A story of love, loss and second chances by Nikita Singh, releasing this Valentine’s Day.
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Deenaz Raisinghani backpacked solo with her 16 month old baby across Europe. She says, “It was a wonderful bonding experience; we both had a lot of fun and learnt so much about each other!”
Someone has rightly said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page”. This thought holds a big place in our hearts and lives, as both my husband and I are passionate about seeing the world.
Having travelled to more places than he can count on his fingers, he introduced me to the exciting world of backpacking travel. We started travelling extensively right after we got married, and began with exploring India and later started venturing overseas. We believe more in the concept of ‘travelling like locals’ in a foreign land. Therefore, we have mostly always done backpacking trips, and have planned our own itineraries.
I delivered a baby girl in March 2015, and when I conceived her, I had a strong desire to take a trip alone with her before she was two years old. I wanted to experience our first moments of bonding as mother and child away in a beautiful land, all by ourselves.
After she was born, and owing to our Army postings within the country, we started travelling very frequently with her.
Her first overseas trip was to Bhutan when she was just seven months old. We hiked up a mountain (Tigers Nest, Paro) with her on our back, and she had a really nice experience and took it quite well. That is when we realised that she too enjoys travelling with us a lot.
In December 2015, I took her with me for a mom and baby trip to Bengaluru and also attended the NH7 Weekender music festival with her. Though she was only nine months old at the festival, she and I had an amazing time. This trip was to test the ground for my upcoming plans to far more distant places, and I saw that she enjoyed this experience as well. I knew we were ready for our first backpacking trip with a baby!
In July 2016, my husband Ashish, my 16 month old (then) and I set off for a backpacking trip across seven countries in Europe.
We planned for it for around a month, bought point to point tickets on Eurail, and booked youth hostels (through the Hostelling International network) and BnBs (through airbnb.com) for our complete stay. We did not book a single hotel or anything more than our budget allowed us. We carried a few essentials for the baby, two rucksacks, and a baby stroller for our trip, and we were set to go. Our route covered the following cities: Delhi, Istanbul, Stockholm, Helsinki, Oslo, Copenhagen, Paris, Tubingen, and Berlin.
We had an absolutely amazing time. We travelled only by public transport (subway lines, trams and buses) and ate mostly fresh street food in every country, whilst allowing ourselves entry to the higher priced museums, and monuments that we really wanted to see.
We did not take a single taxi, even though we were travelling with an infant and sometimes, it was tough to lug her and the luggage when we were hurrying to catch trains and flights to all these places. However, we had kept this as a rule to challenge ourselves with backpacking throughout the trip. It worked and how!
She adjusted to this beautifully, and since we did not carry any baby food with us, she ate street food and whatever else was available with us, and relished it too. We made so many local friends during our travels who were extra sweet to us with the baby around. We were absolutely on track with the budget we had planned, and did not miss out on anything we wanted to cover. In fact, I got back the emergency 100 Euros I had kept in my rucksack, and we laughed about all the food we could have eaten with this money!
My husband had to go back to India from Berlin, Germany as his leave was over, and I stayed back with the baby to backpack further. This part of the trip was what I had planned to do since I conceived her, and I was super excited to try it.
I noticed during the trip to all these foreign lands, that there was not a single Indian mother who was out backpacking with their baby, and that is what I wanted to change. I covered Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and Frankfurt with my daughter Arianna. My 16 month old and I, continued taking the European trains like the DB Regio, ICE (Inter City Express), SL Regional as well as the local city trains known as the U Bahn, the S Bahn, the buses and the trams.
Backpacking travel and regular overseas travel has a basic difference: you are pretty much your own beast of burden throughout the trip! So this meant that I alone, was responsible for my luggage and the baby throughout the rest of the journey, without the comfort of taxis and concierges at hotels.
To manage my travel effectively, I had a rucksack with me on my back, and wore her in a baby carrier throughout this time. I also alternated with her in the stroller so I could walk and cover more places with the rucksack on my back and her in the stroller. Europe is best covered on foot, and my regular evening walks back home in India with the baby in the carrier really helped me.
We stayed at Youth Hostels at Hamburg and Cologne, and cooked our food in their hostel kitchens which are always amazingly clean and equipped with basics. Arianna easily managed to make friends with the local staff there. We slept on bunk beds in dorms and she co slept with me without any problems.
She had been eating German sausage or currywurst (their absolute staple dish), cup noodles, milk, local fruit and lots of fresh seafood from the street and supermarkets, and she fortunately never had an upset tummy. I love trying out local cuisine, and we made sure we tried every new thing we came across. We saved up on a lot of fine dining money, which helped us as we could use it to experience the cities even more.
We visited the riversides and harbours, including the famous Landungsbrucken harbour in Hamburg, and saw seagulls preying on fish.
We chased pigeons in the various European squares, relished German chocolate, travelled on multiple subway train routes, overground and underground to the various points around the cities and took buses and always met a lot of smiling faces.
We visited the Kolner zoo and saw giraffes, the African rhinceros, seals, penguins and so many different species of birds for the first time in my baby’s life.
We admired contemporary art and architecture at the museum, the Heinrich Hertz tower, and saw an organ concert at the Cologne Dom Cathedral which was breathtaking.
We also enjoyed soft ice cream cones and fresh fruit from the local stalls, and gorged on local German bread and cheese.
We played hide and seek in the youth hostels with their staff and fellow travellers, and danced at local music festivals in market squares.
We adjusted our tummies and palates to Asian noodle boxes bought from the local Hauptbahnhof (their central station) for dinner, and learnt to eat and enjoy almost anything.
We even visited the famous Hamburg red light district Reeparbahn and were amused at what all was on offer as we walked by it during the day. I even picked up some broken German to help me negotiate my daily travels in local transport, as English is not spoken by everyone there.
On this trip, mother and child bonded like friends, and understood each other from so early on in life. I think I found me my best friend.
Throughout my trip, my eyes scoured around for more cultural exchanges with fellow travellers, and it is always nice to see a fellow backpacker from India. Honestly, I did not spot any solo mom with her baby at the places I went. Mothers and fellow wives, I would like to tell you that it is absolutely possible to take that dream trip with your child, and one should definitely start early on in life. Kids will adjust to anything as long as you make a routine of it, and we have tried our best to make backpacking travel a routine affair for her.
There is absolutely no need to stock up on baby supplies except the absolute essentials, as everything is available around the world, and it is really good for the baby’s immunity if you want to introduce them to real food from all over just so they can adjust to different tastes, and not cry for their dal khichdi and milk bottle. (You do not have to carry a pressure cooker trust me!)
More than anything, travelling alone as an Indian woman with your little baby, and making sure you both have a good time gives you a kind of self-confidence that only travel can. Those moments are what I will always cherish as they ended up teaching me a lot about myself, and my child. You start seeing your kid in a different light and appreciate the patience and bond you both develop as mom and baby. I don’t even have to elucidate how much exposure your baby gets early in life, and the new sights, tastes, people, and cultures, will only make them more sociable, and a better placed human being as they grow up in this multicultural World.
So all you mommies out there, just pack your bags and baby, and get set go!
A version of this was first published here.
Images credit: Deenaz Raisinghani.
I am an Indian mom to a lively three and a half year old. Married
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