CHARLOTTE – After 12 years with Red Ventures and rising to president and chief technology officer of the company, Abhishek (A.J.) Ratani decided it was time for he and his wife, Natasha Sandhir, to cross a few items off their bucket list.
It turned out to be a long list.
And the couple had to pack for three as they took their 2-year-old son, Aarav, along for the ride that would have them gone from their home in Charlotte for almost nine months.
The first bucket list item – a cruise to Alaska – was checked off in July 2017 and the last item, at least on this first bucket list – was checked off this past April. Along the way, the family visited six continents and 31 countries and took almost 40 flights and three cruises.
A.J. gave Red Ventures a two-year notice of his departure and that is when the couple started to think about what their trip would look like.
“We started thinking about the trip years ago,” said A.J., who is a 2002 graduate of the University of Arkansas. “I was working at Red Ventures and things were going really well and we decided it was time for me to leave. We started talking about what we would do after I left and one of the things I always wanted to do is travel. I thought it was time to take a break and do something crazy.”
So, the couple started thinking about spots they would like to visit as A.J. prepared for his departure from Red Ventures.
“The first conversation we had was when I was pregnant,” Natasha said. “I thought he was bluffing. I set it aside until things became more concrete.”
Things got pretty solid as A.J. entered his finals months of work.
Planning on the fly
Remarkably, the nuts and bolts of planning the trip didn’t start until a few months before their departure. They only planned the first part of the trip, and ended up flying by the seats of their pants for the rest of it.
“We had a basic outline, but what we thought we would do and what we ended up doing was completely different,” A.J. said. “We planned the first 30 days and I booked a couple of the cruises, but everything else we planned on the fly. I was booking flights maybe three days before we took the flight. We were not stuck on a schedule. If we liked something, we could stay longer.”
“We did check (lodging) inventory beforehand to see what was available,” Natasha said. “Trans-Atlantic flights and cruises are what we did try to book in advance.”
But one thing that was set in stone was they would visit countries during the warmer months, which made packing a little easier.
“Our strategy was we wanted to see summer basically the whole trip,” A.J. said. “We started in the Northern Hemisphere and then visited the Southern Hemisphere.”
“We never saw winter, but we did see cold,” Natasha said. “China was cold. Japan was cold.”
The family had just two large checked bags and some carry-on items. They only bought new clothes when needed. And of course, they had a car seat and a stroller, and one bag of toys for Aarav.
The only souvenirs they bought on the trip are magnets that nearly cover the couple’s refrigerator in their Charlotte home. The family also has around 20,000 photos and 1,000 videos from the trip.
“We did not add to the suitcases,” Natasha said. “There was no shopping, and that was hard. The magnets are a memento.”
Stops in Australia, India and Dubai to visit family provided a break for the couple and some downtime from the rigors of international travel.
“We had fun with them,” A.J. said.
Spain would be one place the couple would return to for an extended visit.
“The people are so nice and the people are amazing,” A.J. said. “I just love the laid-back lifestyle.”
Patagonia, the Galapagos Islands and China were among the family’s top spots they visited but it was Iceland that really caught their eye.
“Iceland is the best place for natural beauty,” A.J said. “We only spent five nights in Iceland, and I wish it was more. What we saw was beautiful. Iceland was unbelievable. The Galapagos Islands were amazing, especially the things we saw underwater.”
But where was the best food?
“The Chinese food is so different than the Chinese food here. It was unbelievable,” A.J said. “The food is nothing like you taste in the U.S.”
Looking back, the couple is glad they traveled the world with their infant son.
“We learned so much on this trip, and it wasn’t a piece of cake for sure, but it was so worth it,” A.J. said. “Life is short and you have to take advantage of it.”
“It is so amazing to experience it with your child,” Natasha said. “It wasn’t a sprint. It was more like a marathon. We paced ourselves.”
Both A.J. and Natasha said they would like to take a similar trip every five to seven years.
“We actually have a list for our next trip,” A.J said. “We only did the east coast of China and there is so much more to see in China. We want to work hard for five to seven years, then take a year off to recharge our batteries.”
Before the family embarks on its next trip, they have decided to provide advice to other couples thinking about traveling the world with young children with a blog on Facebook and an Instagram account. The Facebook blog is titled: The 2 Idiots Blog.
During their trip, the family used the hashtag #2idiots1baby on their social media posts.
“Many people would say we wouldn’t last and they asked if we were two idiots,” A.J. said with a laugh. “We had so many people ask us, ‘what stroller do you recommend.’ Things like that. We want to let people know you can do this with young children. So, we kept that hashtag for the blog.”
“We had so many people ask us about our experience,” Natasha said.
Before leaving, the couple shifted all their bills to online payments and they had neighbors check on their house and check the mail just in case something important arrived. They also had to choose a wireless carrier carefully.
“T-Mobile has free data in 140 countries and that really helped,” A.J. said. “We had access the whole time, even China.”
It looks like that T-Mobile plan is going to come in handy in the future.