As a family, we love to travel. Over the years our two daughters – Trijaa (7) and Shubhda (5) – have gotten accustomed to the long drives, waking up early amidst sleep, not having favorite food.
So, when the school went online due to the pandemic last year, we thought it was wonderful opportunity to explore our country extensively. In October, when Covid-19 eased and classes were still online, we started this 6-months long 26,000 kms road-trip from Delhi and travelled to 15 states. We covered over 600 places including temples, forests, monuments, museums, deserts, beaches, waterfalls, etc. And we did this while our children attended their school online.
Most of our time went in exploring villages of Thar desert in Rajasthan, Kutch, the Gir forest in Gujarat, national parks of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, temples in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The best part of the trip, however, was the seven weeks we spent in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. A major reason for choosing villages and small towns was to avoid crowded places. We wore masks and took sanitisers at all places, and stayed in homestays. The girls were thrilled to have most of these places to ourselves as there were hardly any tourists.
Challenges during the travel
As we would be on the road, we planned for kids’ classes and bought SIM cards of all telecom companies, car chargers for laptop, portable table-chairs to setup class anywhere, and headphones so that the kids were able to attend classes, simultaneously. However, no matter how much you plan in advance, there are bound to be issues that crop up on ground.
Our first challenge was balancing exploration of a new place, classes, and homework. The classes, which were from 9.30 am till 1 pm, took half a day, leaving only little day time for exploration. The other challenges were arranging printouts and other material for classes and ensuring homework were done on time.
Our solution to this was starting our day around 6 am for local exploration, so that we didn’t waste day light. We would return back to the hotel by 8.45 am, just in time for the girls to settle down for the classes. Rest of the exploration would continue thereafter. Our kids enjoyed crowd-free visits, and further connected to nature by witnessing sunrise from various locations with birds chirping in the cool breeze.
In case, we were travelling to the next destination, we started our day at 7 am (after cooking and packing breakfast) and stopped on the way someplace, which was quite and had network like temple, monument, restaurant, parking lot or even safe roadside, for the duration of the classes. While kids attended classes, I would catch up on my office work.
The girls did, however, still miss some classes and assignments. However, we were relieved when teachers remarked to us towards the end of the sessions “we never felt kids were on the move. They were always very focused!”
Our second challenge was their health. In the initial five to six weeks in Rajasthan and Gujarat took a toll on kids and excessive exposure to sun, sand, erratic eating and eating out, caused skin/ hair damage. So, we headed home and took a break for 10 days before embarking on the next leg of travel. During this time, we got an electric pressure cooker from Amazon to cook and pack their favourite food anywhere we stayed. This wasn’t same as cooking at home, but it helped significantly.
Next challenge was to keep them motivated and entertained, especially during long drives or walks. I must confess, this part wasn’t easy. While it helped that the girls kept each other company, being creative and understanding your children’s likes is very important. We played their music, kept toys and games handy, made space for them to sleep, invented games like keeping count of passing cars of a given colour, or whoever closed their eyes for a longer time would win a prize.
On hectic trails, we motivated them by promising rewards. For instance, on the 6 km Ahobilam trek in Andhra Pradesh Shubhda gave up midway. As we knew her obsession with bandaids having fun design, we promised her one on completion of the trek. She completed it with enthusiasm, and demanded her reward immediately.
In spite of these challenges, the good part was travelling made the girls connect better to their curriculum. They experienced, firsthand, things being taught at school like Indian states, types of house, water bodies, life cycle of a river, different modes of transport, animals and trees. In one instance, their class was on a virtual train ride across India, and Trijaa completely related to each stop like Rajasthan with sand and camels.
They also got the opportunity to be around animals. For instance, they experienced milking a buffalo, held a sheep, touched emu, elephants and camel, and even rescued a tortoise that was on the road. During the trip, they observed how crops grow.
As they had learnt about ill-effects of single-use plastic at school, they were particular that we refilled water bottles, and avoided plastic wrapped food during the trip. They also learnt common greeting and basic numbers in other languages, as they made new friends wherever we went.
Overall, it was an enriching experience for them as they connected with nature live, instead of reading it in textbooks. The trip has made the girls confident, appreciate nature and our heritage, and accept differences in cultures.
Tarun Kumar Bansal is founder of SafeOKid, a baby safety products company, and co founder of Sagacious IP, an intellectual property research and consulting firm.