Four-year-old Khwaish Ghai’s birthday gifts have always gone beyond the ordinary. Instead of barbies and birthday bashes, she has been gifted experiences of a lifetime. They involved craning her neck to watch the gilded Eiffel Tower glittering away, cruising along in a houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala, trekking in Himachal Pradesh as the temperature dipped below zero degrees and strolling around in a pram through Dubai’s streets as the city’s behemoths towered above her head.
At age four, Khwaish has visited six countries and many parts of India. Who did she catch the travel bug from? Her mother, Silky Puri. “I desperately looked forward to summer holidays as a kid. I would go on many road trips with my father,” says the 32-year-old corporate professional. When she met her best friend, now life partner, during her teenage years, they happened to share the same passion and enthusiasm for travel, so they continued to see the world together. But when their daughter arrived the narrative changed. Her in-laws warned her that her life won’t be the same after a child. “If it’s a girl child, you will have to save up for her marriage,” she was told.
However, Silky didn’t believe in the traditional way of living. “My husband, Gagan, and I made a conscious decision to not save up for her marriage or invest in a home,” says the Gurgaon-based professional. She also decided to not let motherhood inhibit her from following her dreams and passions. “Mothers tend to give up their passion after a baby. But it’s important to love yourself and fulfill your wishes. When you’re happy, your child will be happy,” she says.
So, Silky didn’t waste much time after she delivered. On her maternity leave, she took off–just her and her daughter–for a holiday to Dubai. “It was this holiday that made me understand that you can totally travel with your child. We’d explore the city for nearly 10 hours, without Khwaish getting cranky. There were breast-feeding rooms everywhere, so we would stop when we had to.” Dubai was just the beginning. Every summer vacation and birthday meant a new place for them.
T for Travel
Beaches, mountains, trees, yachts–the words children learn by pointing to a photograph in a textbook, Khwaish learnt them all on her holidays. She’s seen Goa’s beaches, Jaisalmer’s deserts and camels, Amsterdam’s canals, Switzerland’s snow, Himachal’s majestic peaks, Singapore’s cruise lines and much more. “She also recognises monuments she has seen. When she watched Stuart Little, she pointed to the Eiffel Tower. She has also picked up languages. Instead of goodbye she says adios,” her mother laughs. The four-year-old has quite a refined palette as well. She loves cheese fondue from Switzerland, waffles and fries from Amsterdam and pasta and gelatos from Italy. To keep all the memories intact, the mother and daughter also maintain a travel journal.
Striking a work-life balance
Silky and her husband hold steady, full-time jobs. She also runs a blog on Instagram–mommytravelstories. Her love for travel and journeys with her daughter got her featured on Humans of Bombay. How does she manage it all? “While lockdown and remote working have made it easier, I usually block my calendar a year in advance. I set expectations with my manager, but at the same time, I am also mentally prepared to work at times. After all, you are managing a job and passion at the same time.”
Travel is learning
Silky has often been questioned for her choices of living in a rental home and not putting aside enough for her daughter’s future. “I am also often asked, ‘What’s the point of travelling with her at this age, she won’t even remember. But it’s not about the memory; it’s about the experiences. It’s all about how the brain develops when you receive that exposure. Khwaish stands out from the rest. Her vocabulary is brilliant. Her power of observation, communication and listening are unmatched. She can speak to anyone about nearly anything under the sun,” she says. “It’s also made her more adaptable to different climates and food. It helps her understand that she is not limited to one place. Travel helps children get out of their comfort zone. If these are the experiences I can add to her life, then I’d really rather not save up for her marriage.”
But how do they do it?
Planning, planning and lots of planning. Ask Silky if there’s a place that she thinks is more kid-friendly than the other, and she says, “Every place is travel-friendly as long as you do your research well.” But, there are a number of tips and tricks that help her make her travels easier:
- When travelling abroad, choose and AirBnB or a hotel room with a kitchenette. It makes the process of food preparation easier. Silky usually carries some basic grains with her.
- Try getting your child accustomed to food that is easily available everywhere. “Khwaish loves boiled eggs and cheese.”
- Go slow and pace your holiday. “Your child may not be able to keep up with the pace you followed on your holidays as an adult. So prepare to go slow and for things to not work out as per plan.”
- Choose an aisle seat. “This gives the child plenty of space to move around and doesn’t constraint them into sitting in one place, which could make them restless and cranky.”
- Choose airlines that provide you games and entertainment. “Lufthansa and Emirates offer some fun games and in-flight entertainment for children.”
- Similarly, check for special amenities at hotels. Game rooms, caretakers, nearby parks and any other child-friendly facilities.
- But carry your own games as well. “You can never really travel light with a kid. So, carry things to keep them entertained. It could be colouring books, toys or puzzles.”
- Plan your flight timings according to their sleep cycle. “A night flight could be more peaceful.”
- Lastly, ensure they are well fed, so they don’t get cranky. Carry a fruit or their favourite snacks.
- Explain your travel itinerary to your child. “You may feel that they may not understand, but they do. They will express their likes and dislikes to you.”
- “Let the child explore, so they can overcome their fears.”