Jaipur

A few weekends ago we took our first trip out of Delhi. This sounds like a simple thing: take a long weekend to see some of the many interesting sights within driving distance of the capital. And if we were still in Europe, it would be quite easy to skip on over to a place like Jaipur, the gorgeous pink city of Rajasthan, just 160 odd miles southwest of Delhi.

But it’s India. So that kind of trip involves taking a very long train ride at the crack of dawn or hiring a driver familiar with the area to make the 5+ hour trek with you. Why, might you ask, does it take 5+ hours to go 160 miles? Well, because the highways are really more like rugged streets filled with trucks and camels. From the back our our minivan it felt like we were on an off road adventure. A really, really long off road adventure.

palace for the ladies of the court to watch the city life

But we made it. And although just as dusty and hazy as Delhi, Jaipur was gorgeous with it’s salmon-pink walls and painted elephants. And it was a suprisingly kid friendly trip. Our first stop, after settling in to the quaint little hotel Madhuban: the city palace.

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We did a guided tour, saw some snake charmers, then hit up the handicraft hall for some souvenirs. Oh, and we sold The Babe off to a local weaver to help pay for the trip.

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That night, we made a stop at Chokhi Dhani, a recreated Rajasthani village, complete with games, food, entertainers, elephant rides and a playground for good measure. It felt a little bit like an Indian version of Ocean City, or maybe how Disney would interpret an Indian village. But the kids loved it.

The next morning we got up early to ride an elephant up to the Amer Fort. This was definitely the most touristy part of our trip, but also totally awesome. I mean, when an elephant is offered, you take it.

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But by far the highlight of the trip was Elephant Polo. Yep, that night we drove out to an old hunting lodge turned into polo grounds so I could climb a ladder, sit on an elephant and try to knock around a soccer ball with a very long stick. After sipping gin and tonics while my kids fed camels. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

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If you want to get in on the Elephant polo action and see the pink walls of Jaipur, here are a few tips:

– We stayed at the Madhuban, a beautiful old haveli with very friendly staff and a nice garden. But this place seems like an even better option.

– The elephant polo portion of the trip was booked through Csar Tours. Beaty is a gem and she will help wrangle together lodging, train tickets, driver…whatever you need.

– If the kids need to burn some energy, we drove by a nice looking playground at Nehru Children’s Park. Sometimes they can only take so many hours of historic fort exploring before demanding something FUN.

– Food is SPICY, and lunch and dinner are much later in India. Pack lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the littles. And hand sanitizer. Lots and lots of hand sanitizer.

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The Truth About Traveling with Toddlers

Right before we left Vienna, we spent three weeks road tripping through Europe with Cletus and The Babe. One week in Slovenia, a short break back home, then 2 weeks through Croatia. It was an ambitious agenda by most standards, but probably sounds absolutely insane to anyone with small kids. Just getting to the grocery store and back with those animals is usually adventure enough. But, crazy world wanderers/gluttons for punishment that we are, we just couldn’t leave that part of the world without checking some stuff off our list first. So we hit the highway, packed to the brim with snacks and travel cribs and coloring books and DVDs (thank GOD for the DVDs). We saw castles and medieval cities, hiked through lush forests and felt the spray of magnificent waterfalls. We sat on rocky beaches met by stunning turquoise waters and drank cold beers while the kids looked for seashells. It was glorious.

Except when it wasn’t.

The thing about traveling with very little people is that while you will certainly have moments so perfect and spectacular that you can hardly believe your luck, mostly your time on the road will look like this:

I'M IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION!

And this:

human pack horse

And this:

vacation is so much fun!

There will be tears. Someone will probably vomit. At some point you will want to burn your passports and forsake vacations completely until they’re 25.

Yes, when you have kids, what you used to call “vacation” instantly becomes The Amazing Race: Toddler Edition, full of roadblocks, insane challenges and stretches of time spent running through crowded tourist areas searching for something (a missing blankie, a dropped pacifier, a wandering child). Has this slowed us down? More than a bit. But I look at it this way: would I rather deal with another tantrum in my living room, or while sipping crisp white wine on the rocky Croatian coast?

The key to winning when you’re traveling with the under 3 crowd is embracing that Amazing Race mindset and rolling with it. For all the people out there wondering how we do it, here’s a brief look at our strategy:

Pack a multi-purpose arsenal of supplies.

The kids get to bring their blankies, a favorite stuffed animal, and a few small toys. Otherwise we try to go minimal, with a few helpful supplies thrown in – things like tin foil (to make instant blackout shades, wrap leftovers, entertain the tots with swan sculptures) and painter’s tape (homemade stickers, matchbox car roads, makeshift babyproofing on arrival). A small bottle of dish soap is critical (washing sippy cups, stained clothes in a pinch). Basically, if MacGyver had kids, this is what you’d find in his suitcase.

Book an apartment.

My husband and I fondly remember a time long ago when the first things we did upon entering a hotel room were crack open the minibar and flop on the bed. Maybe then we’d unpack, but not before sitting on the balcony for a while, contemplating dinner options. These days we swing open the hotel room door and launch into a SWAT-style sweep for baby hazards while simultaneously assessing optimal Pack-n-Play locations and checking to see how early we can get breakfast the next day. Or we just book a centrally located apartment through AirBnB and save ourselves a lot of headaches.

Adjust your expectations.

Do not plan on a 3 hour historical tour or a meal at the coolest restaurant in town. Do not even assume you will make it to all the major landmarks at your destination. Do ask around for playgrounds or green space near some of the things you’d like to see, and split your time between the two. Street food will be your best friend – easy, quick, and no big deal if they spill. Let the little guys take naps per usual and chill out for a while in front of foreign language cartoons (it’s educational!).

And remember: even the most well planned, toddler-proofed trips can and will go awry. Like that time in Mallorca when it rained for 3 days straight, the power went out, and the bed collapsed when I threw myself on it in despair. Or that time on the way home from Crete when Cletus, strapped to my chest in the baby carrier, puked so profusely that the vomit streamed down my chest and pooled at my feet while I waited at the baggage carousel. Or that time we drove 7 hours to the Croatian border only to realize we forgot our passports. That was a good one.

But when mayhem ensues, please remember that there will be moments of unparalleled beauty and days of awesome discovery. And wine. Lots of crisp white wine.