I realised my love for travelling after I became a mother. I have always been a curious person as a child during my limited travels with my parents — I would get fascinated by historical monuments, museums and the like. This curiosity piqued me even further after I married Ashish, an Indian Army officer who is also an avid traveller. I was introduced to backpacking and budget travelling by taking several trips from the Siachen base camp to Ladakh, Pondicherry, Canada and South East Asia with him.
Our travels were always a shared responsibility, and I realised how dependent I was on him for the planning part. I also did not know how to drive back then. It is only when I went on a few solo trips that I started learning how to manage everything on my own.
When I was pregnant with my daughter Arianna in 2014, I started planning a trip to an international destination with her. My husband thought it was a great idea too but we did not disclose this to my family immediately.
After Arianna was born, I started preparing myself for the backpacking trip with her. I went on a trial trip with her to Bengaluru for the NH7 Weekender when she was nine months old. After realising that I could manage her independently, I picked Germany for my first solo parent trip cross-country.
In July 2016, I travelled across three cities in Germany with just a rucksack, a baby carrier, a portable baby stroller and my adorable one-year-old. I stayed in hostels and explored the cities entirely on foot and by public transport. We slept on bunk beds in private dorms and ate in hostel kitchens. All this while, I was still breastfeeding my baby, but I also introduced her to local fruit, bread, sausages and eggs. I saw that she enjoyed this experience completely. As for me, I was both overwhelmed and exhausted but incredibly happy and proud of pulling off this backpack trip with my baby in a non-English speaking country.
I kept communicating with my parents and husband back in India and made them see what a life-changing experience this was. They were initially concerned about our safety and the baby’s health, but once they saw my photos and videos, they understood how much we needed this as mom and baby.
After I returned to India from the trip in 2016, I started documenting my experiences in my blog, and my Instagram channel. I got a lot of positive feedback and queries from mothers across India asking me for tips. Soon, word got out solely through social media, and that is how I began to be known as the ‘Backpacking Indian Mama’. I started blogging more seriously in 2018, and now create content around backpack travel with kids on my Instagram channel and my blog.
To date, I have travelled to quite a few destinations with Arianna including Germany, Cambodia, Spain, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Goa and a few shorter trips. I also learnt how to drive both a two-wheeler and a four-wheeler. Today, I can confidently take her around wherever we travel without relying on anyone else.
Since I started backpacking, I had several mothers wanting to travel with me, and that is what inspired me to plan a venture like #backpackwithmom. So in May 2021, I met with and collaborated with a tour operator named FreeFolk, an eco-tour operator based in the North East. Freefolk and I worked on this project for months and we created a customized itinerary for this pilot project to the State of Meghalaya. I then announced this trip on my Instagram page and within 20 days, we were sold out.
There was an overwhelming response from mothers across the country who wanted to join us. We finally took along only six mothers and seven kids and travelled across Meghalaya by road.
I was very anxious about this first venture, as it was my first experience as a trip curator and I was responsible for taking along moms and children to a remote location in the North East. Concerns like medical emergencies, food availability, packing lists and the nature of the trip (which included camping, cliff jumping, kayaking, trekking) were handled by FreeFolk and me throughout the trip.
Fortunately, it all worked out beautifully. It was a five-day/four-night trip across four destinations in Meghalaya — namely Shillong, Shnongpdeng, Mawlynnong and Sohra. The idea was to expose them to outdoor travel and make mothers comfortable with travelling by themselves.
Since all mothers were travelling to the Northeast for the first time there were several concerns about language, food, packing essentials, culture and COVID protocol. We met as strangers on the first day and travelled together in one vehicle for almost a week. As we travelled across the State and indulged in various outdoor experiences together, we bonded so well and became friends in no time.
From camping with kids on the Indo-Bangladesh border, cooking river fish in an open fire and witnessing that borders are just in our minds, to trekking to a downhill waterfall and eating local food together, we did it all.
It was a refreshing experience for the children who got to breathe the fresh Meghalaya air and run wild in the outdoors after months of being locked up indoors and doing remote schooling due to the pandemic.
Exploring Asia’s cleanest village and learning about waste segregation to singing in the vehicle together every day, this experience just opened up doors for so many more mothers.
The mothers and kids were teary-eyed on the last day. They wanted to venture out into the world with their children. This trip seemed to have fulfilled that wish for them and has hopefully started them on their solo parent travel journey. The moms and kids continue to be in touch with us and wish to travel together again. We are in the process of planning more #backpackwithmom trips but are currently on hold because of the Omicron scare. There are lots of enquiries for future trips, and I am sure we will resume soon to take along more mothers and kids on unique backpack journeys.
Tips for travellers
Watching mothers who follow my tips, travel with their kids and then reading their messages after they get back safely, is one of my biggest wins.
But what I like most is hearing from mothers and young parents on my social media channels and helping them plan their trips. (I may have given more tips than I can even count to anyone who messaged or emailed me.)
1. My advice to mothers or fathers who wish to go on solo parent trips with their children is to just believe in yourselves first. There will be lots of voices around who may doubt the intention of the parent to take the kid alone, but once you are convinced of the purpose behind the trip, you just need to do it and see how it goes.
2. You can start with smaller trips within the country, or even within a State. Once the first trip goes off well, you can start planning more adventurous trips with your children.
3. Another piece of advice I would like to give is to read up on a lot of travel blogs, accommodation reviews from travel websites, and explore different kinds of stays like hostels and bed and breakfast stays as opposed to hotels only.
4. Book the travel early, then book accommodation and then plan the activities in that destination.
5. Try to include child-friendly activities in those destinations, and also have a buffer day at hand for any emergencies.
6. Another tip is to travel smartly and experience the destinations by taking public transport or walking around and meeting local people. Only when you meet locals, do you get to understand the layers of a place.
7. Try not to worry too much about food on the go and introduce them to different tastes as they are growing up.
8. My final advice is to pack as light as possible because if you are travelling as a solo parent, you will have to carry all the luggage yourself.
Travelling changes you for life, and if you introduce your child to it early on, they will truly thank you when they grow up.
My goal from the #backpackwithmom venture is to create a community of backpacking mothers in India who are not afraid to travel the world with their kids.
Backpack travel for families is still a very nascent concept in India. Through these trips, I wish to help as many mothers and kids by taking them along and making them travel the way I do, by introducing them to backpacking as a doable travel style, and by making them live their travel dreams even after they become mothers.
Nevertheless, I am ecstatic to see the love for backpack travel among Indian mothers over the last couple of years. Mothers are no longer afraid to take their children by themselves on the road less travelled.
Comments like: “Thank you for making me realise that I can live my dreams even after motherhood” — convince me that talking about the beauty of backpack travel was a good decision.
(Written by Deenaz Raisinghani who has also been featured in The Indian Express, Times of India, Travel and Leisure, Condé Nast Traveller, Women’s Web, Tripoto and has even delivered two TEDx talks about her journey as the Backpacking Indian Mama; Edited by Yoshita Rao)