Parenting & Travel Blog with tips, guides, reviews and honesty about family travel and parenting.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Why You Should Take Your Kids to India





Have you ever wanted to visit India? To be honest, it wasn't high on my list to travel to as a parent. But then I heard the stories....the stories of gorgeous Goan beaches stretching along the Arabian sea, of the emerald backwaters of Kerala, the serene boat houses on Dal Lake nestled in the Kashmir valley with the mountains peaking behind, of the ancient hidden Buddhist caves elaborately carved out in a hillside. India suddenly seemed like more of a real travel destination rather than just a family trip back home. So we did it! We went to to India with the kids and LOVED IT. And we'll go back and here's why I think you should think about it too!



Why you should travel to India

  • Affordable(ish) Luxury: Maybe when you think of travelling in India you think of a backpackers adventure? But this mama is NOT backpacking - like ever. And if I am surviving a 14 hour direct flight with 3 kids and overcoming the jet lag, then I want to be resting my head in glorious comfort. India delivers! Five star hotels here are more like 6 star and many of them don't have the price tag of what a five star hotel has elsewhere(just don't confirm this with my husband k?)
  • Family Friendly - Indian culture is based on family, and children are a central part of that. No one blinks an eye when kids are being kids, they are allowed to just be kids, at least in most places. This makes travelling with kids so much more relaxing(ish).
  • Diversity - India has so much diversity: language, religion, traditions, geography. It has something for everyone. With 23 official languages (with hundreds of different dialects), history dating from the stone ages, six major religions (Hinduism, Islam, Sikhi, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism), mountains, beaches, bustling cities, farms, and the dessert (and even more), there really is something for every traveller. 
  • Tourism Infrastructure - India is a huge country both by size and population and is the 6th largest economy in the world with tourism being a huge source for that growing economy.  Opulent hotels( some are converted palaces! Like the Taj Lake Palace), convenient transportation options, local tour companies and guides and 37 World Heritage sites, discovering India has never been easier.
  • Educational: Travelling with kids is one of the best educational experiences to give them, and a trip to India is most definitely one that educates the whole family.  It's a land of fairy tales and history coming true, whether you visit the Taj Mahal or go see real forts and palaces in Rajasthan. But it is also a country that will humble you. You may see a home that can be mistaken for a palace and right beside it a mud hut with children running around, happily playing. It takes a lot to get used to seeing the dichotomy of the haves and have-nots here, but this is what makes India what it is, and what impacts your soul most.


You can stay in a Palace in the middle of a lake -for real.

Are you convinced yet? If so, here's some things that you should know when planning your trip: (and if you aren't convinced yet, just go here  and here for some more inspiration)


What you need to know:

  •  You need an Indian Visa. For Canadians, its not that big a deal, but the process is a bit of a pain. So start the paperwork once you've booked your flight and follow the instructions exactly.  This link is a good place to start.
  • Flights: India is far from Toronto. It's not necessarily an easy journey. We opted for a direct flight of 14 hours on Air Canada. We wanted to just get there. No epiphanies here about the journey. In our case it was all about the destination. 
  • Cash is king: while credit cards are widely accepted, we used them only in 5 star hotels and restaurants, boutique shops and government emporiums. You can exchange your dollars for Rupees at the airport.
  • Plan and book your itinerary: sounds pretty basic right? India isn't really the kind of place you show up and say - hey lets see where it takes us. I mean you could, but with kids it's not something I'd be confident enough to do. It's a VERY large country, and one that you won't be able to see in one trip. From the mountains, to the farm fields, to the busy bustling metropolis, to the desert, rice fields, beaches, to small villages and religious sites - there is A LOT to see. I came up with our itinerary starting with 3 main regions we wanted to see, and then worked out the logistics about transportation and hotel stays using my travel concierge at American Express. I also contacted a local travel agent in New Delhi to give some suggested itineraries and to book a private tour guide for the Taj Mahal.
  • Transportation: Indian streets can be chaotic. People, buses, cars, rickshaws, cattle just going on their way. But when using a taxi or auto-rickshaw (which is cheaper), use their meters instead of a fixed rate (we learned the hard way). Or pre-negotiate a set fare for a cab that you want to use for the whole day. We found the hotel concierge and bellmen to be helpful with this.
  • Food & Water: bottled water is your safest bet, and easily accessible. Five star hotels all have filtration systems and can provide safe drinking water to take with you on excursions. Food wise: you need to try as much as you can to enjoy the true flavour of India! But stick with cooked food and fruits and veggies that you have to peel, unless they are prepared in 5 star facilities that use a filtration system to wash their produce. 
  • Health: visit your doctor before you go and make sure everyone is caught up with their vaccinations.  We didn't have to worry about malaria pills (thank god!) when we went in March, but we were fully stocked with bug spray and all of the over the counter medications that we know and use here. While you can get everything in India, the names are all different, so it was easiest for us to bring what we knew. Also consult The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention for up to date information.



Have you ever travelled to India with your kids? What tips would you share to make it a memorable trip?
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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Postcards from Punjab

First Impressions of Harmandir Sahib

Parents all wish great things for their children. For them to do better and be better than us. To dream big and to achieve anything their heart desires. Along this journey, we want to show them the world to help foster their curiosity and creativity. However, before we did that we wanted to take them to the place that they were from.  As the saying goes: "to know where you are going, you need to know where you have come from."

We felt it was finally time (ok, more like I was finally brave enough), to take our kids to Punjab, India. To take them to the homeland of their grandparents, so they could appreciate and see first hand the sacrifices of the lives they left behind to build a new life in Canada. To show them that each opportunity that they now have is directly because of the 4 individuals who left behind their families and homes.

Our family in Harmandir Sahib - the holiest Gurdwara for Sikhs.
So, we planned and booked a trip to India - our first BIG trip with the kids. Both my husband and I had been many times growing up, but neither had been since we got married. This was also my first trip to India as a mom - gulp - so I had to "mom" up.

Honestly - it felt overwhelming. A country I had been to numerous times felt so utterly foreign to navigate. How was I supposed to take my own children there - keep them healthy and happy and instil a sense of appreciation and gratitude for their roots and family? But somehow, we not only survived this trip, but we even thrived.


In my dad's childhood village

What I hope they will remember: 
  • Harmandir Sahib: Also commonly known as the Golden Temple, it is in Amritsar and is the holiest Gurdwara for Sikhs. It has a historical and spiritual importance that we wanted to share first hand with our kids. Every time my husband and I have been (this was our first time together), we have felt an absolute overwhelming feeling of love, peace and belonging. I hope that my children always remember that feeling from their first visit.

  • The simplicity of pind (village) life: I hope they remember playing outside, along the fields that their ancestors have cultivated, eating raw sugar canes like their mom used to, tasting the simple farm fresh food shared with their extended family. I hope they remember the crumbling building that was the home my father was born in, and of the stories they heard when my mom went to visit for the first time after she got married.  I hope they remember the stories of how my sister and I played through those alleyways and were openly welcomed by kids who didn't understand our unusual clothes and language. 


  • Going north to the foothills of the mountains and the the birthplace of the Khalsa, Anandpur Sahib: I hope they remember the stories told to them by their grandparents and place them at this very site. To remember that they weren't merely bedtime stories, but stories of their own history, people and faith. I hope they always remember where their name "Kaur"comes from; that this name tells them and the world that they are sovereign individuals, strong and independent. (Kaur is given to Sikh females and "Singh" to males. These names were given to  Sikhs to replace surnames as a symbol that all are equal.)
Serenity in Anandpur Sahib

  • Visiting their paternal grandfather's childhood home: as we watched our  girls explore this 101  year old house they heard the stories of the summers their dad spent there.  They even practiced pumping water from the well and making roti's on an outdoor stove with their grandmother. I hope when they turn off the lights at home they remember that their grandparents grew up in these homes that had no running water and electricity. That they see how far we have come in one generation and that they keep the sacrifices of their grandparents close to their heart.
In their grandfather's village, learning how to pump water.

Above all, I hope they always remember who they are, no matter where they go. That they are not just the unique individuals we have tried to raise them to be, but also that they are part of a greater story. That their story started in Punjab.














































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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

What to buy from India

Shopping is fun, but shopping while travelling is even more fun! But it can be challenging trying to buy something that is authentic and special to that place.  It's easy to buy key chains, postcards and even pick up local art, but sometimes this mama needs to focus on picking up something special for her.
 Pashmina's are very high on my list (yes, just on every list for everything), but an authentic shawl made from a fine pashmina can be pricey! It is an investment indeed but not specifically included in this list, because it's just a given - buy the best quality pashmina you can.
While I personally didn't go crazy shopping during our trip to India (this time), I did come up with a list of just some of the things that I'd buy from India that would remind you of the country's beauty and diversity.

1. The Punjabi Jutti is a handmade leather flat slipper, cute and comfy and comes in many styles. 

2. This stunning diamond and ruby necklace may be out of my budget, but if I could afford it, it would remind me of my days as a rani (queen) in Udaipur. 

3. One of my favourite pieces of jewelry are Chandbali earrings. These gorgeous ones with cultured fresh water pearls and 18kt gold plated silver can be a little splurge, so I'd wear them with jeans and s white t-shirt every chance I got! Because who doesn't need some bling bling at school drop off?

4.  Marble elephants are my thing. Not sure why, but I love having them around my house. You can get pretty marble inlaid elephants (and trays, and frames and almost anything else)in Agra that would remind you of the beauty of the Taj Mahal.

5.  India is the second largest tea producer in the world, so taking home some tea from Darjeeling or Assam makes for a great souvenir. Also makes for affordable gifts to give when you get home.

6.  Big chunky silver jewellery is quintessential India. Especially a gorgeous cuff like this from Amrapali which has vibes from Rajasthan.

7.  A wool crewel embroidered throw cushion made in Kashmir to brighten up any room.

8.  A silk embroidered clutch makes any evening outfit pulled together, and this handcrafted one doesn't break the bank!

India also has stunning fabric with endless choices. I picked out a pretty piece and had it stitched into a kimono while I was there.

I've linked all of these gorgeous finds to realtors online, so you could even fake a trip to India and just brag about all your great finds and pretend you went, no judgement here!

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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Udaipur: A real life fairytale


I am a terrible liar. I can't say with any ounce of truth that I am ok with roughing it. I'm not. I have zero interest in camping, in sleeping on the ground in a tent, or even sleeping in anything less than a 4 star hotel.  Princess much? Yes I know, and I'm ok with it. But alas what is a princess to do? She truly needs to find her palace. Maybe one that is in the middle of a lake? Cue The Taj Lake Palace - also known as the most luxurious place I've stayed. I have officially been spoiled, someone warn my husband (and my banker), that there is no turning back. The Taj Lake Palace  was the jewel in the crown of our spectacular 3 day stay in Udaipur, Rajasthan.





Where: Udaipur, Rajasthan is known as the city of lakes in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. It is popularly known as the "city of lakes".  So it is no coincidence that the spectacular Taj Lake Palace sits in the middle of Lake Pichola.

How: Aproximately a 2 hour flight from New Delhi to Udaipur's Maharana Pratap Airport. Then about a 30 minute drive to the centre of Udaipur by Lake Pichola. To get to the Taj Lake Palace, the hotel picks you up in a royal boat to take you over to the palace.




When to go: The best time to visit Udaipur is September to March during their winter season. The weather is still very warm, with no rain. But it is high season.

Why Go:  Maybe because it is called the most romantic city in India, so it makes for a perfect honeymoon spot.
Or maybe because this mama wanted to be spoiled with luxury and cross off a bucket list item? In that case, I had no choice but to take my kids! So romantic eh?
But Udaipur is perfect for kids to discover real life fairytales, princes, princesses and palaces. The Taj Lake palace was the summer palace for Maharana Jagat Singh II, where they treated us like royalty.
The hotel accomodates families with incredible service. They offer cooking classes for the kids, movies and popcorn to be set up in the evening, a beautiful pool, arrange tours and the chef happily offered to make anything the kids wanted to eat. Because sometimes they just want a cheese pizza.
Go, if not to only to channel your inner princess

What to do: If you can stay at the Taj Lake Palace, you'll be reluctant to leave the property. Other than sitting poolside you can eat spectacular cuisine, find quiet spots around the property to take in spectacular views of the city, or indulge in spa services at their Jiva Spa on a boat! (especially handy if you really need to escape the kids - ha!)



But more than just what the Taj Lake Palace offers, Udaipur has lots to keep kids engaged:

  • Lake Pichola - take a boat ride around the lake. I recommend a sunset ride for some spectacular views.
Ghats of Udaipur

  • City Palace - a large palace complex sitting on the banks of Lake Pichola, it offers a look inside the life of royalty from centuries ago. 
Architectural Details at the City Palace

City Palace

  • Monsoon Palace -the hilltop Palace of the Maharana, it sits within a wildlife santuary. So you can see peacocks, birds, reptiles and monkeys (who can get quite close - just ask my 6 year old who was opening up a snack!)
View from the Monsoon Palace

Monsoon Palace

  • Jag Mandir - also situated on Lake Pichola, another complex of palaces that showcase Rajasthani architecture. Plus there's plenty of space for the kiddies to safely run around and explore.
  • Take in Rajasthani culture: India has so much diversity, and the distinct folk music, dance and food of Rajasthan is colourful in every way. Take in some local performances and indulge your tastebuds in delicious food. 




Where have you travelled to that was like a real life fairy tale?
















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This Mama Reads....



This mama loves to read, particularly when she's on vacation. But even when I'm not (which is actually 99.5% of the time  - don't let my posts fool you!) I still love picking up a good book and my book clubs help hold me accountable. My picks for this post both inspire a form of wanderlust and travel.

Michelle Obama's Becoming, has been all over the shelves lately, so I wanted to pick it up and see what the big deal was for myself. Also, I have a smalllll girl crush on the lady herself. Ok - a huge one. Her book was every bit uplifting, charming and insightful as I had hoped it to be.   Although, I do wish she had shared some more dirt about life in the public eye.
I loved how Michelle (yes, we are on a first name basis), emphasizes women supporting women. She explains how girls weekends were so important in grounding her, and in her overall well being.  It's like Michelle and I are almost the same person because - YES to GIRLS TRIPS and girls weekends!

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan is the first in a trilogy of sorts. It is a look into the extravagant lives of the Asian Jet Set. I was basically drooling at every page imagining all of the haute couture and designer purses, and beautiful people described. It is a fun, addictive book - better than the movie (which I also enjoyed!).
I have MAJOR wanderlust now for Singapore. It wasn't really on my list before, but now it's way up there! I just need a designer wardrobe to fit in!

What books have you read lately that have inspired your wanderlust? I'd love to hear! I'm always adding to my Goodreads book list!
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Sunday, March 3, 2019

Souvenirs: Keepsakes or Clutter?

Motherhood is all about making memories (Well that and some days basic survival!) - so when we travel, we want to pick up some special souvenirs to remember those memories. But life with kids usually means - CLUTTER! We already have so many crafts, toys, socks, books, shoes, and things to keep track of and to try to find a home for at the end of each day, that sometimes adding on to that clutter-feast with yet another stuffed animal from a vacation can seem daunting.

So how do you balance picking up meaningful keepsakes from your adventures that don't turn into clutter? We've been focused on travelling light in recent years, so that limits us to what we can actually pick up as a special souvenir. We also add a small budget for the kids, so they have to chose wisely. Here are some special keepsakes we've collected on our last few adventures that we actually display, cherish and enjoy!

PANAMA:



We are a family of book worms, so our go to is books, and this one was gifted to us while in Panama. We also picked up some black and white photographs of the canal and Casco Veijo, and a Panama hat of course! Fun Fact: The Panama hat originates from Ecuador.

NEW YORK:



Ah New York New York! Where the shopping has no limits, except by your bank account. The kids picked out some small prints of art from a vendor in the High Line park and we let them raid Dylan's Candy Bar.  This trip we invested in some special family pictures by using our favourite Flytographer . See more about why we love family photos as travel souvenirs here on this post

MAUI:




From Maui, we wanted something to help us capture that that Aloha spirit at home. We loved beach combing for sea shells (where we actually don't take any shells anymore, and especially none of the lava rocks), and the kids earned their Junior Ranger badges up on Haleakala. But once again Flytographer to the rescue, where photographer Rojeena took some amazing pictures for us. So every time I pass them hanging up on our hall wall, I feel that Aloha vibe.

 INDIA:



I've been to India so many times before, and each trip for me was full of shopping. The infinite amounts of fabric, jewellery and beautiful clothes always left our suitcases ready to explode.  But on my last trip there (and first as a mom!), we traveled light and experienced so much more of the country. The kids all chose something small for their rooms, and of course some pretty bangles! Notice the common theme? We love to pick up books, whether a guide book or a beautiful coffee table book to help us remember our adventures!

What are your favourite things to pick up as a souvenir?

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