So you are thinking about taking your kids to India? Be prepared for lots of raised eyebrows when you tell others your plans, but don’t let that discourage you. We spent a wonderful month in India with our three children, ages 5-9 and want to write the post we would have found helpful before we left. Here is your A-Z guide of tips and advice for India with kids. But before we dive into that, lets consider:
- 1 Should You Take Your Kids to India?
- 2 A-Z India with Kids Tips
- 2.1 Activities for Kids
- 2.2 Beaches
- 2.3 Clothing
- 2.4 Dog Danger
- 2.5 Embrace the Chaos
- 2.6 Food for Kids
- 2.7 Go Slow
- 2.8 Heat – it is Hot!
- 2.9 Imodium in your First Aid Kit
- 2.10 Jabs Before You Go
- 2.11 Kid Packing
- 2.12 Long Haul Flights
- 2.13 Mosquito Danger
- 2.14 Not the Same Hygiene Standards
- 2.15 Observe & Protect Against Hazards
- 2.16 Plan Ahead
- 2.17 Questions – be prepared for lots of them
- 2.18 Riding in Cars and Rickshaws
- 2.19 Shopping and Souvenirs
- 2.20 Trains and Buses
- 2.21 Unwanted Attention
- 2.22 Visas for India
- 2.23 Water
- 2.24 XYZ
- 3 Final Advice
Should You Take Your Kids to India?
YES! As a seasoned traveler, I was intimidated about visiting India, but I was also intrigued. As the world’s second most populous country, India offers so much for families. Its rich culture, amazing wildlife, ancient cities, and diverse geography could take months to explore. It isn’t an easy place to travel and I think every traveler in India has moments of extreme frustration and also feelings of intense love for this country that is raw and imperfect. With careful planning and considerations, India with kids is possible and enjoyable!
A-Z India with Kids Tips
Activities for Kids
We all want different things from a holiday and that includes our kids. Plan some kid friendly activities into your itinerary. Our kids love afternoons by a pool, visiting any type of theme park, wildlife encounters and water sports. We balance visits to museums, cultural and historical sites with activities for the kids to look forward to. Our kids enjoyed exploring the vintage playgrounds in India and we even managed to find a newly opened mini theme park in Munnar (the aptly named Cowboy Park, Mutuputty Dam).
India has its share of beautiful beaches, but do be aware that the monsoon season can really affect the safety of the waters. We were traveling at the end of the wet season on the west coast and for the most part, the waters weren’t that suitable for kids. We did venture in a few times with them and were very careful to watch out for rips and large waves. In Varkala, there were lifeguards that patrolled the beach, but they spent most of their time whistling locals out of the water. If traveling during the wet season and visiting a beach destination, it can be helpful to find a hotel with a pool. Unfortunately we found the beaches near the cities (Kochi) to be filthy and not suitable for kids to use.
When packing clothes for a trip to India with kids, what you pack will vary greatly depending on the season and region of India you are traveling in. Lightweight clothes work best in the heat and humidity of India. In addition to helping prevent mosquito bites, it is culturally appropriate to cover up. I always traveled with a scarf in my bag so I could wrap up a bit more. While our kids did wear shorts and tank tops at times, I did prefer them in longer clothes. Carrying a scarf is really useful as you can wrap up further if you are visiting religious sites. My daughter is 9 and she wore harem style pants mostly and loved accessorizing with scarves. Having lightweight layers will also make laundry on the road easier.
Our kids travel in their Keen sandals, which provide great support. We absolutely love Keens – they are well made, sturdy and comfortable. The streets of India can be really dirty, muddy and dusty and so you want to make sure every one has close-toed shoes. We did travel with flip flops for the beach and showers as well.
Stray dogs are everywhere and these dog packs can be quite scary. They can also be dangerous, especially to young children. Teach your kids to refrain from approaching or petting stray dogs. Our kids have spent so much time in Asia, that they are always apprehensive about a dog without a collar (wild dogs as they call them) and will be on alert around strays. Not only can they be dangerous, but they can be carrying diseases.
Embrace the Chaos
Part of what makes India so interesting is the huge mass of civilization and the chaos and disorder. This can be overwhelming for kids as even the smallest tasks can take a really long time. Allow extra time in your schedule, laugh off the bureaucracy and frustration you will encounter and have a peaceful place at the end of the day to escape the chaos.
Food for Kids
I will be honest that this is probably one of the hardest parts of traveling in India with kids, both from a health and taste point of view.
When choosing where to eat, look for restaurants that are busy and locals are eating in. Encourage your kids to always wash their hands before eating and Indian restaurants always have a hand washing station in the main restaurant. If we were eating in a really local place, avoid uncooked fruits and vegetables, including fresh juice. However, if you are in a more touristy restaurant, you may feel comfortable eating salads and fresh juice (confirm that they use filtered water and ice). After a month of curries, we were ready for some crunchy greens! Unfortunately our kids drank more soda than usual since we trusted that source more than a fresh juice.
I will be honest that our kids struggled with the food in India. We stayed at home stays and they often didn’t have any choice about what they were served. Indian children eat spicy food and even though our hosts would tone down the spice, our kids still found the food too spicy. In these situations they lived off white rice and chapatis. In restaurants our kids often ordered eggs, fried noodles or rice, and Chinese dishes. However, if you are in a more touristy area, you should be able to find some Western options for your kids. We found it helpful to have soya sauce (for their white rice), jam and bread and cereal with us, to help supplement their diets. Only once did I come across a grocery store in a large city that stocked western snacks and I loaded up on granola bars and other goodies for the kids. We bought fruit from the market often and ate it (wash in filtered water before eating). Our kids weren’t eating a well balanced diet, so it would be a good idea to have them take a multi-vitamin.
Most families would offer up this advice when traveling with kids.
We all have a tendency to want to maximize our time in a destination, but if you can resist this, traveling with kids in India will be more enjoyable. We spent a month in India and most of that time was in only one state, Kerala. I would have loved to have seen more of India (cough, Taj Mahal) but by giving ourselves a slower schedule, it was more enjoyable for both us and the kids. I find the sweet spot to be 3 nights in a destination. This allows us to unpack and setup in our room and allows for down time where we can relax. Also remember that getting between destinations in India can take a frustratingly long time. Don’t believe Google travel time distances as we figured we rarely traveled more then 25 km/hr.
Heat – it is Hot!
India can be hot, hot, hot. Children may struggle with the heat, especially on a long day of sightseeing. Lots of hotels we stayed in had air conditioning, but not all of them. It was always nice after a long day out to come back to a cool room. We treated the kids to hotels with pools a couple of times, which is a great thing to look for when booking accommodation in India with kids. A good lightweight hat is essential for kids and parents, along with sunglasses and sunscreen, applied often.
Imodium in your First Aid Kit
We have all heard about “Delhi Belly” and this is one of the most common concerns parents traveling to India with kids and rightfully so. The standards of food hygiene are not what we are used to in the West. Kids are much more susceptible to food borne illnesses and can suffer much more severely from food poisoning. Our 5 year old was the only one who got sick and he had very violent diarrhea on a three hour train ride. Not fun when the toilet is a hole in the filthy train bathroom. Luckily, Imodium works really well and is a must in your first aid kit. We also carried rehydration salts which work wonderfully after someone has been sick. Other items in our first aid kit (generally kids and adult formulas): antihistamines, Cipro antibiotic, aceteminaphin, anti-fungal cream, steroid cream, anti-itch cream, inhalers for my son who is susceptible to respiratory illnesses.
Jabs Before You Go
Unfortunately India has its share of infectious diseases that you want to take seriously. In addition to making sure your regular vaccinations are all up to date, you want to make sure you have the recommended travel vaccines for India. Consult your doctor to find out what they recommend and make sure you plan far enough in advance to get all your jabs. Remember that sometimes, kids will need to receive two doses with a set amount of time between.
Pack very carefully for a trip to India with kids because unlike most other destinations, it can be hard to find Western supplies in India. Since we were traveling on local transportation, we found two large backpacks to be the most convenient, as opposed to rolly bags. This was the first trip we used packing cubes and they completely won me over and we will never travel again without them. Travel cubes allow you to keep each person’s clothes separate and organized. We bought a variety of colors so we could easily identify each person’s clothes. We travel with a simple mesh bag that we put our laundry in as we travel. Another item that I couldn’t travel without is our hanging toiletries bag which keeps our stuff organized.
Our kids each travel with their own backpack which I help them pack. Generally they have their lovey, water bottle and activities to do while on the road. These include travel and card games, activity books, picture books and simple toys (Rubix cube, Hot Wheels). We are careful about taking ipads and iphones out in public, but do travel with them.
Traveling with money belts is always a good idea. We keep extra copies of our passports and an emergency supply of money in a separate bag. We also travel with padlocks for our luggage and a cable lock that we can use to attach our bags to something on trains and some hotel rooms.
Long Haul Flights
Traveling to India with kids will probably involve a long haul flight, which is always more complicated with children. As our kids are getting older, it is much easier to travel with them on long flights. They each pack their own backpacks to include activities to keep them busy and snacks and a water bottle. We flew Jet Airways (Indian airline) and I would recommend ordering a children’s menu in advance. We didn’t and our kids found the regular meals too spicy for them. Remember that it can take kids longer to get over jet leg and so I would recommend not planning too much for the first day.
One of the reasons we avoided India until our youngest was 5, was due to Malaria. We found the most helpful India malaria information to be from the NHS and their map highlights the malaria risk levels regionally. We spent all of our time in southern India, which has the lowest Malaria risk and that was one of the reasons we picked that region. Most visitors to India worry about malaria, but it is Dengue Fever and other mosquito born viruses that are even more prevalent and should be taken just as seriously.
The best thing you can do is prevention – don’t let those bugs bit you or the kids. Remember that many of these viruses are caused by the daytime biting mosquito, so you have to be vigilant all day. We traveled in the wet season, but still didn’t find the mozzies too bad.
- A DEET based spray will be most effective. You can stock up ahead of time or use the local Odomos brand found at every corner store in India.
- The best prevention is simply staying covered up as much as possible. This is also a necessary in India for cultural reasons, but having the kids in light-colored light-weight pants and long sleeve shirts is the best protection.
- Wear mosquito wrist bands that emit a natural (citronella) scent to ward off mozzies. These are comfortable bracelets with refills that last up to 14 days.
- Stay in places with mosquito nets or screens on the windows (rare in India). If there aren’t screen on the windows and we do notice mozzies around, we keep the windows closed, even if it is stifling hot.
- Ultrasonic plugins that emit a sound that keep mozzies away (but thankfully our ears can’t hear) are another good protection.
Maybe we are overly cautious, but these are all easy things to do to put our minds at rest that we are doing everything we can to minimize the risk to our kids.
When doing my research, I found conflicting information and recommendations for anti-malarial use in India, so I would recommend you consult with the travel medical professionals in your country. We made a last minute decision to have the kids take Malarone. I really didn’t feel it was necessary, but my daughter was anxious about malaria (she had overheard too many of our conversations) and so we went with it. Malarone is the most expensive anti-malarial medication, but with the least side effects, making it a good choice for kids.
Not the Same Hygiene Standards
You won’t be surprised to learn that hygiene levels are certainly not the same as you are used to. Remind your kids to use the washroom before you head out, as finding a suitable toilet while out exploring, can be challenging. We always carried toilet paper and hand sanitizer with us. We even found that many of the places we stayed did not provide soap or toilet paper, so better to be prepared. All Indian restaurants have a hand washing station in the restaurant. Since traditionally Indians eat with their hands, this is essential, but very helpful with kids.
Observe & Protect Against Hazards
You are going to encounter many things that are not as safe as you would like them to be in India. It is important to be vigilant with kids and teach them how to stay safe. When arriving in a hotel, look out for balconies without proper protection and flimsy windows and doors. On the streets, there often isn’t a sidewalk and pedestrians never have right of way. There are often exposed electrical wires on telephone poles. You will encounter lots of puddles of questionable contents that you will want to steer them clear of (close toed shoes are helpful!). India’s huge population means that many public spaces can be really crowded. Hang on to your kids and talk to them about what to do if you become separated. BUT please don’t let those potential hazards scare you from visiting India with your kids. There are lots of risks in your home country that we accept without thinking. Yes, there may be more risks in India, but even they are manageable with planning and preparation.
We always make sure we have our first night accommodation booked and transportation arranged there. Every one is tired after a long flight and you certainly don’t want to be haggling with taxis or trying to find a place to stay in that condition. Gone are the days of showing up in a town and going door to door to see all the hotel options. This just doesn’t work with kids. The internet makes it super easy to communicate and book your accommodation before you arrive and your kids will thank you for this.
Questions – be prepared for lots of them
India will provoke lots of questions from your kids and this is why we travel with our kids. They are going to see poverty, pollution, and many things that confuse them and don’t fit into their prior experiences. There are amazing learning opportunities and is one of the things I love most about traveling with kids. We discuss politics, religion, the environment, cultural practices and so much more. Prepare your kids for India before you arrive so it is not such a shock to the system. Talk about some of the things they will see and expose them to some videos or books on India. My daughter just finished reading the young reader edition of “Lion“. This provoked lots of questions and interest in her and I love connecting reading to our destinations.
Riding in Cars and Rickshaws
It should come as no surprise that car seats are not common in India and if you are going to be hiring a driver, you should bring your own. In fact, don’t assume that any car you hire will have car seats – confirm this! While you are it, make sure the car has air conditioning too since in addition to the heat, you don’t want to be inhaling the pollution.
We did hire a driver for a week (very inexpensive at less then $40/day) and we made sure to stress to the travel agent that we wanted a larger car (Innova) with seatbelts, A/C, and an English-speaking and safe driver. Indian roads are notorious for being extremely chaotic, with cars sharing the road with cows, pull carts, rickshaws, and any and every other type of vehicle. Add to this that there appears to be almost no rules of the road and it really can be quite scary driving around in India. It is perfectly normal for cars to swerve in and out of incoming traffic and you want to make sure you choose a safe (and slower) driver.
Our kids sometimes suffer from motion sickness and they struggled with the driving style in India. Have a plastic bag always ready when traveling in a car and we found Gravol was a good preventative. We use our local library online to download audiobooks onto our iphones or ipads for long rides. Our kids will listen to these for hours and are a great source of entertainment for our non-readers. Train travel was much more comfortable for all of us and more enjoyable.
For getting around town, riding in rickshaws (tuktuks in SEA) will be a huge hit and highlight of visiting India for kids. There is nothing like cramming the whole family in the back of one and feeling the wind in your hair as you travel at a slower speed to your destination. In touristy area, rickshaw drivers will try to get many times the local rate out of you. Ask at your hotel for how much a typical trip in town will cost and confirm the price before you get in. If you encounter a driver that doesn’t speak English, get out your phone or pad of paper and write down the number to confirm the price.
Shopping and Souvenirs
You will inevitably be taken to someone’s brother’s shop at some time in your travels to India, which is not the place you want to buy anything. Try to buy directly from smaller vendors when possible and bargaining for souvenirs can be a fun activity for the kids. Our kids were very proud of the little treasures they picked out from the markets and small shops. We usually give our kids a small amount ($10) for them to buy souvenirs on a trip and in India, this can go quite far. Their favorite souvenirs were a scarf and metal jingle anklets.
Trains and Buses
Getting around India takes a long time, but is part of the experience. Kids love different modes of transport and our kids really enjoyed riding the trains. For quick trips, you can show up at the station and usually get sleeper (the lowest level of carriage) tickets. Sleeper class (which is in no way set up for sleeping, as it sounds) is a great place to meet local people. One of my fondest memories of India is of being befriended on a train by a family. Train travel is extremely inexpensive and children generally are entitled to half price fares. For longer journeys we found it helpful to use a travel agent to book our tickets so we had set seats. We tried to book tickets online on our own, but it was virtually impossible without an Indian credit card.
You can get just about anywhere on a bus in India. There are many different classes of buses with varying comfort levels. We took tourist and first class buses with reclining seats, A/C and free water and we also took trips on local buses with open windows, packed in like sardines. For us, we enjoy these experiences and it makes getting around very inexpensive (typical fare $1.50/3 hour ride). We also bring snacks and water on the bus with us and activities for the kids to do. Since they are susceptible to motion sickness, Gravol seems to really help make the ride more comfortable with the added benefit, that they are more likely to take a nap.
Our kids are fairly used to attracting quite a bit of attention as they have traveled through Asia, but India takes it to a whole new level. Strangers will come up to you and take photos with your kids. Sometimes they ask and sometimes they just do it. Luckily our kids are okay with this for the most part and generally enjoy posing for photos. However, if your child does not appreciate the extra attention, you will have to be assertive in turning the attention away.
Visas for India
India has recently introduced an e-tourist visa (e-TV) that you can apply for in advance of your trip as long as you enter at one of the main airports. While this is not a straightforward process and there are many questions you will have to answer, it is better then having to apply at an Embassy. Unfortunately kids pay the same visa fee as adults and for Canadians it was $48 USD. You have to apply 4-30 days before arrival and the visa is good for 30 days, single entry. You will need to submit a photo for every one, including the kids, which you can take yourself.
From a health perspective, you want to be very careful about what your kids are eating and drinking in India. We always used to drink bottled water when traveling in developing countries and still prefer to do this. However, with increased awareness of the environmental destruction caused by water bottles in the third world, we are trying to make more of an effort to use reusable bottles and to top them up with filtered water instead. Many of the guest houses we stayed at had filtered water available and we simply trusted our instincts about which we should drink. We always brushed our teeth with bottled/filtered water.
What words actually start with X, Y and Z? Nothing that I can make work for tips traveling in India with kids!
India may not be the easiest country to take your kids, but it is doable. I wouldn’t make this your first trip to a developing country with kids. We did find it to be the most challenging country we have visited with kids and although our kids did enjoy our trip, it didn’t rank as one of their favorite countries. They do have some wonderful memories of playing with local children, interacting with our home stay hosts and the amazing sites we visited. Indians love children and our kids were doted on wherever we went.
There are going to be times when you are traveling in India with kids that you question why you are doing it, as I did in this post. But, this is also true for any visitor to India as it can be maddeningly frustrating and trying at times. I can assure you though that you will have many more good feelings then bad.
Have you been to India with your kids and have any other advice? What is/was your biggest concern taking the kids to India?
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