This summer, let kids take charge of the holiday

For kids, aged 8-15, a vacation is no longer about just visiting a destination, but about finding meaningful activities that the entire family can engage with. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO
For kids, aged 8-15, a vacation is no longer about just visiting a destination, but about finding meaningful activities that the entire family can engage with. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO


In the inaugural piece of this monthly column, we look at ways in which we can empower our children, like asking them to plan the family holiday

It was the winter break of 2019-20, and we had just reached Dubai for a holiday. I was looking forward to four days of eating, sleeping and wandering about aimlessly. My daughter, though, had other plans. Nearly eight then, she had heard from a classmate about the adrenaline-packed dune safari the friend had embarked on with her family a year earlier. And we simply had to go for it. When we reached the location, we saw people zipping across the dunes on quad bikes. I caught my daughter looking at me expectantly. She wanted me to take her on a quad bike ride. Now, those who know me are well-aware I am a quiet being who likes quiet holidays and likes to go about them as quietly as possible. I tip-toe around any sort of high-adventure activities like a person would around a team of leeches in the monsoon.

I couldn’t believe that my own flesh and blood would ask me—a person, who despite taking driving lessons several times, is still petrified to take the car out, afraid that a group of cyclists would crash into her —to drive over a dune, zipping through lines of frenzied quad bikers. After receiving a mini-lecture from my mother about growing up and behaving like a parent, I faced the inevitable and sat on the quad bike.

Many things happened within those few minutes—the brakes didn’t work, I nearly crashed into someone—but the most surprising bit was that I was no longer afraid. It might sound cliched, but it was exhilarating to have the wind in the hair (and sand in the mouth), zipping through waves of dunes, with an ecstatic daughter squealing with delight throughout.

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As the biking trip ended and the dune safari started, initially, I worried through every jump and turn that the vehicle took: “Is my daughter okay?", “Is she going to throw up?", “Is she dizzy?" But I was worrying needlessly—she thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

That trip was the first of many when my daughter took charge of planning activities for a holiday. Since then, we have competed to race up a mountain covered in inches of snow, sledged down a hill, tried picnics by the river, visited immersive art experiences, found unique culinary experiences that combine music and food, and more. There is also a list ready for future holidays: visit the D23 Expo in the US, which is the ultimate exposition for Disney fans, try dumpling folding and pasta rolling, learn Ikebana, and go for a coffee tour through the Baba Budangiri hills in the Western Ghats.

All these years of having her take charge of trips have taught me a couple of things, the most important being that kids are not fragile. It is the parents who, loaded with concerns and anxieties, project their own fragility on them. We are constantly asking ourselves: Is this good for them? Will they be able to handle it? What if this activity is just money wasted and no one enjoys the holiday?

Children, on the other hand, are extremely resilient, and when they take charge of a situation, they start to feel empowered from a younger age. Even if the activity turns out to be a damp squib, they learn to plan better next time, paying better attention to details. I have closely observed my daughter’s process of holiday planning: it starts from something she has heard from a friend, or maybe an activity/book/art that she is interested in at that moment. That is then followed by research about how her own interests would intersect with travel experiences.

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Then the activities are planned out to the last detail, from how one would travel from the hotel to the destination, how to buy transportation passes, the restaurants closest to our hotel, and more. My role in this entire exercise is to see if the activity is age-appropriate, safe and suited to the budget.

For kids, aged 8-15, a vacation is no longer about just visiting an interesting destination, but about finding meaningful activities that the entire family can engage with. “This generation will grow up to be travellers, who can get the most value out of their trips. When we were kids, we would go wherever our parents would take us, and soak in the values that they were imparting through the holiday. Today, kids know exactly what value they want to get out of travel. They are exposed to a lot more ideas through the Internet and through peer interactions," says Prachi Kagzi, who runs Little Passports India, which organises personalised trips for kids aged 3-15, when accompanied by a parent or caregiver.

She started the company in 2015 to offer signature mom/dad-kid trips, but during the pandemic, started personalised tours for private groups. She often gets requests for trips for an entire class of children or for a group of cousins. Wildlife trips have emerged as the most popular kind. Her son, Arsh, 12, has been an integral part in the planning of the Little Passport trips. Based on his feedback, Kagzi can gauge if the itineraries are age-appropriate and engaging. Arsh plays an active role in planning the family holidays as well.

When he was 10, he wanted to go to a destination where he could get a scuba diving certification. “He had learnt that 10 was the minimum age to get such a certification, so we headed to one such destination that summer," says Kagzi. In the process of planning the holiday, Arsh also learnt to be mindful. For instance, when he was 8, he wanted to see the great migration in Africa. Kagzi explained in detail that this natural event took place only between July and August, and since a holiday to Africa is among the most expensive trips out there, the family might have to forego the summer holiday to accommodate the later one. “He has learnt to be conscious in the process. His choice of experiences is also interesting. This winter, we went to France for a skiing holiday. He wanted to go to Paris as well, so we opted for a day trip," says Prachi. Arsh’s list was ready: he wanted to visit the top of the Eiffel Tower; see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, and visit a stadium to see the Paris St-Germain football team in action.

Even finer things, like budgeting the activities according to the currency rate of the country you are visiting, helps children understand the value of money, and the need to spend wisely. I have seen kids acquire a sense of responsibility for everything from the travel adapter to documentation when they are packing. But most importantly, they spread this infectious child-like imaginative energy like fairy dust all around, making us adults feel spirited again.

Let the kids take charge of the holiday planning, even if you are not going anywhere in the break. Instead of beating yourself up that they might be disappointed, let them treat the vacation as a blank canvas, and be as creative as possible. During the covid-19 pandemic, when travel was restricted, a friend’s daughter spent the summer break creating “events" at home: a play-doh cafeteria, where her grandparents would come for some make-believe dining. During the winter break, earlier this year, my daughter and her friends spent days putting together Lego, doing archery at home, baking nearly-edible stuff for all of us and entertaining everyone with funny limericks.

And now as the offspring bounces into the room, telling me I might have to zipline somewhere high up in the mountains this year, I roll my eyes. But deep inside, the child in me, which lies dormant for most part of the year, is excited at the prospect of something new!

Raising Parents is a monthly column about art and culture ideas to inspire both children and adults

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