Having a baby didn’t stop Jaipur-based blogger Deenaz Raisinghani from making travel plans. In fact, the mom to a three-year-old has travelled to nine countries with the baby, as a family and even solo. The Backpacking Mama tells us why she recommends that every parent follow her lead!
When were you first bit by the travel bug?
I was always very curious about new places, especially places with a historical significance and I had taken trips with parents as a child where we explored different parts of India during summer holidays. Dad, being a lover of history and an amazing storyteller, would regale my brother and me with historical facts about each place we visited. Mom spent her toddler years outside India, and her stories were equally fascinating for me. I think that’s what started the interest in travel and after I got married to a travel loving Army officer, the travelling life and moving homes just grew on me.
When you got married, was travel a priority for both of you? When you had a baby, did you ever stop to wonder if it would be the end of travelling? What kept you going?
Yes absolutely! My husband is an avid traveller himself, and has been globetrotting since the time he was a young officer in the Indian Army. He introduced the beauty of backpacking and budget travelling to me right after we met and we have travelled across 21 states in India and to 14 countries until now. We both love travelling and exploring new spots and taking the road less travelled, so to speak! I don’t think a single year has passed by without us having travelled to a new destination and it is something we can never give up on.
A lot of people advised us when I was pregnant that life would change after the baby arrived, so make the most of your time now, and after the baby, your responsibilities will increase so the travelling lifestyle may take a backseat. We however, believed in just the opposite! We often discussed the destinations we would travel to once our baby was born, and how we would introduce him/her to the beauty of travel. I guess our sheer love for travel was too strong to give up on for anything.
Which are the destinations you’ve visited with the baby? Your favourite holiday as a family?
Within India, we have travelled all across North and Western India and lots of places in Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. In the east, we have travelled to Assam (my hometown) and Meghalaya. In the South, we have visited Karnataka and Kerala.
We’ve visited Bhutan (when she was 7 months old), Europe (Turkey, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, France and Germany when she was 16 months old), Cambodia (when she was almost 2) and New Zealand (when she was almost 3). We have realised that our daughter Arianna seems to enjoy it as much as we do.
My two favourite holiday destinations as a family are our Kerala trip and the recent New Zealand trip. Kerala is a stunning state to visit as family, and my heart goes out to all that it has gone through during the floods this year. It has everything a child-friendly destination can have. Good roads to drive on, sumptuous cuisine, stunning beaches, mountains, backwaters and great places to stay in. New Zealand is a traveller’s paradise and both North and South Islands are extremely beautiful. We explored it in the summers (in southern hemisphere), so we went straight from the biting January cold in New Delhi to the warm beaches in NZ.
Tell us about your background. What did you do before this?
I am a fulltime parent at the moment and am juggling blogging and mommy duties. I would like to develop my travel blog so more readers and (hopefully) more Indian parents can read it and take up travelling with their kids. I am a media and communications professional and have worked fulltime with multinationals in the past including Google India. I also actively participate in charity work and have been facilitating community development and skill building workshops for wives and children in the Indian Army for the last three years.
You planned a Europe backpacking trip, where your husband had to leave midway, but you carried on, along with your child. Tell us about that. Any other adventures?
Ok. So, I had always wanted to go backpacking in Europe but somehow it had never materialized. While I was studying for my Masters in Communication, I conceived and things got real for us. A few months into my pregnancy, I made a promise that come what may, I will take my child to Europe with me before she turns two and I will backpack across one country only with my baby. After a couple of months of intensive planning and bookings, which my husband is a pro at, we left for Europe when my daughter was 16 months old. We covered seven countries, mostly the Scandinavian belt and France and Germany.
After we reached Berlin, my husband left for India to rejoin work and I continued backpacking across Germany. It was absolutely amazing, and I think the solo stretch after he left was one of the most memorable periods of my life.
When you have an infant for company and you are on a backpacking trip, you know you are responsible for everything related to the child and you want to have a good time with her as well. We made the most of our time in Europe as mother-daughter backpackers, and it is an experience I will always remember. Besides this, I took her to a music festival in India when she was just seven months old and we had a blast. I also travelled to Cambodia with two of my girlfriends when she was almost two, and since it was a girl trip, my husband was not around. It was amazing and Cambodia—especially the interior parts—is very pretty, including the infamous Angkor Wat, which we did in one day.
How old is your child now? Once she starts school, do you see things changing?
She is three-and-a-half and has started preschool. Well, I do realise our travel plans will have to fit around her schooling schedule and we definitely do not want her skipping school for long periods. That being said, we would also not like to discontinue travelling, and are already making plans for the next trip when we can manage a few days off.
What are the challenges to travelling with a baby? Do you remember the first time?
Travelling with a baby is different from couple travel for sure. You have to plan beforehand and it’s best you don’t try to wing it as that may land you a very irritated baby! The first time she travelled was when she was three months old and we had to move to the next station, so we took a flight and a long road trip. We had to make sure we took care and packed a flight bag for her, and since I fed her during takeoff and landing, she slept peacefully with no ear pain on her first ever flight. We did, however, go to a pediatrician and consulted him for any precautions we should take for her flight. Changing the baby midway for the first time inside the airplane toilet was a challenge for me as she was still so tiny, but I managed. She was in a car seat during the road trip and I had to make sure her tummy was full and she was clean, so we kept taking small halts to ensure a smooth ride for her.
Honestly speaking, the challenges can be many for parents who travel with a baby, but my general experience has been that if you take care of the physiological needs of the baby—eat, sleep and poop—and stick to a routine, travelling as a family can be very enjoyable.
How have people in the extended family and friends reacted?
My extended family and friends have been generally supportive and are encouraging. My closest girlfriends have actually travelled with me and my baby to a different country, and I guess we did not really miss out on any fun that we would have had if my daughter wasn’t around. We still did really fun stuff, partied with the baby including singing with her on stage at a Seim Reap Karaoke bar, walked around Angkor Vat temples, hung out at night markets and basically did whatever we wanted to (except hardcore clubbing, of course) so there was no holding back because of the baby.
My parents were a little sceptical when I announced my plan to stay back in Europe and explore further with Arianna, but those were mostly safety concerns because of the bombings in Europe around the same time. Once they saw the pictures I was sharing with them and told them how well the baby was taking it, they were very happy and encouraged me to travel. Since we live in an Indian society where travelling alone as a female is still subject to scrutiny and concern, there will be resistance from time to time, but it is upon us female travellers to change that conditioned thinking, and I think it has evolved quite a bit in the recent decade.
Any positive effects you see on your child due to the travels—in terms of the exposure to different cultures, places, food habits, languages, etc?
Our child is growing up to be more aware, more accepting of everything around her because she has interacted with kids and adults of different nationalities, travelled to starkly different places, heard different languages being spoken around her, tried a smorgasbord of cuisines from around the world and this, I feel, has made her adapt more quickly to things around her. She started exploring different tastes since she was seven months old and actually ate very local food during our time outside. I did not have to worry about carrying Indian cooking ingredients, or cooking baby food for her all the time and this actually helped me a lot when we had to eat at youth hostels, or eat outside at local markets.
Of course, I took care of the hygiene aspect and making sure her she wouldn’t pick up an infection from eating outside, but overall her experience has made her enjoy different tastes even at home.
She has visited some of the most gorgeous cathedrals, gurudwaras and mosques around the world and this has made her curious, culturally aware and respectful of people around her who wear a certain garment for instance, or the way they fold their hands to pray. I am really glad she is picking up on these smaller cultural codes as she travels the world.
What are the things you look out for, as a mom, before you travel?
As a mother, I prefer to make sure my child follows a routine even during the vacation and does not suffer because of a choice we made that was not in her best interest. After choosing a hostel that is closest to the train station, so we don’t have to walk too much with the baby, we prefer prebooking hostel rooms (we mostly opt for private rooms with the baby) or BnB. We also prebook our train tickets between countries or cities within a country so we are assured of travelling on a certain day. I always make sure she has fresh milk and fresh fruit at all times, and we avoid places that are not safe for the baby or very late nights when we are travelling. I look out for 24/7 supermarkets nearby where I can restock diapers, baby essentials, even dinner items so we can cook in the hostel kitchens so we don’t have to do late nights with the baby.
How do your husband and you divide duties during travel?
We do not have a set of divided duties when we are travelling and we just help each other around the baby when it’s needed. Being the mother, of course, I have to take care of her feeding routine. Besides that, my husband wears the baby when I physically find it difficult to trek or climb too many stairs to a particular place and I wear the backpack instead. Other times, he carries more weight on his shoulders while I carry the baby and a smaller backpack. We switch between carrying the rucksack or the baby in the stroller, depending on the baby’ moods and wear her instead when she is cranky. My husband is great at reading maps (owing to his Army background) and figuring out directions, and I have picked that up from him now, so I can navigate on my own by public transport in a particular country. He says I am more technologically friendly, so I am entrusted with recording the trip and capturing memories.
You’ve also written a blog on baby-wearing. How helpful is it and any other gear you would recommend for travellers?
Baby-wearing, like I have said before, is a lifesaver, and I don’t know how I would have travelled solo without it. I started wearing her when she was three months old and used it for all my trips with her post that. I find a full-buckle carrier handier rather than a ring sling, or tie-up carrier as I need more support on my shoulders so I can be totally hands-free. It helps me at the airport when I am lugging my baggage and the baby on my own, getting off the plane with my luggage, walking to a destination or around the city, travelling in trains or buses in various countries, eating at restaurants when she wants to sleep or be fed, the positives are just too many.
You just have to make sure that it’s an all-weather baby carrier or in breathable fabric or both the baby and you will have a hard time in the hotter destinations.
Apart from a good baby carrier, I would recommend a good car seat (which you can rent once you arrive at a particular destination) and a baby buggy (also available to rent if you do not wish to carry along.
A lot of waterproof pouches/capsules for all your essentials are also important as these will help you pack light so you don’t have a lot of weight on your shoulders.
Any mom bloggers you follow, including those who write on travel?
There are a lot of mom bloggers around the world that inspire me with their stories every day, and I mostly connect with them on Instagram. Some names worth mentioning are Karen Edwards from Travel Mad Mum, Erica Weber from the Worldwide Webers, Indrani Ghose from I Share, Shweta Ganesh Kumar from The Times of Amma and Monet Hambrick from the Traveling Child.
Any message for parents out there?
My message to parents who wish to travel with their kids is to JUST START! Take a small trip with your kid, come back and discuss how it made you feel. Did it enhance the joy of travelling for you both, or did it make you swear to never travel with a baby again? If it is the former, which I am sure of, just plan and take that dream trip you have been wanting to take, but postponing since you had the baby. Life doesn’t have to change completely, and your travel dreams can become more real and enjoyable if you decide that travelling with a baby is possible.
Your essential travel checklist when travelling with a baby?
This is in no particular order, but it contains mostly what I carry with me during my travels, and also have outlined on my blog in detail on http://www.backpackingmamablog.wordpress.com.
Make sure it is not too bulky. We actually bought a lightweight baby stroller before travelling to Europe with the baby as we knew we would have to walk around with it along with our rucksacks.
Cannot stress more on the importance of a good, sturdy all-weather baby carrier. It will be your lifesaver.
Stocked with two separate ziplock bags with the baby and your medications. Remember to carry prescriptions for medicines that require them.
Baby Changing Bag
Instead of carrying a separate diaper bag, make one small pouch filled with diaper changing essentials, feeding cover (if you use it) and one change of clothes. Put the rest in your rucksack. This will save you huge amounts of space if you are backpacking.
Carry small items that will engage the baby for hours, preferably new ones so they get surprised. I also carry finger puppets with me and mess free colouring books, which keep her busy for hours.
A few survival items like freshly boiled milk (you will get this at all International airports, hostels and BnB’s), small baby formula containers, bottled juice, bread and cheese slices, whole fruit and nuts. You can make a trail mix yourself and keep it on you at all times.
Smaller packs of your bath and bodycare essentials as well as the baby’s. Remember to keep it light. Bubblewrap helps do that.
Your essential items from camera to cables so you can record your trip for a lifetime of memories.
Essentials such as passport copies, hostel and train bookings, subway maps, brochures, etc.
Wallet body bag
For your passport, boarding passes, forex card and cash.