Karnataka – Karnataka has almost similar number of domestic tourists to Andhra Pradesh (227 million or 22 crore). But it has more variety than Andhra Pradesh in terms of things to do. Its main city is Bangalore – the IT hub of India. Hampi and Mysore are popular historical places. Coorg is a popular hill station. Among national parks, Bandipur, Nagarholeand Dandeli are popular. If you are looking for a beach destination, don’t miss Gokarna. And do not forget Jog Falls which is the second highest plunge waterfall in India.

Telangana – Telangana had about 83 million (8.3 crore) domestic tourist arrivals in 2019. Hyderabad is the most popular city in Telangana. The other popular city here is Adilabad which is a mix of nature, history, mythology and craftwork. If you like national parks, there is Papikonda national park which is an important bird and biodiversity area and home to some endangered species of flora and fauna.

Kerala – Kerala is a popular name around the world. It surprisingly had 18 million or 1.8 crore domestic tourists. The main city Cochin (Kochi) is the gateway to Kerala with most arrivals in the state starting from Kochi city. Munnar is the best hill station and Kumarakom is popular for its backwaters. You can also enjoy an overnight houseboat ride from Alleppey (Alappuzha) to Kumarakom. Thekkady is another city you could consider. Kovalam and Bekal are famous for their beaches.

Now that we have spoken of the different popular places in South India statewise, if you plan to a trip to cover the entire South in one trip or few states, I would recommend the following:

Land in Hyderabad (Telangana). Then visit Bangalore, Bandipur & Gokarna. Next would be Tirupati (if you like religious places or want to include one). Then you could consider Chennai, Kodaikanal, Mahabalipuram and Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu). Finally visit Cochin, Munnar and Kumarakom with an overnight houseboat to Alleppey (Alappuzha).

Best places to visit in India for honeymoon

A lot of people say India is many countries within a country. Reason being every state offers a difference experience. So if you are wondering what are the best honeymoon places in India, then the it depends upon how kind of experience you are looking at. Some of the options are:

  • Beaches
  • Mountains
  • Culture
  • Religious trip with a mix of the above

What place to shortlist also depends upon when you are travelling and your budget and the weather at that time. If you like beaches, Goa is an obvious choice. But remember that Goa is considered off season during summer (April to June) and rainy season (July to September). That means prices will be high from October to March and lower from April to September. Goa is also a good choice if you like to party or want a lot of activities like water sports, casino, city tour etc.

There are other well known beaches like Gokarna in Karnataka. May people in south India know about this place but for the rest of India, not many people would have heard the name. If you are looking for a quiet beach holiday, you should definitely try Gokarna. The other very popular beach holiday is Andaman and Nicobar islands. You could visit Havelock, Neil island and Port blair. Radha nagar beach in Havelock is very popular. Similarly there is Digha beach in the north east which is worth a try.

If you like mountains and hills, and want to enjoy the weather, there are many good options. Some of the popular places in North India are Manali, Dalhousie, Auli, Shimla etc. In West India, you have Mahabaleshwar, Lonavala among others. In South India, we have Coorg, Munnar, Kodaikanal, Ooty among others. In the east India, you have Gangtok, Darjeeling as the most popular ones. One thing to remember is avoid South India mountains if you are planning to travel in summer (April to June) as it will be very hot. In the Summer season, you could consider North India or East India mountains to enjoy the weather.

If you are looking to visit a temple to take blessings before you start the tour, then you could explore nearby places. For e.g. if you are visiting a temple in Rajasthan, then you could club it with Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Udaipur.

So my pick for the best places to visit in India for honeymoon are:

Summer season (April to June):

  • Beach – Goa/
  • Mountain – Manali/Dalhousie/Auli

Rainy Season (July to September):

  • Beaches – Best avoided
  • Mountain – Coorg/Munnar/Mahabaleshwar/Kashmir/Darjeeling/Gangtok

Winter Season (October to March):

  • Beaches – Goa/Gokarna/Digha
  • Mountain – All mountain destinations in India. You can pick any based on your budget

You can also get some ideas on https://www.tripdarwin.com/tripIdeasList

Should I book my holiday through a travel agent or should I plan myself and book online?

In November 2019, on my flights to Helsinki, I started talking to the gentlemen next to me about travel. He told me that he had booked a ticket through an online portal and cancelled it the same day. He ended up paying USD 150 (INR 11000 approx) towards cancellation charges. A travel agent would have done this for free without any charges.

Not all travel agents would do this. It depends upon your relationship with him and if you are giving him regular business, he will most probably help you save money. I asked this gentleman regarding why he booked online and not through the travel agent. He said the price was the same and the travel agent was charging a service fee of INR 1000 (USD 15) so he decided to book online.

Yes online is cheaper but not by much. When you lose money, it will compensate the extra you are paying your travel agent.

What about holidays? Holidays are a complex product and require research and planning. Travel agents may be good at selling standard product for e.g. 3N/4D Goa package but most travel agents are not aware of destinations. Try asking a travel agent what is there to do in Gulmarg or Paris? Or how do I go from Prague to Budapest or Darjeeling to Gangtok. Most will not know the answer. Reason is travel is a low margin industry and it is not feasible to hire high quality resources to assist you with the package.

If you like planning your own trip, you can now plan your holiday online. Most online players don’t have real time customised holidays but offer bits and pieces of the holiday. You could visit http://www.tripdarwin.com to help you with all information for planning and booking with cancellation policy and payment terms. Here the advantage is you will know how much you will spend on the holiday with the option to decide your prefered hotel and activities before booking the package. There are other sites offering this in their own way. You can choose whichever site you are comfortable with.

Travel agents have their own advantage and planning your own trip online is exciting for some people. To answer the question on whether to travel agent or self planning/booking, it really depends upon what kind of a person you are. If you don’t have time or are not confident, go with a travel agent. If you like your holiday to be your way and want more control over what you want to do, you could consider planning and booking online. 

How to book a holiday during Covid times?

One of my friends was planning a trip to Kashmir in April 2021. He called me and asked the following questions:

a) What happens if he gets Corona just before travel?

b) What happens if he gets Corona while travelling?

c) Will I lose all the money I paid for the package? or part of it? or what is the refund policy?

These are common questions which could come to anyone’s mind. I suggested him the following:

a) To protect your money if you get Corona before the travel date, always book fully refundable tickets. That’s right!!! No cancellation charges from the airline. Airlines are offering free cancellation tickets for an additional cost. You may also contact your travel agent for some special offers on these fully refundable tickets. For hotels, most popular tourist places like Gulmarg may have a 15 days or 30 days prior cancellation policy. If you get Corona within this period, you will have to request the hotel for a full refund. Most hotels will give you a travel voucher for future use for the same amount. If you insist for a refund, most will agree and give you the money back

b) To protect against getting Corona while travelling, always buy domestic travel insurance. This will help you cover medical or any incremental cost you may occur because of Covid. Every insurance company has a different policy so do check the terms and conditions.

c) You may lose some money towards hotel cancellation policy or you may get a travel voucher for future use. Do check all terms and conditions properly before booking your package.

He finally decided to book the following with us:

  1. Fully refundable air tickets

2) Hotels which have a cancellation policy with the condition that he will get a travel voucher or full refund if he gets Corona

3) Free cancellation upto 48 hours prior for a car with chauffeur.

So if you want to travel and are concerned, don’t worry. Plan in advance with full knowledge of the cancellation policy to avoid losing money.

Where should you travel in winter season (Oct – Feb)?

If you are looking to relax and a short getaway, winter is the best time to visit hilly regions or mountains. The weather will be cold and you can have a good time. Some of the popular hill stations in India are Manali, Dalhousie, Auli, Lonavala, Mahabaleshwar, Gangtok, Darjeeling, Ooty, Munnar, Kodaikanal among others.

If you are looking for an adventure holiday, you could visit a wild life national park. The weather is cool and the safari ride through the jungle will not be taxing. Animal spotting is pure luck but the experience of visiting the jungle will be amazing.

Where one should go also depends when one is travelling. If you are travelling during the Christmas or new year period, and looking for a place with a lot of people and action, Goa is the place to go. Here you can rent a bike and enjoy the ride from North to South Goa. There are some other popular beaches like Gokarna in South or Digha near West Bengal. These are quieter beaches compared to Goa and a good alternative if you want to have a quiet time.

My daughter keeps telling me that she wants to visit a place where there is snow. Gulmarg, Auli, Narkanda, Manali are good options for places with snow in winter. If you like skiing then these places will be good for both kids and adults.

So what will be your pick?

Should you book your entire holiday with all sightseeing before travelling or should you decide and book some services while at the destination?

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. When you book your entire holiday in advance including flights, hotels, transfers, activities, it gives you the peace of mind that you will be able to experience the holiday the way you had planned. There will no availability issues. But to plan your holiday and book all services in advance, you need to research the destination on your own or take advice of your travel planner or travel agent and finalize your plan.

A lot of people get thrill in planning only the necessary services like air tickets, hotels etc. and remaining they like to reach the destination and then decide what they prefer to do. This gives you lot more flexibility to do things that you like to do.

When I went to UK with my wife, we did not book any activity. We booked the flight ticket and hotel close to the tube station (similar to metro) and booked our airport pickup. We also wanted to watch the football match between Arsenal and Manchester United live in a stadium in #Manchester. So we booked these tickets in advance. I had been to London before so knew about the destination. We finally did just a city tour and preferred exploring the streets, eating food in local joints and exploring the local culture.

We were comfortable pre booking only the important services because we were aware about the destination. I have done trips where everything was booked in advance for e.g. Dubai, #Pench national part etc.

To conclude, I would recommend that if you are an explorer and if you are comfortable with a destination based on your prior travel experience or have the confidence to figure out the unknown, go with flexibility. If you are starting out or prefer everything planned properly to avoid surprises, I suggest you book the entire holiday with #sightseeing in advance.

How to choose your travel companion?

How often have you travelled with a friend or a couple friend and come back being not so good friends any more? This happens many times because each individual has different preference. Going on a holiday together means you will be spending a lot of time together in a day. This is different than meeting your friend in your own city where you catch up for dinner or coffee.

So why should you be so particular about your travel companion? Imagine you have booked a tour at 11am and you are waiting in the lobby at 10.55 but your companion does not turn up until 11.15. The tour company refuses to wait and leaves. Or lets say your companions children have their dinner early but your children have dinner late. What time will you go for dinner? Or your child is not eating and to make sure the child eats something, you order 2 to 3 different food items. At the end the food is wasted. Will your companion like it?

We are not getting into who is right or wrong here. When travelling with a companion, make sure they are flexible, easy going and understand that every person is different. It may not be a bad idea to talk about some of the issues before hand like children or your own food preference and any other preference so that each one is prepared. When we went to Amsterdam with another couple, they preferred sightseeing and we dint. However, we still opted to do the sightseeing for them. Similarly they were flexible with other things.

So guys choose the right people to travel with and make sure you have a good holiday and a lasting friendship.

Hope and Travel

“If you are losing your leisure, look out! It may be you are losing your soul.” ― Virginia Woolf

It’s been more than an year that most of us, across the globe, have been limited to confines of our homes, or, at best, our towns / cities / hamlets! Working from home, taking care of kids or for some, ailing parents – without a break, without a moment of leisure or solace – life has been a constant and never ending drill!

But, believe it or not, the end is near – Every day, millions are getting vaccinated. Critical sectors like Healthcare, where vaccination has reached almost universal coverage, have already started working as normal – hopefully in a few months, we shall all see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Even though our life has become monotonous – limited interactions have led to a feeling of being bored or even emotionally decapacitated, its almost time that things will be same as usual. You’ll soon get back to the same routine that you had – or may be not, for some of us, there may have been some permanent changes. However, some of the fundamentals will never change.

One of those fundamentals, we believe, is leisure travel. With the pandemic and remote working, the biggest risk we’ve run is that of exhaustion – physical but more importantly mental and psychological. And Leisure Travel is probably the medicine which needs to be administered to each one of us, just like the Vaccine. Even if you took a staycation, working remotely from a hill station or a beach house – you were still working and a leisure holiday where you disconnect, unwind has not been afforded for some time.

Rest is crucial to leaders

For some of us, the travel medicine may arrive sooner than later – you may be taking that safe trip next week, or may be you’ve booked your tickets for next month. Nevertheless, you’ve got to be careful!

Take those Covid tests, even if you’ve been vaccinated. Travel safe, make sure you carry medicines with you and keep information about hospitals at your destination handy. Also, don’t overdo the unwind – don’t party too hard. You must even unwind in a controlled manner, gradually and while maintaining all precautions. Make sure to maintain boundaries as per your comfort.

And, at the end of the day – Rest, Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit.

Happy Holidays!

Igloo hotel in India?

You must have heard about #Igloo hotels in Finland or other Scandinavian countries. But not many of us are aware but there is one igloo hotel in India in Manali. These are handmade igloo’s and it is operational in the winter season.

So what is so great about the Igloo hotel? I would say the experience. Also the thrill of visiting Manali in winter. Yes it will be cold and experience will be different.

So how do you get there? The igloo’s are situated at a height of 9000 ft near Sethan village in Hamta. You arrive in Manali and will be picked up in a 4WD vehicle for the 45 min drive up in the mountains. From the drop point, you will have to do a 30 min trek to reach the igloo. Quite an adventure. Most people would stay for 1 night in Igloo and remaining in a hotel in Manali centre.

How do I pass my time here? There are a lot of activities available like skiing, tube sliding, making snow man, and lessons on how to make your own igloo. You will witness a lot of snow. There will be bon fire and music for your entertainment.

How much does it cost? The igloo hotels cost INR 5500 per person for the entire package including the activities. Pickup and drop will be additional INR 3500 for one 4×4 Gypsy. Maximum 6 people in 1 gypsy.

What else should I do with Manali? You could combine a trip to Manali with 2 or 3 nights in #Shimla to make it a perfect 5 or 6 nights holiday. But if you want to have a taste of this magical experience, you will have to book in advance as there are on 6 igloos.

So if you are an adventure seeker and love the snow, don’t miss this one. So guys get going and #DekhoApnaDesh