International travel with kids is both a rewarding and an intimidating experience. While the logistics of navigating new places, cultural norms, languages and foods with little ones can be trying, experience has shown us that kids that travel early are more adaptable, flexible, and open-minded adults. Plus, even mum and dad deserve a break sometimes!
As a parent who has traveled around the world with her kids (3 and 6 years), I don't judge child-friendliness by the availability of high chairs and organic baby foods. Yes, those things certainly help, but to me child-friendliness is an attitude, a collective state of mind that pervades a culture: Are people welcoming of children, no matter how small the space? Are there opportunities for children to play and to learn? Is family a central part of how people spend their time and resources?
By that token I have found that some of India's neighbors to be the most family-friendly places in the world, and also very interesting places to visit to boot. Some of the others on this list are a little further, but still a manageable flight away. So here we go:
1. Singapore: Singapore is every parent's dream vacation. It's safe, easy to get around, offers all types of cuisines, great shopping, and is probably the most kid-friendly place on the planet. Restaurants will welcome little ones with plastic plates and cups, malls have indoor playgrounds and entertainment centers like Universal Studios and Marina Bay Sands will keep the whole family entertained for a week! You can even take a helper if you are so inclined, or find one there for a short period. Domestic help is a common feature in Singapore.
2. Dubai: Less than a three-hour flight away from India, Dubai is similar to Singapore in that everything is built-up and well maintained and therefore easy to navigate with children. You can spend an entire day at the Dubai Mall with the Ice Rink, indoor skiing, Kidzania and the plethora of stores and eateries (if you have a sweet tooth try all the patisseries on the lowest level – you won't be disappointed). The Atlantis is another great place to spend a weekend with the kids, with its beaches, pools and Water Park. Finally, if you actually want to soak in some culture, head to the many souks or out to a desert safari (suitable for kids over 10 years of age).
3. Italy: Italians are similar to Indians, in that they love their food and their mums! Family is a big part of the culture and children are welcome everywhere. While the big cities are crowded and the hospitality is harder to sense, getting out into the country or by the coast is a whole different experience. Italy is not a direct flight from India, but with a quick stop in Dubai, Istanbul or Frankfurt, you'll have beaches, great wine, and nonna's homemade pasta ready for you to feast on!
4. Sydney: You can now fly directly to Sydney from New Delhi on Air India, and although it's not a particularly short flight, you'll be pleased to find that once you reach your destination you will be greeted with the warmth of the Aussie sun and its people. (Make sure to wear sunscreen – the UV rays here are particularly potent). If you stay in Sydney you will be treated to a city that thrives at just the right place to keep it interesting, yet not overwhelming, boasting kid-friendly harbor beaches with calm waters or the bustling BondiBeach at the Pacific Ocean. Culture fiends will revel under the arches of the world-famous Opera House and adventure lovers can climb to the top of the Harbour Bridge. If you crave open spaces you can head up or down the coast and swim in untouched waters, venture north towards the Blue Mountains or south to Melbourne, Sydney's rival city with a charm and culture of its own.
5. London: London is a huge metropolis, rich in history and culture. But those who assume that large cities cannot be kid-friendly will be proven dead wrong by London. It's not just that kids under 10 can travel free on London transportation or that black cabs can fit strollers in without a fuss, it's that London has some of the most amazing activities and events for kids, all year around. Take for example the Natural History Museum which is free, or the Victoria and Albert Museum which offers individual trails for kids to follow throughout the museum (also free) or the number of theater performances for children. In the summer, London's myriad parks are thronging with tourists and locals alike, picnicking, boating, playing football or attending a concert. If you feel like a day out of the city, you can visit Windsor, Bath or Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare.
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