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Although some may think of India as a crowd­ed and noisy des­ti­na­tion, it does­n’t have to be.

Many trav­el­ers don’t real­ize that India has many qui­et regions that offer oppor­tu­ni­ties to expe­ri­ence Indi­an cul­ture at a slow­er, more laid-back pace.

Two of the coun­try’s most relax­ing places are the spir­i­tu­al region of Ladakh, in the north of the coun­try, and sul­try Ker­ala, in the south­ern region. 

As a result of hav­ing a dad in the for­eign ser­vice, I had the invalu­able expe­ri­ence of hav­ing lived in six dif­fer­ent coun­tries as a young girl. I start­ed my com­pa­ny Glob­al Fam­i­ly Trav­els in 2009 after real­iz­ing what I loved most was con­nect­ing peo­ple through trav­el, build­ing ties through com­pas­sion and the under­stand­ing that even though we may live in dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ments, we’re real­ly all the same. 

Although I had vis­it­ed India many times on my own, both as a trav­el­er and a tour guide for my com­pa­ny,  I got the chance to final­ly bring my fam­i­ly with me in 2017. It was our time in Ladakh that remains one of our most cher­ished fam­i­ly memories.



Playing on the Roof of the World Ladakh - volunteer family travel to India

Play­ing on the Roof of the World

Discover Mystical Ladakh


Set high in the Himalayas, on the west­ern edge of the Tibetan plateau, beau­ti­ful Ladakh, at the cross­roads of the Silk Road, was once an inde­pen­dent Bud­dhist king­dom. Today, it’s still often called “Lit­tle Tibet,” and remains one of the last places in the world where Bud­dhists live their life unrepressed.




Our fam­i­ly trav­eled to India with two Seat­tle Mid­dle School teach­ers who were scout­ing loca­tions to take their stu­dents on annu­al cul­tur­al immer­sion trips. I want­ed to intro­duce them to my com­pa­ny’s part­ner, the Sid­dhartha School Project (SSP), a pri­vate school with over 400 stu­dents, from nurs­ery school age through 10th grade. Found­ed by a Tibetan monk and friend of the Dalai Lama, Khen­sur Rin­poche, this school is exem­plary in its efforts to pre­serve and enhance Bud­dhist culture.

Through a non-prof­it ded­i­cat­ed to sup­port­ing the work of the SSP,  my fam­i­ly has been spon­sor­ing a stu­dent there, Stanzin Tsephal, who is my son’s age.



Spatz children with Stanzin on the right - volunteer family travel to India

Spatz chil­dren with Stanzin on the right.



I was so excit­ed that Stanzin and the rest of my fam­i­ly were final­ly going to meet and we would get to vis­it his fam­i­ly’s home.  Right away, I noticed the pho­tos of us that I had sent his Mom, 8 years ago, hang­ing in their kitchen. It real­ly touched me. Stanz­in’s fam­i­ly pre­sent­ed us with beau­ti­ful hand-made hats and socks made by his Mom and Grandma.



volunteer family travel to India



The high­light was our home­s­tay with a local fam­i­ly in Stok. We spent pre­cious time help­ing with dai­ly chores, tend­ing ani­mals, work­ing the fields, and just get­ting to know each oth­er. We shared tra­di­tion­al Ladakhi meals, which were always accom­pa­nied by the famous “but­ter tea,” a salty tea made of yak butter.



Making butter tea - volunteer family travel to India

Mak­ing but­ter tea



My kids recall our home­s­tay vivid­ly and fond­ly.  My daugh­ter, Arlene, who was 10 at the time, had fun draw­ing with our host fam­i­ly’s two girls, run­ning around the gar­den of our home­s­tay with them, and some­times vis­it­ing a local park with them.



Sharing Art at Homestay - volunteer family travel to India

Shar­ing Art at Homestay



My son, Elliot, who is two years old­er than his sis­ter, says his time in Ladakh changed his per­spec­tive on life. He was amazed to find that, even though the kids he hung out with were so cul­tur­al­ly dif­fer­ent, he still con­nect­ed with them over shared inter­ests and pas­sions, such as play­ing soc­cer and cards. Elliot nev­er expect­ed to play soc­cer at 12,000 feet with a beau­ti­ful monastery (Shey Gom­pa) behind him!



Playing soccer in Ladakh - volunteer family travel to India

Soc­cer, the uni­ver­sal language



For my art-lov­ing daugh­ter, it was so much fun to vis­it the local monas­ter­ies with the Bud­dhist monks who found­ed the Sid­dhartha school. She learned a great deal about the mean­ing of the art in the “tem­ples,” as she called the monasteries.



Monastery-of-Big-Buddha-in-Stok-Ladakh - volunteer family travel to India

Monastery of Big Bud­dha in Stok Ladakh



Every sum­mer, I get to intro­duce new fam­i­lies to Ladakh through our Glob­al Fam­i­ly Trav­els sig­na­ture 12-day pro­gram: Ladakh — Learn, Serve & Immerse, which includes a ser­vice project at the Sid­dhartha School Project. And this year, we are also offer­ing an Art of the Silk Road Trip to Ladakh! Both trips include activ­i­ties that bring India to life, a rick­shaw tour of Old Del­hi, a ride through the world’s high­est dri­vable pass to Nubra Val­ley, and a ride on a Bac­tri­an (dou­ble-humped!) camel!

Vol­un­teer tourism could be tricky but there are ways to find rep­utable com­pa­nies like ours.



Double_Hump_camels_Nubra_Ladakh - volunteer family tourism in India

Dou­ble hump camels in Nubra Ladakh

Cruise the Canals of Kerala


As we con­tin­ued our explo­ration of India, we arrived in Ker­ala. Set along a 375-mile coast­line in the south­ern region of India, Ker­ala is known as “God’s Own Coun­try.” It’s famous for its palm-lined beach­es and pic­turesque back­wa­ters, includ­ing a 560-mile net­work of canals that have served for cen­turies to link the spice plan­ta­tions to the ocean.



Going to School on a canoe south india_Backwaters of South India

Going to school on a canoe



Here, my fam­i­ly explored the Ker­ala region the same way a tra­di­tion­al Indi­an fam­i­ly would have trav­eled the region, in a tra­di­tion­al house­boat called a ket­tuval­lum. These boats have wood­en hulls and are held togeth­er with coir (woven coconut fibers) instead of nails. From the water, we glimpsed scenes of ordi­nary Indi­an life; women doing chores, chil­dren pad­dling to school in canoes, and fish­er­men cast­ing nets.



houseboat on kerala - volunteer family tourism in India



My kids thought it was so cool to spend a night on a house­boat and they loved see­ing how peo­ple lived in the rur­al vil­lages. Elliot and Arlene not only learned to climb a coconut tree, but they also learned to appre­ci­ate how impor­tant these trees are to Indi­an cul­ture, since locals use all the dif­fer­ent parts of the coconut tree to make use­ful items such as mats, rope and thatched roofs. My hus­band and I learned how to fish the tra­di­tion­al way, with a bow and arrow. We all got many oppor­tu­ni­ties to learn to cook Indi­an foods in peo­ple’s homes, pad­dle in canoes around vil­lages and even got the chance to vis­it an Ayurvedic muse­um after enjoy­ing yoga. There’s noth­ing like prac­tic­ing a rit­u­al in the place of its origin.



climbing_a_coconut_tree in kerala south india - volunteer family tourism in India



We also got to explore Kochi, a colo­nial city influ­enced by Arabs, British, Chi­nese, Dutch and Por­tuguese dur­ing the height of the spice trad­ing years. We took an ele­phant safari in Nagar­hole Nation­al Park, vis­it­ed a tea plan­ta­tion and walked through Mysore, known as the “City of Palaces.”



Mysore Palace - volunteer family tourism in India



If this 13-day South India trip sounds like the way you’d like to get to know India with your fam­i­ly, do it with us!

Trav­el­ing to India was a life-chang­ing expe­ri­ence for my chil­dren. It got them out of their com­fort zone and gave them a glimpse into a par­al­lel dimen­sion that is just the dai­ly lives of peo­ple who share our world.


The fol­low­ing post was writ­ten by Jen­nifer Spatz. Jen­nifer enjoys com­bin­ing fam­i­ly trav­el with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to give back as much as we do. She also val­ues get­ting to know local cul­tures in authen­tic set­tings. We are hop­ing to join her and her com­pa­ny, Glob­al Fam­i­ly Trav­els on their sum­mer trip to Ladakh in July.  She pre­vi­ous­ly shared about anoth­er GFT trip here.