Is it safe to take my toddler backpacking around India? Some intrepid friends of ours did it recently but I'm a little nervous.

Toddler, backpacking, India – three words that might give many parents palpitations! The challenge is not so much culture shock – if anything, travelling with young children in India brings out the best of local hospitality and helps break down cultural barriers – it’s the health risks that you need to critically evaluate. Not only are toddlers prone to stuffing all kinds of unsavoury things into their mouths, but they are also particularly susceptible to dehydration following a bout of diarrhoea. You’ll need to have eagle-eyed vigilance and take hygiene to almost paranoid levels. Keep anti-bacterial wet wipes handy and pack a bottle of Travelproof (£3.50 from Nomad Travel) for a water-free handwash before meals. Make sure your first-aid kit has oral rehydration sachets.

Malaria is another serious health issue that you need to give careful consideration – as is rabies (never let your toddler approach dogs). Remember, too, that buggies put toddlers at exhaust-pipe level, so take a child carrier to lift them above the fumes.

It’s perhaps not surprising that operators like Explore impose a minimum age of five for family adventures in India. However, as your friends discovered, it is perfectly possible (although perhaps not perfectly safe) to travel independently and with younger children.

If you’re feeling apprehensive, stick to less frenetic Goa, where you can intersperse beach days with forays inland to explore the spice plantations, temples and wildlife sanctuaries of the Western Ghats. Like Goa, the Malabar Coast has accommodation ranging from budget hotels to five-star resorts, although the region’s prime attraction – the Kerala Backwaters – might add to your stress levels when trying to contain a toddler on a houseboat.

Still undecided? Why not get a taste of the subcontinent by visiting Sri Lanka instead? Families Worldwide has a nine-day trip for children as young as two, based at a south-coast beach club with optional excursions inland, from around £899 per adult and £769 per child including flights.