Travelling in India with kids
India may not be an obvious family holiday choice; its size, geography and sheer number of people can test even the most experienced of travellers. But India is a magical place, filled with incredible sights, beautiful landscapes, family-friendly activities, fantastic food and much more. Having lived in India for three years, I know that not only can you travel in India with kids – you can also enjoy it! Here’s all I learned about planning a family holiday in India.
Hotels in India for families
India does budget accommodation very well and it does luxury hotels extremely well. What it doesn’t have a lot of is good, value-for-money mid-range accommodation. You will find a lot of “heritage hotels” across India. Often these are dusty, tired former “palaces” that have been given a lick of paint and a few beds and called a hotel. If you’ve ever seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, then you’ll know exactly what I mean!
Family friendly hotels in India
At the budget-end of things, guidebooks like Lonely Planet do a great job of listing cheap hostels. If you’re prepared to pay big bucks then there a lot of really beautiful hotels including many by the Oberoi group that look after families well. What India doesn’t do terribly well, however, is mid-range accommodation. Some of the more top end hotels have started to cater for kids but there are few that offer the kind of kid-friendly touches that you might be used to such as gifts upon check-in, sinks at the right height for children or all day kids’ clubs.
Room options for families
Hotels in India very rarely feature the range of family accommodation options found in hotels in the U.S. for example. It’s unusual to find hotels with rooms housing two double beds. More likely you will find rooms with one double bed and a maximum of one extra bed allowed per room. Families with more than one child will more often than not have to take two rooms. Some hotels are happy for a child to share a bed with their parents (whether or not you are happy with that is another matter!) The more budget end hotels are often more flexible when it comes to housing families but be prepared to splash out on two rooms in higher end hotels. Inter-connecting rooms are not common either.
Hotels in India for babies
If travelling with a baby, you’ll find that staff will often try to help you out. They may look quizzically at your microwave sterilising bags and not serve dinner early like they promised to, but on the whole people are very helpful. Babysitting is generally available at most top-end hotels but not common in mid-range or lower-end hotels. Make sure you have a good travel cot with you (baby beds are generally only available at high end hotels) and a travel high chair is also a good idea. Hotels in India often have rigid meal times so be prepared to either wait for your kids’ food or bring lots (and lots!) of snacks with you.
Keeping healthy in India
Understandably, health comes at the top of the list of concerns for families travelling in India with children. Before leaving home, it’s worth making an appointment with your doctor to ensure that everyone’s vaccinations are up-to-date. Make sure you bring a basic medical kit with you including rehydration preparation, medicine for fevers, treatment for diarrhoea and upset stomachs, antiseptic cream, a thermometer and any other medicine that you might require. We always travel with an antihistamine syrup, cough medicine and mosquito repellent for example. We would also highly recommend travelling with insurance that covers medical assistance.
Medical care in India
Many embassies list hospitals in clinics in major cities, such as this one from the US Embassy about medical care in Delhi. Most mid-range and top-end hotels have a doctor-on-call should you or your child falls unwell. 24-hour pharmacies are also available. Over-the-counter medicine is cheap but it’s worth buying whatever you need form a good pharmacy to avoid purchasing any out-of-date drugs.
The most common problem when travelling in India are stomach upsets, the ubiquitous “Delhi Belly”. You can try and avoid sore tummies by following these suggestions:
- Wash your hands! We were both militant about hand-washing when we lived in India. As for hand sanitiser gel, we were on opposite sides of the fence. One of used it religiously, the other thought that it was more of a hindrance than a help! Pack it if you think it will be useful.
- Eat food that is freshly cooked and served hot. Depending on where we were travelling, we would sometimes just stick to the vegetarian dishes. It’s best to avoid salads, unless you can be sure the lettuce (and other veggies) have been properly cleaned and disinfected.
- Avoid food from street vendors. Katja ended up in hospital for two days with a severe case of gastroenteritis after eating spicy potatoes from a roadside stall. That said, we had a lot of friends in India who would eat street food believing the food was freshly cooked and hot (and therefore safe).
- Drink only bottle beverages and avoid ice, which is made with tap water.
- With fruit we would choose those that needed peeling (oranges, bananas) over those that needed disinfecting (apples etc..)
Dengue Fever is another concern when travelling in parts of India. It is an infectious tropical disease also known as ‘break bone fever’ owing to the severe joint and muscle pain victims experience. We have written a longer post on how to avoid catching dengue fever here. Dengue is most common in India during the few months after the monsoon, but also occurs during the monsoon season.
Transport in India with kids
Planes, trains or automobiles are your options for travelling around India. There’s also the bus but I’d only recommend this if you were seriously trying to save rupees. Even the “deluxe” Indian buses can be challenging with young children; long journeys with infrequent stops for food and toilet breaks and often manned by kamikaze drivers. Two websites that are useful for booking tickets for air as well as rail are www.cleartrip.com and www.makemytrip.com.
Planes in India
Air travel is undoubtedly the fastest way to get around. There are a number of popular low cost domestic airlines including Air India Express, GoAir, IndiGo, SpiceJet and AirAsia India. Infants under two pay taxes only.
Trains in India
Travelling by train is a quintessential Indian experience. Indian Railways is one of the largest rail networks in the world and carries nearly 20 million people every day. The whole family will enjoy a train journey, whether you ride the rails for a couple of hours or overnight.
There are seven different classes of train travel, although not all classes are available on every train. They range from 1AC (1st class air-conditioned) at the top to an unreserved seat in 2nd class at the bottom. Children up to the age of 4 travel free, children aged 5 to 11 pay half fare and children aged 12 and over pay full fare. It’s worth nothing that if you are booking an overnight sleeper train, you are not guaranteed to have the compartment to yourself unless you buy all the berths in that carriage.
The excellent website www.seat61.com is a great place to go for more information on train travel in India.
Cars & Drivers in India
You can not hire your own car in India and in reality, navigating the chaotic city streets and the pot-holed ones in the countryside would test even Lewis Hamilton. One very good option for exploring an area is to hire a car and driver. Your hotel can usually arrange this for local sightseeing.
Autorickshaws in India
In cities and towns, Autorickshaws are cheap, fast and fun way to get around. Don’t expect car seats! Or seat belts for that matter…
Food in India with Kids
Although less fussy now, my eldest was a very picky eater when we lived in India. And yet, we safely managed to explore the country without him starving! Delhi has lots of restaurants that will cater to a Western palate as well as International eateries. Outside of major cities the menus will be less varied but you’ll be able to find vegetables and rice in plentiful supply. Paneer (unfermented cheese) dishes, naan breads (bread cooked in a tandoor), simple dhals (mild lentil curries) and momos (Tibetan dumplings usually steamed or fried) are good options. If you’re not that keen on spice, ask for your food ‘bland’; asking for ‘non-spicy’ is often simply interpreted as ‘just a little less spicy’. And if all else fails, lassis (yoghurt based drinks) are always a hit!
India with kids: Be prepared for…
Children, particularly Western children, get a lot of attention in India. The enthusiastic cheek-squeezing and pleas to smile for the camera is done with the best of intentions, however it can be very overwhelming, particularly for young children. Be aware of your family’s needs and don’t hesitate to ask well-meaning locals to stop taking photos or squeezing cheeks.
Poverty in India is extreme. And while nothing can fully prepare you, or your children, for the different social and economic conditions that you might encounter, it may be something you wish to discuss with your kids before travelling. Getting involved with organisations such as Pack for a Purpose, that offer a way for travellers to give back to the country they are visiting, can help children understand the importance of leaving a positive footprint.
The best time of year to visit India
The size and geography of India means that there’s always somewhere to go at any time of the year. Generally speaking there are three main seasons.
Peak: October to March. Cooler climes make these months ideal for visiting India’s star attractions such as Rajasthan.
Summer: April to May/June. Temperatures in the north can exceed 40 degrees Celsius. The south remains a little cooler but with a lot more humidity. Humidity levels rise as the monsoon season approaches. This is the best time to visit the hill stations in the north which offer respite from the heat. Avoid the furnace-like cities.
Monsoon: June/July to September. This season is often very muggy and hot. Thunderstorms and heavy rain showers are intermittent and dramatic. The rain can bring much disruption to the infrastructure, with flooded roads and frequent power cuts. It is difficult to escape the rains, with the one exception of Ladakh. However parents should be aware of the high altitudes in this region.
However, make sure to check a climate chart before booking your trip and choose your dates and destination wisely; exploring Rajasthan in 45C heat or navigating Kerala in the monsoon rains with small kids is never a good idea!
Holiday destinations in India for families
Rajasthan for kids
Home to pink palaces and blue cities the state of Rajasthan is a great place to start your Indian adventure. It’s also India’s most popular destination with a well-functioning tourist infrastructure. You can ride a camel in the Thar Desert, paint an elephant’s trunk, scout for tigers in Ranthambhore National Park and more. Rajasthan is also home to some of India’s most family-friendly festivals including Holi, the Pushkar Camel Fair and the Jodhpur RIFF. Have a look at these family-friendly hotels in the city.
Delhi for Kids
The chaotic capital of New Delhi is a fascinating place to explore. Take a look at our list of Things to do in New Delhi with Kids.
Agra for Kids
You can’t come to India and not see the Taj Mahal! India’s most famous monument is truly impressive and you should visit Agra Fort while you’re there as well.
Kerala for Kids
Mellow Kerala in southern India is a fantastic family holiday destination and an easy place to travel with kids. One of the highlights is floating along the region’s backwaters is on a traditional Keralan houseboat.
Goa for Kids
Like Kerala, Goa is an easy place to travel with kids, home to palm-fringed beaches and a range of accommodation options. Try these family-friendly hotels.
Assam for Kids
Searching for rhinos in the Kaziranga National Park is an amazing experience for the whole family. Base yourself at Diphlu River Lodge.
Jammu & Kashmir for Kids
The hill station of Gulmarg, in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, has gained a reputation as one of Asia’s top ski resorts, home to waist-deep powder snow, near-empty ski runs that go for miles and miles and some of the most affordable skiing in the world. Gulmarg often suffers from political unrest, make sure to check the security situation before travelling.
The Himalayas for Kids
Once you’ve found your feet, consider a jeep adventure from Srinagar in Jammu & Kashmir to Leh in Ladakh, like this one.
Your complete packing list for travelling to India
Depending on where you are in India, you can get a lot of the things you might need but prices may be higher than at home and your favourite brand might not be available. The following may be useful to pack:
- Diapers / nappies are available but quality can be variable
- Swim diapers / nappies are not easily available
- Bottles, infant formula, microwave sterilising bags or cold water sterilising tablets
- Canned, bottle or squeezy packs of baby food.
- A portable baby cot, such as this lightweight one by Phil & Ted’s, is a great investment. Hotel cots may not be available (or may not be up to the standard you’d like!)
- A backpack or baby carrier is a much better option for smaller kids than a pushchair, particularly in cities or busy areas. Pavements are scarce and kids get a much better view if they are on your back!
- Water wings or some kind of floatation device for novice swimmers if your hotel has a pool.
- Good, sturdy shoes.
- Suncream and child-friendlyinsect repellent
- Books, games and electronics
Still unsure if India is right for your next family holiday? This is a great post from Travelynn Family on the realities of travelling in India with small kids.
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