Most of us accept that seeing the world is either a young or an old person’s game, something you do pre- or post-career when you’re footloose and fancy free (or, more specifically, child-free). But ex-Dubai expat AJ Ratani and his wife Natasha could not disagree more. When they decided in 2017 to pack up and go globetrotting for more than half a year, not only did they have jobs and a family home to leave behind, they also had a one-year-old son who’d be coming along for the ride. Their journey across six continents would turn out to be not just soul-enriching wanderlust satiation, but also an eye-opening exercise in how to travel with a toddler on every possible mode of transport without going mad. They share their story with us...
“I was born in India but raised in Dubai until I was 17, and grew up on a series of family holidays across the Middle East, which I think sparked my love of travel,” says AJ.
Moving to the United States after high school, AJ’s travelling spirit never waned and, after joining a budding tech company in Charlotte, North Carolina, he continued to see the world as much as he could.
Meanwhile, AJ’s wife-to-be, Natasha, saw travel in a very different light. With a father in the military – and frequently moving countries as a result – for her travel meant leaving friends behind, and it wasn’t until she met AJ in 2008 in the US that she began to appreciate it in a different way. She would never have thought it would lead to spending nine nomadic months homeless and travelling the world though. Especially not with a son under 24 months old...
After 12 years in a highly successful tech company, AJ needed a break. A real break, as he puts it. He wanted to travel – originally for seven months. Natasha was working part-time at a school to be home with their young son, Aarav. They had bought their perfect family home. They had saved enough money to travel. For AJ, it was time to take the next step.
“I was ready for my next thing, and I was really ready to take a chance. I thought about where I wanted to be in 10 years. If I were to work 10 more years at the same company, chasing money, would I regret not leaving and pursuing my dreams? The answer was ‘yes!’ I wanted to live a life with no regrets,” he says.
Boarding up their house, the couple departed in July 2017 for a cruise to Alaska. From there, they explored the Pacific Northwest of the United State and Canada, visiting Seattle, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco and Las Vegas before flying to Iceland. In September, they descended upon Spain, landing in Barcelona and exploring the Mediterranean coast on a cruise to Italy. They moved north to Croatia and Hungary, before landing in Dubai, and eventually Beijing by October. The winter found them exploring multiple countries through Asia, followed by Australia and a cruise through southeast Asia. By the end of January, 2018, the couple were back in Dubai to depart for their next continent: Africa. Here, they took a safari, visited Johannesburg and Cape Town, and marvelled at Victoria Falls. Then it was off to South America for two months of exploration around their sixth continent on the trip, before returning home to North Carolina by April 2018.
Not only did AJ and Natasha discover their favourite places, but they learnt a lot about travel and themselves.
“It wasn’t the easiest trip,” admits AJ. “We had ups and downs and tonnes of fights – Natasha would look up flights back to Charlotte, threatening to go home. But it was just part of adjusting to spending 24 hours a day together for months. After the first four months, we learnet how to give each other space, even on the road, and how to rest and truly enjoy our travels.”
“It’s amazing the things you learn and do when you travel,” AJ continues. “Natasha, for example, used to hate flying. She needed medication to take even a short flight. But she did it – visiting 31 countries and taking 39 flights, riding in helicopters – she learnt to deal with her fear of heights. We pushed ourselves in ways I didn’t expect.”
Why you should travel with your children now
“Everyone we meet asks us how hard it was to travel so long with our son, and many mums and dads tell us they are waiting until their kids get older. We say, ‘travel now!’ Yes, travelling with young kids is hard work, but it’s also extremely rewarding. We have three reasons you shouldn’t wait:
1. More Quality Time. I don’t think Aarav knew where he was, but he loved it. For him, he was in heaven. He got to spend more time with both of his parents every day than most people. We were so lucky to get to spend so much time together as a family; it brought us closer.
2. Less Stress. Yes, you can actually learn how to stress less when travelling with toddlers. Irony, right? While it was easier for our son to learn to adapt to different sleeping situations, like on a plane or a new hotel room or often in his stroller, we were learning to adapt, too. We discovered if he didn’t take an afternoon nap, it wasn’t the end of the world. We adjusted.
3. Priceless Memories. I’ll never forget my son seeing an elephant while on safari and saying ‘elephant’ for the first time. He had no context that he was on safari. To him, he saw elephants. And to us, we witnessed our son using a new word not from a book or a classroom, but from being in Africa, on a safari.”
Now settled back at home in the US, Natasha has returned to work, Aarav is enrolled at day-care, and AJ is working on several passion projects including their new website, wryly named ‘The 2 Idiots Travel Blog’ where they document their journey to 31 countries and share travel tips for other parents. Find them online at 2idiotstravel.com and on Instagram @2idiotstravel.