Friday, May 16, 2014

TO GO or NOT GO ... to India

At the end of this year, we have our little cousin-sister's marriage that we have been asked to come to. And although IDEALLY I would like to return to India for a visit, there are so many factors that we need to think about first...

My main feeling is apprehension. I mean, we do have an active toddler to take into account here. Traveling 16+ hours by flight is hard enough for an adult, never mind a small child who has stranger anxiety. And I wonder, is this really the right time to go?

And then there is the COST. The Fall and Winter are the high season to go to India (because of lower temperatures, and every single friggin' Firangi guidebook instructs tourists to visit during that time) so the flight tickets are really expensive. Not to mention, we will have to pay for THREE seats, so that's several thousand dollars. Which honestly, I would rather put into her college education savings account....

None of our relatives or friends (besides my inlaws and a few NRI cousins) have ever visited us here. We have gone to India countless times over the last decade, spending thousands of dollars. Some have promised to come, others have not. Some did not even attend our wedding, despite us sending the proper documentation for visa applications (including our bank statements, which I would have preferred NOT to be public knowledge!) Sometimes I think people think just because we live abroad, we are made of money, and can just hop on a plane and go anywhere. And I also don't like how some people constantly ask for us to bring expensive electronics like iPad, iPhone - when just coming to India is costly enough for us. Can't people just be happy and appreciative to see us? Or are we just a FedEx vehicle to bring their latest electronics?

With my inlaws living abroad, and with thatha gone now - is there any reason for us to rush back to India...?

But, at the same time, I would really like to see my little cousin-sister's marriage. It will be a traditional Telugu wedding, which I've never seen before. This cousin is one of my favorite girls in the family - she is so sweet. And they want their brother (husband-ji) to come so badly.

I traveled a lot when I was younger, but my parents never took me to Asia until I was 8 years old - for the main reason that I was just too young for the flight.

Not to mention, if we do take her, so that everyone can "see" her, what will she remember? Wouldn't it be better to take her when she is older - when she can appreciate History?

But then, in January, Maya will probably start preschool. And we would like to have another baby at some point next year. So if we don't go this year, we may not get the chance to go for several more years.

I am really undecided on this. Ideally, I would love to go. But in reality, it is going to be expensive, we will have to take off work, and who knows if the traveling will be stressful for her (and us!), being a small child. But on the other hand, tons of people take their kids to India, even when they are babies (but that is usually to see their parents).

Before having children, it would have been an absolute YES. But after having children and having more work responsibilities, we need to do what is convenient for us. Not what is convenient for everybody else. 

- attending the wedding
- seeing relatives and Maya meeting everyone
- Maya would love the food (since she prefers Indian food)
- keeps both my daughter & husband-ji's connection to their culture
- good memories of the trip
- we can do all our Christmas shopping there

- COST!!!
- safety...?
- All of us may get sick 
- jet-lag
- Maya may have no memory of this trip
- inconvenient to take off work - timing
- Maya may have stranger anxiety and may get scared (like she did in Hawaii)
- seeing relatives that I do not like & dealing with crappy comments
- thatha is not there anymore
- could be years before our next visit

Who knows what we will decide.... We are going to Europe soon which will be like a "trial run" for traveling. She did great on the flight to Hawaii (which was 5.5 hours), but a 9 hour flight is another story...


What do you think, dear readers? Have you ever felt apprehensive traveling SO FAR with a young child? For those of you who have settled abroad, do you often face this dilemma of when is the right time to visit your homeland?



  1. My baby's not even a year old but we are planning on traveling to India this coming winter.
    Some points to consider: While we are not minting money here, we still do make and keep more money than our relatives in India. So I don't wonder why they don't come visit us. They simply can't. It also helps that my uncles and aunts are even unable to visit their daughters and sons here so for me its easier to accept.
    Also, part of traveling long distances is that children get used to it from an earlier age but, more importantly, the parents get used to dealing with these things. Baby used to cry every time we went out in the car but we still went out because the point is to slowly condition him and us.
    However, I am speaking about my plans. I don't have any experience in actually hauling baby to India at a young age. So I may change my mind and my advice once we've tried. So take my advice with a pinch of salt.

    1. We may be there at the same time! I have heard also that it is easier to take them when they are younger and before you have to deal with school schedules. I am mostly concerned about the flight. She did well on 5.5 hours recently, but 16-18 hours is so different. I agree with you on conditioning them and us for traveling. I hope the more we do it, the easier it will get.

    2. @Alexandra

      Here is some ideas to keep a child busy during long flights

      Hope it gives you some ideas. About asking for imported goods, it all started when NRI came to India loaded with foreign gagets and perfumes to flaunt them infront of
      relatives in India. It lead to lot of heart burn and envy and facination for imported goods for the heaven called "West".

      Modern amenities came very late to India. If you had landed in India in 1970-1980, you would have thought, you gone back into stone age. Every elctronic gadget was looked at with amazement. People with scooter and refrigerators were considered rich. Only government servants could afford telephones because the bill was paid by the government. The neighbourhood had one or two televisions. The entire neigourhood used to gather in the house of the TV owner, converting the drawing room into a mini theatre. People were amazed that a refrigerator could produce ice and keep things cool. It was like magic. A gas stove would be mean that you have move up in life as in many households cooking was done on coal stoves.

      Slowly, coloured TV, VCR, tape recorders trickled into our lives. We were fascinated by colour TV since it was more like real life. After 1990s, post liberalization, it became a deluge. Who could have imagined that a middle class man in India could afford a car. Times have certainly changed. Now, the facination has subsided a bit because you can get latest iphone, laptops and other goods within months of their launch outside India. I don't know why your relatives are pestering you for these goods.

    3. @anonymous - thanks for the great link! It is a good idea to bring surprise toys.

      Have you read this article? It is quite funny -->

      My hubby has a very unique sense of style that looks very expensive so I think people assume we are loaded LOL. Everytime we go someone wants whatever we have or wants us to buy something, I guess they like our style.
      Some of our family just recently got microwaves. My MIL still has the fear of the refrigerator and prefers to cook things fresh and she scolds me when I feed Maya leftovers!

  2. Reading your post makes me wonder how you deal with the countless questions of family members to take stuff. My inlaws family is huge and everyone would like something from europe. Dont feel like telling them a straight no. Dont want to offend anyone. How do you handle this?

    1. I really don't know, I feel so uncomfortable with people asking me for stuff. Sometimes I try to avoid it and say, "we will see, or we will try" and then I say, "oh sorry, I forgot" LOL.
      My hubby on the other hand hates the overweight baggage fees and says "no we do not have any room". It also depends on who is asking. If it is my inlaws or very close family members, he will try to take it. If not, he will be more rude and direct about it. I think he handles it better than me LOL!

  3. Hi Alexandra!

    Both my husband and I live out of our homecountries and even if we don't have kids yet we face the same dilemma about taking our vacation to travel there. In fact we haven't visited in 2 years.My mother came last year and she will return this one since she is retired and MIL will come this summer. FIL doen't plan to come yet, and we can forgot about the rest of the relatives who clearly will never come (from my side mainly because they need a visa and the process bores them).

    I don´t know what to tell you, is very difficult to make a choice without compromising something. You should try to talk it further with your husband and try to reach an agreement that satisfies you both.

    1. Thanks Mina, such great advice. I think I feel more lazy about it now since my inlaws aren't there anymore and come to visit us most of the time.
      My hubby feels if we have the money we will go, but I am trying to tell him there are so many other factors.

  4. I just wanted to say it's so refreshing to read your blog. I'm to marry a man from Pakistan, his family already flew in to meet me and everything. In a world and internet where one hears nothing but bad thats about inter-cultural/religious marriages, it's so refreshing to see yours worked's not to not always read the negatives :)

    Anyway, I think you should go if you can afford it. As you said, it might be years before you get another chance. Family is big in that culture so it's nice to show you're able to go be there. Of course if you can't, your reasons are justified :)

    1. Awwww thank you and thanks for reading! So exciting about you and your man! Congrats!
      Yes, my hubby says the same thing - that we should go if we can afford it. It is so simple for him to decide, maybe that's the right way...LOL. Sometimes I just think too much!

  5. Hey Alexandra!

    You have an interesting blog here. Nice family too!

    This is just my two cents, but I would suggest against travelling all the way to India with a toddler. As you have already mentioned, the cost is certainly a major factor--you would be better off putting that in Maya's college savings. As for observing a traditional Telugu wedding, please, they are just rituals with some elaborate rituals which most people do not even bother to understand yet practice for convention's sake. As you have probably experienced, the Mangal Sutra (tying of the sacred thread) is obviously the most important component of an Indian wedding. I personally feel that it is not worth to go all the way there just to watch these rituals. Surely, you could get or watch a video on Indian or Telugu wedding rituals on the internet as a cheaper and cost-effective alternative.

    Of course, it is always nice to attend a cousin's wedding, but rest assured that your relatives will not reciprocate your efforts travelling all the way there. The relatives will probably just expect you to visit each and every single time and they will never consider travelling here to visit you. This is not to offend any Indian readers, but this seems to be the mentality of Indian relatives by and large. You are also right to say that they also assume that we are loaded just because we stay abroad--another typical mentality.

    Most of these relatives you talk about probably won't miss you a bit if you don't go for the wedding, but they will probably complain about your absence when you do talk to them later. Besides, Maya is too young to remember most, if at all any, of this trip and I would not want her to get exposed to undue stress. It does not matter if it takes a couple of years before you get to visit India either--just take your time and focus your energy on your precious girl and family. Those relatives can always wait. Moreover, since you said the in-laws visit you, that in my personal opinion, is enough for you to keep in touch with relatives who truly matter and reciprocate your love and care as well.

    1. Thank you for your advice and thank you for reading!
      My main concerns are the cost and the flight.
      And also it will be such a busy time with the wedding, we may be able to "see" everyone, but not "see" anyone at all because it may be so busy. You know?
      Another major factor that has just been added is that my MIL will not be visiting Canada this year and I really miss her. I want her to see Maya too. So I may have to go all the way to India to see her since she will be helping with the wedding. But she may be really busy helping her sister.
      I doubt any of his family except our NRIs will ever visit here, ever LOL. There is this mentality in Eastern cultures that traveling is more of a luxury, when for us it is a necessity.

  6. Hi Alexandra,
    I love this post. It is exactly my dilemma too. I have three kids aged 6, 4 and 1.5years and we still haven’t taken the kids to India yet. Every time the topic would come up in the past I always felt my kids were too young to travel or I was expecting another one, so the idea got put off many times.

    Now our family is complete with three kids, so it is now a serious topic, but I still feel my youngest at 1.5 years is too young. My main concern is health issues as lots more vaccinations are needed plus protecting them against malaria. Then safety is a concern as toddlers want to run around and be free, not ideal in a city like Bombay where footpaths are broken with cracks and holes.

    My kids also don’t like loud noises or noisy places. I feel the whole experience may be sensory overload for them.

    Plus the cost would be at least $15,000 and I’m not even sure the kids would remember anything.

    I am lucky as my MIL travels here to Australia once a year to see the kids so the need to travel to India is less. I am hoping I can put off the trip until my youngest is at least 3.5 years old.

    In my thoughts I feel you should do what is best for your family and travel when you are ready. Maybe it is best to wait until Maya is older and is more adaptable; you will know when it is the right time.

    1. I feel if I put it off I may be in your position regarding the kids - I'd like to have another sometime next year and I am definitely not traveling until that next child is 2, LOL. So this is kind of our last chance for a while...
      I am also very concerned about vaccinations and malaria. I will have to go ask my doctor.

  7. I think you should go for the wedding, that way you could win everyone's love out there.

    1. hahahaha....winning everyone's love never stops! I think it would be nice for them to see what a good, attentive mother I am. I think they may not expect that due to certain stereotypes.

  8. Hi Alexandra - At the end of the day, I think you should do what is best for Maya. I don't have any kids but I think she might be too young to take such long and exhausting flight not to mention the vaccines and meds that she might need to take for her not to get sick. I took them all, was very careful about hygiene there and what I ate and I still got sick and I am an adult. Oh, and let's not forget the chaos when arriving at the airport. If she has stranger anxiety this might be too much for her. If needed, your husband can go as a representative for the family if you are concern about people getting offended at you guys for not coming.

    Odds are, Maya won't even remember a thing about this trip and grandma and grandpa visit often which are the most important relatives for her to get to know and love.

    It is indeed an expensive journey. My husband is 6'5 so if we can't pre-purchase 3 seats together in premium economy's more leg room section we have to bite the bullet and get 2 seats in business class. We had to do this back in 2009. That was a wallet busting trip. Is cheaper for us to bring his parents here so we do every year or so plus they enjoy leaving the searing heat for the mild east coast spring weather.

    And yes, people in India think that we are floating in cash just because we live in the US. But I must confess that people in my country are the same. Always expecting us to bring all sorts of things from here without taking into consideration how expensive is to visit them. We just say no. We bring little things for the immediate family in India but we don't take electronics, sneakers or anything bulky. We just bring something small that we know they will enjoy as a "we were thinking of you so we thought you might like this". They know we don't carry and we don't want them to give things to people from here visiting India so they could bring to us. We are very firm about that. NYC has Little India and Curry Hill. Queens has Jackson Heights and NJ has Edison. No shortage of Indian supplies here, something that his mother still has problems grasping.

    Don't get offended if they don't come all the way from India to visit; they probably cannot afford it but get offended if they do visit Canada and don't stop to visit you :)

    I say, put that money in savings or a college fund and postpone the trip until all of you are comfortable traveling to India. If you were sure now, you would not have any pros and cons :)

    Good luck dear,

    Mille B

    1. I totally agree....I feel she is too young. And also I get sick every single time, and when kids get sick it is just so hard, they have meltdowns and it is so stressful on the parents.
      I agree that grandpa and grandma are the most important relatives to get to know - they are what matters. But now I have just gotten word that my MIL will not be coming to Canada this year, instead she will be going for this wedding in India. I really miss her, I may have to drag our asses to India just to see her!
      It really irks me too about people thinking we are loaded. We don't even own a property yet because in Vancouver you can only get a 1000sq ft apartment for $600k, it is more expensive than NYC even! Not to mention, we love to travel. Meanwhile our relatives in India have properties and are floating in gold LOL.

  9. Hmm...

    Regarding the gift giving to relatives, you are not obliged to get gifts for everyone every single time you come to India. Maybe the first time but not every time unless somebody gives you money to buy something for them. I would leave your husband to deal with that part.

    For an average person in Asia, anybody living abroad is richer if you see the dollar conversion rate. That is wrong, but it is very very common. You see it form their viewpoint - you live abroad, travel to Europe and other destinations they cannot afford, have basic amenities (for them it is a luxury), you would count it as rich. I do find that attitude annoying and which is why, I prefer not to discuss my money at all.

    Also, you don't have to feel bad that people don't visit you. Most people would be glad that they do not have to put up with so many relatives ;) Maybe they can't afford it or they are intimidated living with you.

    I cannot make the decision but maybe you would need to think through certain things if you are travelling with Maya

    - Is she okay with noisy places and crowds? Many foreigners find that so disorienting. Weddings are chaotic and frantic.
    - Remember when you go to a wedding, it will be loud, chaotic, and 10,000 relatives will come and touch your child and pull their cheeks and surround her. Is she okay in such situations?
    - How is her immune system. Travelling to Europe is one thing, India is another thing.
    - There is jet lag.
    - The bride would have no time for you. They would leave you to be taken care of by somebody else.

    To me, I don't like weddings - they are loud noisy and chaotic & give me headaches. Anyways, the people getting married would have no time to talk.So, I would rather meet them in a much calmer environment.

    Also, going to India to means hanging out with my friends, eating food and doing things at my own pace. Weddings are the opposite. So, I avoid them.

    1. Ugh, yes but Europe is half the distance to Asia....a round trip to India is like two round-trips to Europe!
      You are so correct, maybe I am lucky that the annoying relatives do not visit me ;)
      Maya is pretty clingy and scared when traveling, She is at that stage where she is scared of big places. And also she does get sick sometimes, and jet lag...I don't know what I will do about that. I just hope that if we go all the way there, it won't be a huge headache.

  10. Can completely relate to people asking for expensive gifts! Thankfully my husband doesn't play that game and has a rule that if somebody is asking for a big gift they need to be able to afford the care and maintenance. For example, my father-in-law bought a motorbike for someone who didn't have a job and now always gets asked for repair costs and fuel money. There used to be a relative who constantly asked my in-laws for money, until he came to London and saw they lived in a small rented apartment because my father-in-law stupidly sent all of his money to India during his working years. That guy never asked for anything again.

    I get that we make more money than them, but we also have more expenses. It's very easy to live cheaply in India, while daily expenses are very expensive in Europe and North America. Not to mention they can afford hired help! The cost of traveling with a family to India is expensive and I'm sure you're like us and pay for everyone to do things in India - sightseeing, restaurants, etc. My in-laws have been in the UK 25 years and only two of their relatives have come to visit in that time.

    In some ways I think it's easier to go to India when your children are young because you can control what they eat more easily and prevention of sickness. If you are worried about the flight you could try to time it for overnight so your little one would (hopefully) sleep most of the time. If not, there's always Nyquil... just kidding! :)

    1. I totally agree - Vancouver is incredibly high in cost, just like London. We rent our apartment, and my inlaws are also in a small apartment renting. My FIL spends so much money per year on traveling and it hurts me personally to see others not appreciating his efforts, or thinking we are all loaded with money. I think a huge difference is that we prioritize traveling, whereas many of our Indian relatives think it is a luxury. For us it is a necessity of life.
      One of my friends said it is easier to go when they are young before they get into a school schedule. Someone also suggested to drug them with Dramamine! LOL :D

  11. Hi Alexandra,

    Nice blog! I found it a few months ago and have really been enjoying, especially since we are in such similar boats. I am from Canada (Montreal), my husband is from India (neither north nor south... he's from Maharashtra/Goa), but we live in San Francisco. We also have one child so far (10 months), with a second already on the way. We also both happen to have fairly open-minded parents... So while there are a lot of interesting cultural differences and some moments of frustration with in-laws, etc., there has never (thank goodness) been any of the kind of drama I've read about elsewhere.

    Of course everyone's circumstances and appetite for 'adventure' are different, but I'll give my two cents.

    We traveled to India last year when our son was 2.5 months and it was surprisingly easy. I do realize it will be more of a challenge the older he gets (until maybe it starts reversing again around 4-5 years old?) because he'll be demanding, restless, and eating real food, but, well, family is family, and roots are roots, and I feel it IS worth the effort. I've traveled several times again with him 8-10 hours (including alone!), and while it's gotten a bit tougher, it's not that bad... We plan on visiting India at least every 1.5 years, even before the child(ren) can form & keep any memory of it, because our experiences and those of our family (close and extended) are important too! Seeing young ones engage with elders in India is heartwarming, even if the little ones won't be able to remember it.

    While it is expensive to travel all that way, I just see it as one of the 'necessary costs' of being in an intercultural marriage... we can't live in both of our 'hometowns' (and actually we live in neither!) at the same time, so we'll always have to make that sacrifice of keeping money and time aside purely to visit family. And while it may be true that we're not 'made of money', I do believe that generally it is much easier for us to pull together the funds to travel to India than for anyone from India to travel here to North America. A plane ticket costs the same no matter where you buy it, but we earn (and can set aside) at least 6-10 times more than someone with a comparable job in India. Not to mention the frustration of applying for a US or Canada visa for an Indian, vs the relative ease for us to get an India visa.

    As for being asked to bring expensive items (or anything at all really), you should feel totally comfortable saying no... And I think it would come across quite politely if you said that traveling with the baby and her gear you just wouldn't be able to manage extra luggage or extra time at customs upon arrival in India.

    Anyway, just my experience and a bit of food for thought. But in the end, you know Maya and your husband's family best... and you'll make the decision that works best for your family, I'm sure. Best wishes!

    1. That is so great to hear about your traveling experiences. It gives me hope!
      I have been thinking about it a lot lately and I think it is really important to go to connect with the culture at every stage that Maya's at.
      My friend recently showed me her photo album of her kids going to India who were Maya's age and it made me want to go so badly. It was beautiful to see the kids bonding with the extended family.
      I think we will end up going, if my dad's health continues to get better.


Respectful comments only, please! (That means you, anonymous.)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
© Madh Mama. All rights reserved.