31 Countries, 8.5 Months, Five Unexpected Life Lessons
More planes, trains, automobiles, boats, Ubers, Airbnbs than you can ever imagine.
And one extremely durable stroller.
My wife, our two-year-old son, and I saw the world in eight and half months.
Having been raised in Dubai and then enjoying travel most of my adult life, traveling was something important to my wife and I from the beginning of our eight years (and counting) marriage.
When I left my job as CTO of Red Ventures last year, it became clear that she and I (and our son) were ready, willing, and eager to take some much-needed time off — and see the world.
I say ‘time off’, and I want to be clear. This wasn’t a vacation; this was more of a sabbatical. We weren’t indulgent or extravagant as you might be on a week-long, beach vacation. We were purposeful, intent, and strategic. In doing so, we returned as healthier, more peaceful, and more curious about the world as we know it.
When we set off from Charlotte, NC, last July, we had the first several weeks planned ahead. But, after that, we took it as it came; we planned it on the fly. We planned ahead for big flights or certain rooms on ships. But, aside from that, we let the journey take us.
That mindset created the space for us to learn more than we ever imagined about not only the world, but also how we interact with the world and our respective experience of the world.
Here are five unexpected lessons we learned about ourselves, each other, our son, and the journey itself.
A favorite place is more than one place, for more than one reason.
When we returned home, we heard, more than once, a natural first question — what was your favorite place? A favorite place isn’t just one place.
If I had a choice to immerse myself in one place for any period of time — it’d be Spain; if I had to pick a place for it’s awe-inspiring, natural beauty — that’s Iceland; if you asked me for the most unique cultural experience — I would spend more time in China.
A favorite place can’t — and shouldn’t — be one specific place. Because our imaginations are inspired by more than one experience constantly. That’s one of the great things about being human.
It was time to let go of expectations.
Disconnecting from technology is always hard on trips like this. But there was something else I needed to learn to disconnect from.
A couple of weeks into the trip, I realized that I was putting tremendous pressure on myself in a way I never saw coming — I started to think about what I was going to do next — as in, what was I going to do after I returned home from this eight month adventure.
That question — ‘what are you going to do next?’ — was a constant for me after I had left Red Ventures and before our family left for the trip. It wasn’t until I was in the thick of the trip that I realized I had brought that question along with me. What bothered me though was that question wasn’t simply that — it was really an expectation from other people imprinted on me. Because a lot of the expectations we feel aren’t necessarily what we want to do, but what we think other people are expecting from us.
I needed to let that go. I needed to just tell myself — “I’ll figure it out when I get back.”
I realized that I wasn’t going to spend this time seeing the world and thinking about what I was going to do next. I decided to use this trip to get engaged, to be here, now. And enjoy it.
What happened — almost immediately — was a feeling of peace. And the resolve that comes from deciding that whatever I do, I do because I want to do it versus what I think other people are expecting me to do.
Kids really are the most flexible, agile, and resilient beings.
People were (and still are) always surprised when we told them we were embarking on such a big, long trip — with a toddler. But, he was truly a special part of the adventure. We cherished the time with him as he saw the world for the first time — and he was in heaven enjoying time with us, too.
Funny enough — he was the easiest part of the experience. He went with our flow; he slept when he was tired; he ate when he was hungry.
An interesting by-product was that he taught us a lot, as well; we learned a whole new level of flexibility with him and for him.
The truth is is that we parents over-complicate and overcompensate sometimes — and that’s where the struggle was for us.
We surprised each other — and ourselves.
One of life’s overarching themes we rediscovered on this journey was the idea that we can do this — physically, spiritually, emotionally. We are each more capable than we realize. We learned this lesson well over the course of these eight and a half months.
As a couple, we assumed clear roles that made all of this work — I was the planner thinking constantly about what to do and where to go next; she was the one who kept us organized and packed or unpacked every step of the way. We learned how to be with each other 24/7. We learned how to understand each other better. That relationship-efficiency created space for experiences we never saw coming.
In turn, we also learned a lot about each other.
This trip was a challenge for my wife. And I saw first-hand how strong and strong-willed she is. She made it through some tough situations. I watched the woman who’s afraid to fly, take 35 flights. And then — take a helicopter flight over Victoria Falls in southern Africa — with a toddler; I watched her do some things SHE never thought she’d do. She took a lot of brave steps towards things she’s normally afraid of or uncomfortable with.
We also realized how much we loved this entire experience — the tough situations, the cultural experiences, the food, the drink, the beauty, the conversations with people we never thought we’d meet; so much so that we’ve committed to doing this three or four more times over our lifetimes.
Remember — history is happening now.
People love to see the history — the castles, the artifacts, the antiques, the past. We experienced this in cities like Florence and Venice — cultures anchored in stories from long ago. Thousands flocked to see these places and to experience these stories. And that makes sense — they’re what make those places valuable. But, people don’t necessarily look at history being created in the moment — today. History is happening now. We are creating it. We’re missing really cool, vibrant, real moments to watch things unfold now. Just as we’ve watched Charlotte emerge into what might be the next Atlanta, we’re a part of things now. A really great hybrid of both worlds was found in one of our favorite places — Rome. The city is steeped in rich history, yet the people who lived there are modern Romans.
Someone asked me recently to describe the trip in one phrase, and it comes down to this: it was more than I ever had hoped it would be.
I wish we all described life like that more often.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Abhishek (AJ) Ratani is an Entreprenuer, World Traveler and the former CTO and President of RV Technology at Charlotte-based Red Ventures. AJ recently traveled the world with his wife and then 2-year old covering 6 continents and 31 countries in 8.5 months. Follow their travels via their family travel blog. AJ’s other passions range from playing with the latest technology including blockchain, to being an investor in great ideas, finding ways to help other entrepreneurs succeed and being a voice for inclusion and diversity in the workplace.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.