Travel Tips

I am a big fan of homestays, as opposed to staying in hotels, for several reasons and wherever possible, I try to see if any homestays are available. Homestays have many things going for them. For one thing, its an opportunity to stay with a local person who can point of things that the regular tourist may miss. Often, after a day spent roaming around, your host may be able to tell you more about the things you’ve seen, perhaps legends connected to them, perhaps local gossip, how such and such municipal office is letting a park rot, why the roads to a particular destination are so bad…All this makes you feel much more aware of the places you are going to.

Another major attraction for me is the food. Most homestays have a maximum of 7-8 rooms that they offer. With a smaller number of people to serve, and the homeowners either doing the cooking or overseeing it closely, food quality tends to be much better. Its also easier to get special requests catered to, for example, if you have small children, or if you are diabetic etc. Homeowners tend to treat you as a guest in their house and not just another room that needs to be catered to. Customisation is therefore not such a challenge. And – if your host is a great cook, you often get a chance to eat the local cuisine that tourist hotspots may not necessarily cater to. In India, many tourist places these days offer only the standard “North Indian” food, which can often mean poorly made greasy sabzis and upset stomachs. At the end of a hard day of wandering around, a home cooked meal can seem like heaven.

Homestays tend to be quieter, due to the smaller crowd. There are also homestays that have come up on different locations, such as organic farms, dairy farms, nurseries etc. Staying on these also helps one appreciate the interesting ventures that these owners are involved in.

So is it all good then? Well, the flip-side to a homestay could be that a lot of the experience really depends on the personality and character of the owner, unlike hotels where a standard experience is laid out that hotel employees are expected to adhere to. Maybe the homeowner has had a bad week. Maybe he/she is not physically upto par. Maybe he/she is just a jerk who really has no interest in treating people well. So some element of unpredictability exists.

Again, homestays may not offer all the creature comforts of a hotel. Some of them may not offer telephones in your room, some may not have television, some may not have enough staff to offer room service. You need to play this off against the fact that you are more likely to get out of your room and meet people. With communal meals around a table, we’ve often met some really nice people at homestays.

Again, not all homestays are equipped to cater to the needs of kids, older people, those with a medical condition. Some of them tend to be further away from the centre of town, since suburbs/ residential areas may be further away. In any case, its always better to talk to the owner beforehand, and check these things out. If the owner seems hesitant to share information, or spend time talking to you, its a good bet that they will be too busy to look after you when you are there!

Further, you can always check out some of the more organised ones at sites like Holiday IQ, and see what other visitors have to say. If you have a good experience, go on and write about it. Its a good way to promote small businesses. Two homestays that I would unhesitatingly recommend – the Hidden Forest Retreat in Gangtok, Sikkim which I’ve blogged about earlier, and the Taj Gardens at Yelagiri, a tiny hill station in Tamil Nadu. At the Taj Garden, noteworthy features include excellent food and an owner who can teach you all you want to know about the beautiful trees and plants on his property, and the birds that inhabit them !


What are you – an elephant or a bird?

Elephants take their young everywhere with them. Remember the elephant patrol in Jungle Book? Birds leave their young behind. My own experience as an Indian mother of a 20 month old, tells me you could enjoy being the elephant.

Yes, you have to fend for the baby all the time. But that is true even if you are at home with them. You will find them easier to keep engaged when you are out. The trick is to plan well ahead, choose the right kind of places and be adventurous enough to change the plans if need be.

While you take care of the usual adult travel criteria such as places of interest, weather, budget , clean accommodation ( mosquito free), running water ( with a geyser), here are some add ons when you have a baby with you:

Where to go
– Check if the place is “open” to babies? (there are places other than pubs that bar babies – eg Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. This is more when you are on to spiritual places/ spas)
– Explore hiring a cradle or pram- some resorts offer that option
– If you have a portable play pen/ cradle/ pram – carry it along only if you will find use for them.
– Ensure the trekking/walking time is not too long ( else pack in a baby sling)
– While you may like dogs, see that they are not gallivanting all over the place

How to go
– On the flight – request front seats with more leg room. Enjoy the attention that you get since you are with a baby! While take off and landing, either nurse the baby or carry some thing for her to munch . This will reduce pressure related ear aches.
– Buy your baby a separate seat if on a really long flight or ask for a baby basket if he is small enough.
– If travelling by train take a lower berth and let the baby sleep with you on the inner side. You could take turns with hubby since you will not be left with much space and end up with a bad back.
– Keep all essentials in you baby bag as hand luggage ( diaper/ wipes/ finger foods/ sipper or bottle/ one play thing/ book)

(Below, Anush has much fun on train!)


Mummummm- Food
Depending on the baby’s age – inform the hotel in advance that you will need some bland food – rice, roti, daal, boiled veggies
– If the baby is weaned, a heater at your disposal would help – so that you can warm milk/ water as per kiddo’s needs
– Carry a small battery operated hand blender , if your baby is still into soft foods – in India fresh food is always better than those bottled mashes
– Try and stick to meal times but do not fret if she ate fruit instead of cereal

Play and sleep
– Be prepared for some embarrassing moments- she may wail unprovoked, there may be an explosive scent from her diaper, etc. Everyone understands- so do not try to justify. If they do not understand they will when they have a kid.
– Do NOT force the child to do anything she is not ready for- she knows best- let her be. If one of you does it, she may be more interested eg. you can get into the pool and then she may want to splash about herself
– Day nap timings can change but ensure that the night bed timeline is met

Poo Poop
– You do find chemists and diapers even in smaller towns in India. Bottled water and tetrapacks of milk, biscuits, Cerelac, etc are all available in our land of plenty. SO carry some back up but try and buy largely at shops closest to your destination.
– Be a little less fussy about whether you need a Wipro or a Pampers or a Huggies. It is only a few days. Of course if your baby is allergic please be fussy.
– If your baby is not used to diapers, you could try nappy pads and also carry cloth nappies. But just throw them away once soiled. Saves the bother of washing and drying

Luggage-must carry
– Pack well but not unwieldy.
– Clothing- depends on the weather but about 3 per day will do fine and full pants for the night irrespective of the weather
– Toys/ Books- take a couple of the favorites and one not so explored one as well
– Carry the typical medication you would take even on short journeys- diaper cream, mosquito repellant, baby lotion, cough/ cold and fever medicines

Above all, do pack in a cool head, lots of love and a little patience and you will have a rollicking good time.