In my quest to find inspiring and candid travel stories and a need to challenge the status quo, I came across an article featuring IshqInABackpack, a blog documenting the travel adventures of New York City-based writers Sona Charaipotra and Navdeep Singh Dhillon, along with their two globetrotters-in-training–Kavya and Shaiyar.
Whether they’re discovering new things in their own city, travelling across the States or hopping on a plane to a new country, their sense of curiosity follows them wherever they go.
Desi Globetrotter finds out more about Sona and Navdeep, their thoughts on travel, favourite places, and challenges they have encountered:
Places You Have Travelled Together as a Family:
Hawaii, Puerto Rico, New York City, lots of road trips, hiking, and camping in California and New Jersey
Style of Travel:
Deliberately slow. We like to rent houses in real neighborhoods, staying in one or two places and getting to know the place and people, rather than rush around.
Best Street Food You’ve Tried:
Panj Pani Gol Guppas in Punjab and Aloo Ki Tikki Burgers just outside of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, with lots of tamarind and mint chutney, and pickled onions. YUM!
Most memorable moment with the kids while travelling:
Our then four-year-old daughter excitedly leading three generations on a hike through a rainforest in Puerto Rico!
Next place on your travel bucket list:
We’re leaning towards Costa Rica, but at the top of Sona’s list has long been Greece, particularly Santorini.
In Conversation: Travelling as a Family
Sona, you were born in Iran and raised in New Jersey and Navdeep, you were born in England, raised in East and West Africa, the Middle East and United States. Do you think your early childhood had an influence on your wanderlust or did the love for travel build up over time?
Navdeep: “I think it’s a combination of the two. Living in so many different places in my childhood made me feel quite comfortable in transit and with being surrounded by different cultures and languages. I joined the U.S. Navy straight out of high school solely for the adventure and travel. Then went to China to teach ESL for two years and both of these things were to feed the wanderlust that will always be in me. Staying put is very hard as I constantly get itchy feet. We now live in an incredibly diverse neighbourhood in Jersey City, and our daughter (who is 5 now) thinks it’s absolutely normal for people to have roots in other countries, speak several languages, eat a variety of food (her favorite is Ethiopian), and she takes pride in her own culture as well as others.”
Sona: “I grew up with a very different travel style than Navdeep – we’d jet off for about ten days, and it was very much a structured, guided-tour type of thing. Or we’d go visit family in Delhi, being shuttled from one relative’s house to the next for the entirety of our two-week trip. So backpacking with Navdeep through India was a bit of a shock to my system. I was more into the idea of palaces converted into posh hotels than a shack on the beach (or a tree house, for that matter)! But I learned to accept it and find the fun. Now we’re definitely more of a hybrid – backpackers with the penchant for occasional indulgence.”
Now that you are a family of four, did you have any reservations about travelling with two children under five? What are some of the concerns you had before travelling and how do you feel about it now?
Navdeep: “My parents travelled with me from England to Tanzania when I was a week old, and Sona’s parents took a road trip from Iran to India through Afghanistan back in the 1970s, with the kids unseatbelted in the backseat like in an old Bollywood film. We’re not as wild as our parents, but safety was low on our list of concerns. We were more concerned about enjoying our travels together instead of being stressed out, especially with long haul flights and overscheduled vacations.
In the U.S., the term “family friendly” has always struck me as odd because the assumption is that the default is family unfriendly, which we haven’t found to be true at all, but it was a concern when we started planning family adventures. As a couple, we were able to be spontaneous during our travels, but as parents, we don’t have a choice but to plan some things out in a futile effort to contain the drama.”
This blog is about independent travel through a South Asian lens. From your experience, do you think South Asians take advantage of travelling, working or living abroad compared to other cultures?
Navdeep: “I’ve never understood the assumption that South Asians don’t travel. I grew up all over the world and there has always been a sizable Indian community everywhere I’ve lived. A huge part of the perception is the colonial lens that we are used to viewing as normal. People from brown and black nations who move to Europe or North America, are called immigrants, while white people moving anywhere are simply expatriates.
South Asians have been traveling for work as part of the legacy of colonialism, where the idea that our own countries and traditions and even language are ingrained into us as inferior, undesirable, and western education and English markers of class and upward mobility. Travel for leisure, self-discovery, spirituality, and simple curiousity, and spiritual travel are revered in our epics and religious texts. But this kind of travel goes against the legacy we are used to, and it leads to the assumption that people of color don’t travel.
Through blogs, and social media, this perception is changing. Again, it’s not that any other culture travels more, it’s that we are by design not supposed to want to travel for leisure. It’s something that is slowly changing, but I don’t think we’re behind compared to other cultures.”
One of the most common concerns people have about travelling as a family are the costs associated with travel – from airfare to hotels to food and excursions. Do you have any tried and tested budget tips, travel hacks or advice for families?
Navdeep: “Kids don’t care if you’re going to Milan or two towns over from where you live. They just want to have an adventure. It’s up to you to plan something budget friendly and fun. We love road trips because they’re cheap, flexible, and they are a great way to test the waters before a big trip, especially when you have little ones. We often take the train on little trips, and are constantly on the lookout for cheap domestic trips.”
Sona: “I think things like AirBNB and HomeExchange are godsends – having a kitchen on an extended trip is a necessity with little kids, and usually you can afford a whole house or apartment for the cost of a tiny hotel room. And yes, avoid “hangriness” at all costs by packing snacks (and water) or planning meals ahead. Nowadays, with smart phones, there’s no excuse for settling for mediocre food. A little research could lead you to a meal that’s the highlight of any trip. (As you can tell, I’m very food focused)! Read reviews. And write reviews. You’re helping other travelers make fun discoveries, too!”
How has your personal definition of travel developed over the course of your many adventures?
Navdeep: “It’s constantly evolving and it keeps getting better. When I was a solo traveler, I liked flying by the seat of my pants, talking to all sorts of strangers, sometimes changing travel plans. I didn’t have any reason to compromise. I would camp out, hitch hike, get drunk and stumble back to my cheap hostel without a working air conditioner.
When Sona and I started traveling, there were safety issues I never even thought about as a privileged male, cheap hostels were no longer an option, and we were in a bit of a bubble when we travelled, and because it was a bit more structured, there wasn’t as much outside spontaneity.
With the kids being so young, our travels have still been relatively adventurous: an active volcano in Hawaii, a rainforest hike in Puerto Rico, visiting a bioluminescent bay, going camping. Mainly, travel is about deepening relationships, having fun, exploring. Not about a checklist.”
For more family travel stories and fun adventures, visit www.ishqinabackpack.com.
Photo Credit: IshqInABackpack