In 2013, The Bodel family set out on the trip of a lifetime, with some help from Travel Nation. This American family of four set out to cover 4 continents in 10 months, including a longer stay in India.
I asked them about how they planned their trip, and what it was like being away with children. They've given us some honest answers and some tips for anyone planning a family round the world trip or a family trip to India...
London – Udaipur // Delhi – Cochin – Colombo – Siem Reap – Chiang Mai // Bangkok – Sydney – Santiago – Buenos Aires – Lima – Calgary - London
We are a family of four, with children aged 5 & 7! We have always wanted to travel to India so included it in our around the world adventure.
Both parents have travelled before having children, with gap year trips including Nepal, South East Asia and Australia/New Zealand. As a couple and family we have travelled in Europe and North America for holiday, doing a range of types of holidays including weekend city breaks, ferry hopping in Croatia, trekking in the Alps, camping in Upstate New York, and taking the kids to Disneyworld.
We found Travel Nation when looking to book our round the world air ticket. Our travel consultant, Adam, provided excellent service with that ticket, and was able to find a better route for us at a very competitive price than the other travel agent we had contacted. So, we decided to use Travel Nation to organize our trip to India. We had always wanted to explore India and wanted this part of our trip especially to be magical and hassle free.
We had a very basic idea of the areas we wanted to visit in India based on conversations with friends. After a phone call with Adam he put together a very interesting itinerary which covered the areas we wanted to see. We then got feedback from friends and worked with Adam at adjusting the details of the itinerary. Travel Nation was very good and working with our needs in order to create a tailored trip that was exactly what we wanted. We were able to add one of our own hotels and stops, but also left it to Travel Nation to make most of the selections - their choices in almost all cases were excellent!
We had a lot of back and forth with Adam about our trip, as we had many questions, having never booked a trip like this before. Altogether it probably took little over a month to finalize the broad details. There was also flexibility to make some changes after we had made the booking so it really was an ongoing process with which Adam was extremely patient and helpful.
Within India we had a good idea of where we wanted to go - it is a very large country so naturally we ruled out places due to time constraints, weather, and suitability with children. We had looked into adding a trip to Burma, but decided that now was not the best time for us to visit there due to the cost. We did also visit Cambodia and Sri Lanka for shorter excursions and used Travel Nation. The Cambodia portion of the trip was especially excellent value and quality.
We may have tried to go it by ourselves, rather than use Travel Nation, if we were not traveling with kids. However, I felt that with kids or not, the value and quality of service we received for our India trip made it worth using a travel agent. The main other concession would be ensuring that our itinerary was not too full - although we saw a lot we worked in some downtime and extra rest days. Adam was very helpful with accommodating our wishes in this area.
The India trip was part of a one year around the world trip with our family. So, we have left our jobs and are home-schooling the children for one year. It has had its challenges but has been worth the experience.
Given that accommodation for four is not always straightforward, we booked everything in advance. In general we had the first six months planned before we set out, and set aside time part way through to organize the next six months. Our tours in Asia were organized well in advance, thanks to Adam and Travel Nation. We did manage to add things that were of interest once we got there though (for example, National Park visit and Whale Watching in Sri Lanka).
We toured a number of cities in Rajasthan, mostly traveling by car with the same (excellent!) driver Mr. Davindra for this part of the trip. Where it made more sense to fly (due to distance) we did and we also used the train from Ranthambore to Agra based on advice from Travel Nation. (This turned out to be excellent advice as we heard reports from fellow travellers that the road between Ranthambore and Agra is terrible - thanks!) We visited Udaipur, Narlai, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Ranthambore, Agra and Delhi. In each city we toured the major attractions with a local guide. In Kerala we travelled by car and again had an excellent driver (despite his youth he was relaxed and helpful the day that both children were car sick - he was also a very safe driver on some very windy roads). There were some local protests and a general strike which disrupted our itinerary in Kerala but the local agent took care of all the arrangements and rescheduled some of our stay such that we were really not impacted. We saw Kochi, Thekkedy, Kumarakom, the backwaters and finished at Marari Beach Resort.
We were concerned about what would happen if anyone needed medical attention, especially the children. Luckily no one was sick enough to need a doctor in India. In Sri Lanka and Cambodia my husband had an ear infection and the hotels were able to organize a doctor to come and see us. Again, one of the reasons we used an organized tour company and stayed in nice hotels was for the security of having help if an emergency arose.
The culture shock was less than I expected. Staying in nice hotels and being driven around does mean that perhaps you are not as exposed to the culture as you could be?
One disadvantage of an organised tour and traveling outside of school holidays is that our children had very limited experience with other children, either Indian or other nationalities. My son and daughter did have a very fun time running up and down the hill with large groups of school children in Delhi near Gandhi's memorial. We also had a good football match on the beach with some local children in Kerala.
Our kids loved the experience of seeing the tigers in Ranthambore National Park. Equally nice for them was house boating in the backwaters of Kerala - it was so peaceful and our crew was wonderful to them!
Not in India. Perhaps one less day in Kochi as there is not much to see in the town once you spend an afternoon in the Old Town (it did have some great restaurants though!).
I honestly feel like it was well-balanced. I did not feel rushed, although we were constantly on the go except for the last week of the trip to India. While there were a few places I really loved (Ranthambore, Backwaters of Kerala) I think that longer would have been too long.
Finally seeing the colour, noise and surroundings of Rajasthan, after hearing about it from so many people.
I was most worried about what we would do if we all had Indian "stomach problems" on a travel day - some of the driving days were long with limited facilities en route. Again, we had no major problems (all of us were unwell at some point, but it was just not as bad as I had imagined and thankfully did not delay us or impact our travel).
Every day was different; despite the tour being quite "adult" the guides were interesting and pointed things out to the kids.
It became an ongoing joke that people in Northern India constantly wanted to photograph themselves with our children, and hug them. In the end my son was saying - "I think more people are coming dad, I see those guys over there straightening their collars and getting their iPhones out…"
I think it's important not to pack too much into the time you have. Leave some time to unwind - to have a holiday from the holiday if you will. For people that are trying to home-school on the road, as we were, I think you have to realize that the experience the kids get traveling is an outstanding education on its own so don't worry too much about formal lessons apart from the basics. We took a basic math and reading curriculum that suited what we needed. As far as India goes, we tried to eat fairly carefully, avoiding things washed with the water, etc. but the quality of places we stayed helped with that quite a bit.
Of course! But next time I think instead of going to so many places over the course of a year we'd pick 3 or four places to stay for multiple months and really get to know them.