After working hard for 12 years at the same company, I was ready for a change. I needed a break and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for my next step. As a child, I grew up in Dubai and traveled often with my parents. I missed traveling and the freedom I had had as a kid and it dawned on me that my family could possibly take a sabbatical and travel around the world together.
It took some persuading to convince my wife, Natasha, that we should quit working and travel for nearly a year. She was concerned about how difficult it would be to travel with our son, Aarav, as well as our finances and being away from friends and family for so long. But in July of 2017, we did it: we embarked on a 9-month trip around the globe with our 2-year-old.
After traveling to six continents and visiting 31 countries, we were able to see some amazing places, but, most importantly, we learned a lot about ourselves, and about how to travel well with kids. It’s not always easy, but it is well worth the effort. Here’s what we learned:
- How to work together. When you are with someone for 24 hours a day for 9 months, you cannot just leave during challenging times. We learned how to truly listen to one another and found ways to give each other space when we needed it, as well as keep each other calm during frustrating times. Ultimately, it made our relationship stronger.
- Kids are flexible. Kids are willing to trust you, as parents, and will follow where you go. When they are tired, they will sleep, even if it’s in a stroller, a Cosco Scenera car seat, or a crib in a new hotel. They will try new foods, they are willing to explore and discover, and at this age, this flexibility makes it easier to travel than, say, when kids become opinionated teenagers. Honestly, we had to learn to be more flexible while traveling with our child! The travelling was a little more challenging when he was an infant. But there is nothing like toys for 3 month olds that’d placate an obstreperous baby.
- You’ll surprise yourself. We pushed ourselves in ways we never knew we could. For Natasha, who has a fear of heights and flying, she took 39 flights, flew in helicopters and rode up mountains in cable cars because she wanted us all to see knew sights and have amazing experiences. I was even surprised by how she stepped up and pushed past her fears.
- How to experience history in the making. Too many travelers spend time visiting historical sights. Sure, we wanted to visit cobblestoned streets and ancient Roman ruins, but we also learned how to appreciate that we were visiting new cities that were flourishing and growing and will one day be historic in their own right, such as Dubai. It’s humbling to realize we are part of history.
Our family sabbatical was life-changing and more than we ever hoped for. We’ll always be able to look back at the memories, such as Aarav saying “elephant” for the first time while on an African safari. It also will remind us, now that we are back home, that we can manage any hurdle together.
AJ Ratani and Natasha Sandhir traveled around the world with their son Aarav. Visiting 31 countries and six continents as a family, they documented their year-long travel and trips on their family travel blog. Visit their website for more tips and also follow the couple on their Instagram account.