I just got off what seems like my 200th plane ride. Perhaps it was, for the life of me I can’t remember. My husband and I have lived away from India for almost 17 years. And where ever we lived, Dubai, Calgary or Toronto, we made the time to visit our extended family back home in India. Over the years my travel-happy kids look forward to our visits but travelling back and forth between India and Canada comes with its problems. It’s not not just the long flights and jetlag, it’s also the difference in culture, food, weather, all of which need a fair amount of adjustment especially for kids.
Over the years I’ve learnt a few things to help make the travel transition happy! Here are some practical tips if you’re embarking on that long journey home.
Get in the desi mood
1.Watch a Bollywood movie or two. There’s nothing that gets the kids going more than a singing, hip-swinging movie marathon. If time is short put it on in the background after school or while you’re getting dinner ready, and it will help to put everyone in the desi mood.
2. Go through family albums. It’s nice to see familiar faces, and talk through life and growing up in India.
“Your Dad lived in a boarding school and it wasn’t a punishment, he loved it.”
3. Bring out the presents. Kids have short memories, and previously received family presents lying around the house help reiterate the connection back home.
“Your Dadi gave you this purse when you were little – she measured the sling so that it would be just right for you.”
I have a bed cover that my mom gave me years ago. I don’t like to use it too often in case it starts to show wear but when I spread it on the bed, I feel India is close.
Talk about the trip
4. Discuss the itinerary together. The distance, the map, details, where you will be staying, road trips etc.
5. Talk about the change in weather. India is usually much warmer compared to Canada where we live and there may be a change in routines, toiletries, clothes, showers twice a day if it’s summer. Talk about it beforehand.
6. Work with the children to pack. My kids love that in India their Indian clothes aren’t just for special occasions, they can be worn on just a normal day as well.
What To Bring with you
7. Familiar foods. When the kids were younger I carried with me pretzel sticks and Cheerios and favourite shortbread cookies from Costco enough to last us weeks. Today the kids are older but I find they still like the familiar snacks especially when they get sick of the hot, home-cooked, made to order breakfast day after day and want some cold cereal (see the irony here!).
8. For younger children – carry sippy cups, snack boxes, bowls and spoons that you can carry around on your trip. Being invited to every Aunt’s home is a rite of passage in India and trying different styles of cooking may be difficult for kids. A few years ago I discovered that my kids were more likely to try obscure sabzis like karela (bitter gourd) and tinda (another type of gourd) if it came in their familiar orange Ikea bowl.
9. Milk is an issue; it tastes different. Don’t fight over it. In fact don’t fight over any of the food and drink because even if you cook (or get) traditional food at home where you live, flavours are different. Kids will eventually come around. Or perhaps they won’t and they need to know that’s ok.
Travel with Kids
10. The flight’s long if you’re flying from North America to India. Do whatever you can to make the 20+ hours of torture tolerable. Go ahead, don’t judge yourself (or me) if there is 18 out of 20 hours of screen time. You and the kids will come out the other end exhausted but holding onto your sanity. Check my older article for more tips and tricks for surviving the flight.
Raising Travel-Happy Kids
11. Encourage kids to keep a journal and take photographs when they’re older. My oldest uses her notebook and photographs from her trip in her presentation to her class. It’s one of my favourite things to listen in and go through their notes. I’m constantly surprised by the things they notice. Like the time my kids didn’t want to wear a helmet while riding a bike – “Mom, but people in India don’t.”
Travelling back to where you came from can be a rich and rewarding experience for the entire family, and when you live on the other side of the world from grandparents, siblings and the many, cousins, jumping on a plane is the only option.
Even though they are growing up on the other side of the world, I want my travel-happy kids to feel a sense of belonging and a connection to India for the rest of their lives. And if the bonds they build with their extended family can reach across the oceans and remind them of their roots every so often, well, our work is done.