A Trip of our Own

How a brief conversation with a stranger introduced me to a new way to travel with my daughter.  
Mother Daughter
From the time my daughter was 10 months old, we've taken her out hiking and camping, initially in a child carrier pack (seen here) and later on her own steam. This picture was taken when she was under 2 years, on a hike in the Western Ghats, where we'd stopped for a little break and snack. Photo courtesy Niloufer Venkatraman

Rémy Best is a Swiss investment banker. But I didn’t know that when I met him briefly in the most unexpected of places. I was in Alp Turnels, a remote spot on a Swiss mountain near Gstaad, at a summer dairy and cheese farm run by the Zumstein family. It was 9 a.m. and I’d just watched the farmers coax their cows from the pastures into the barn and set them up to be milked. Suddenly the shrill neigh of a horse cut through the crisp mountain air. That was unusual. As far as I knew, there were no horses on this seasonal farm. I stuck my head out of the kitchen window and saw a tall, brown-haired man and his young son, both in green pants, petting and talking to some handsome horses. The young boy was pulling up tufts of grass and hand-feeding them to the horses. The man, who later introduced himself as Rémy, looked up and smiled, his son gave me a small, shy, half-wave hello.

In the next hour I learnt that Rémy, who hails from Geneva, had organised a two-day horse-riding trip for himself and his son with local guide Beatrice Hauswirth. They had come riding up the mountain on horseback from Gstaad the previous night, and were now saddling the horses and gearing up to head back.

grass and horses

Remy’s son, hand-feeding tufts of grass to the horse. Photo: Niloufer Venkatraman

Rémy was on a two-month-long vacation from his job as a banker. During this self-imposed break, he had planned four weeks of travel—one week with each of his four children. Each trip was going to be very different, he’d said. He was planning each journey carefully taking into consideration that child’s interests, and always trying to “do” something together, rather than just relax on a sunny beach.

vaction with horses

Taking the time out to go on journeys with your child designed around their interests is a wonderful way to have a memorable vacation. Photo: Niloufer Venkatraman

As he spoke, it instantly struck me that his idea of taking time off to just to travel alone with each of his children was an absolutely brilliant plan. Family travel is not new to us in India. We like to take family trips with extended family or a troop of friends, or even just as a small nuclear family. But this game plan, for down time from everyday work, to travel with each of his children individually impressed me as a wonderful way to engage with each one.

Sometimes we can be inspired by strangers we meet briefly on our travels. And though this meeting was but for two hours, it lit a spark in my mind. Taking a week off or even a weekend off to travel without your spouse, to just connect with your child one-on-one is sure to have far-reaching positive results. I could see it in every joyful step Rémy’s 11-year-old boy took, in the shy smile he offered me, in the way he gently rubbed the horses’ foreheads in circles and offered them nibbles of grass.

In the normal course of a work week as I parent, I barely have time to figure out my eight-year-old daughter’s homework, piano practice, school assessments, and pass on instructions on keeping her room clean. Going on a trip together, exclusively with her interests in mind, I can see is a wonderful way of bonding and creating memories that will last a lifetime. And ever since I met Rémy, that sunny August morning, on an isolated Alpine farm, I’ve been thinking of doing exactly that. I’m pleased with how a brief conversation with a stranger inspired me to think of a new way to connect with my child. Two months later, I’ve finally set up a special trip just for my daughter and me. It’s going to be a surprise—she doesn’t know just yet—but I’m taking her on a short holiday without my husband or anyone else. Just the two of us, and one simple intent.

I’ll let you know how it pans out.

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    Niloufer Venkatraman ’s idea of unwinding is to put on boots and meander through wilderness or the bylanes of a city, and to instill in her daughter a love for the outdoors. As Editor-In-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India her gig involves more of pummelling stories into shape than actually travelling.

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