When avid travellers Rakcent Wong, 35, and Carol Tan, 36, got married in 2016, friends and family told them it was time they settled down to build a home together.
Instead, they took an epic road trip biking across Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, camping in sub-zero temperatures in Iceland and the vast Western Sahara in Egypt.
When Carol fell pregnant, families and friends again told them that their travelling days were over.
They took things to the other extreme by planning a two-year-long family trip of a lifetime with their yet-unborn?son.
In fact, it’s the reason they named him Atlas, or "a bundle of maps", according to Rakcent.
The family of three set off on their journey a year earlier than intended?on Jan 17, 2024.
On the Instagram account Engaging Atlas documenting their travels, they posted a video sharing a "promise/secret" they’d kept for five years.
"We made a promise to our first and last kid to bring him on an adventure across the atlas," Rakcent stated in the video, which showed a pregnant Carol at India's Taj Mahal.
"We have been saving since then, going to free parks, doing free things and living cheap," Rakcent added. "Fast forward to today… we booked a one-way ticket and the adventure finally begins!"
Speaking to AsiaOne via email, Rakcent tells us that they’d initially intended to fly off when Atlas turns five at the end of 2024 and spend a year travelling before he has to enrol in primary school come 2026.
"But we realised that one year might be too short since we will be moving at a real slow pace. So our two years of travelling is probably what some will cover in six months,"?said Rakcent.
The couple took no-pay leave for what they'd termed Atlas' "preschool gap year".
The pair were reluctant to divulge their occupations, except to share that they both work for "the best employer in Singapore, in our opinion". No less in part due to the couple?being granted?time off for their sabbatical.
They also had a savings goal in mind which they preferred not to share, only revealing that it took "four years on dual incomes" to save.
“We are just diploma holders holding ordinary salaried jobs, so we’re definitely not rolling in big bucks,” Rakcent told us, adding that they "lived cheaply and saved hard", skipping fancy meals in favour of home-cooked meals or chicken rice.
Family members who were sceptical of their long-term plans soon realised they were serious through their actions.
Shared Rakcent: "Carol delivered at Singapore General Hospital and stayed in a subsidised B2 maternity ward. Atlas was drinking [a grocery chain's house brand] formula milk and diapers. Most importantly, we had amazing help from my parents who helped us to take care of Atlas while we worked.
"That meant we saved on expensive childcare fees."
Harrowing experience in Athens
When we caught up with them in January, the family of three had just left Athens, the first destination in their journey.
Why Athens? We asked.
"Because the tickets are cheap. Just $300 on Scoot! We wanted Atlas to see snow, so winter in Europe is perfect," they replied.
However, it turned out to be a harrowing and stressful first stop. During a train journey, Carol and Rakcent felt unnerved by a man who kept staring at them "in an uncomfortably scary way".
"Atlas was holding an iPad like he always does on long train rides in Singapore, but we had to keep it. This upset him and he became cranky,"?Rakcent recounted.
At the same time, they could not get a GPS signal and were wary of looking like lost tourists, "which would make us look like an easy target". When another man came in and kept staring at their bags, they decided to step off the train to recalibrate and get their bearings.
"Carol teared because she was super worried for our safety and thinking maybe this way of travelling is not for us,"?recalled Rakcent.
Despite the minor setback, however, it was no reason not to plough on.
Building a 'lasting family bond'
What has made it all worthwhile for them in the two weeks since embarking on the epic journey is seeing Atlas enjoying the experience and the family bonding time.
Said Carol: "The most rewarding thing is when we see Atlas playing so well with strangers without any common spoken language. It seems like play is universally understood. He also ate better than we thought as he is quite a picky eater."
Of course, not all would agree that taking a child that young on a long trip is the best idea, but to Rakcent and Carol, this is "the best age".
Shared Carol: "Some say a child this young doesn’t remember. He may not remember all the details, but the skills he learned will certainly be retained and be useful."
Most importantly, however, Rakcent says the trip presents an opportunity for them to form "a lasting family bond".
This is especially so as Atlas'?primary caregiver since he was born is his grandmother, Rakcent's mum, whom he is extremely close to.
A video posted on Instagram showing Atlas’ airport meltdown at being separated from his nai nai?(grandmother in Chinese) was especially heartbreaking and difficult to watch, even for an outsider.
"Both of them spent more time together than we did with him. They were close like lovers and Atlas will call her his 'bao', or treasure in Chinese," Rakcent quipped.
Following some time spent in Macedonia, Albania and Bulgaria, the family are currently in Serbia and plan to explore other parts of Europe before heading off to Africa, North and South America, Central Asia and Australia.
With a trip this lengthy, there’s bound to be friction, even between couples. Have there been any blowups and what are some tips to travelling as a family?
Said Carol: "Oh yes, we disagree a lot, even more so when we are together 24/7 now.
"Rakcent jokingly said he could write a book when he survives these two years with me. We disagree on the choice of transportation, choice of food, choice of stay, almost everything!"
The couple shared, however, that "communication is key".
Said Carol: "Never go to sleep feeling angry with each other. We are also role models for Atlas in how we manage disagreements, so we don’t yell and blame. Even when we truly can't agree, we at least agree to disagree."
Another thing that's important? A laundry line.
"There's lots of laundry to do and a dryer is not always available,"?they explained in all seriousness.
From videos posted, there have been other emotional upheavals too, such as when Atlas hankered for his favourite food of char siew rice and Carol teared in helplessness at not being able to provide it for him.
Recently, Rakcent also had to make a trip to the hospital in Serbia after feeling unwell for more than two weeks.
But these are little blips that the family have taken in their stride.
'Money can be earned back'
So what do they hope for Atlas to get out of these precious two years?
Shared Rakcent: "The world is a dangerous, fun and exciting place. At the end of this trip, we hope Atlas and us will learn to adapt to new environments, navigate challenges and build resilience."
Spending quality family time together is also the end goal.
"We feel this is the only time to do this long trip. Once he starts Primary 1, it will be at least till he finishes national service [to do so] and by then, we will be old and uncool to him to hang out together," joked Rakcent.
Added Carol: "Though he can be difficult to handle at times, his sense of wonder makes it worthwhile. It's the perfect time now."
Although it's only been two weeks, it's been an exhilarating experience that they think other families should consider.
Rakcent puts it simply: "For parents able to put a pause on their careers, money can be earned back, but not your time with your children."
"There's plenty of time for studies, with at least 16 yrs of continuous education from Primary 1 for girls and 12 years for boys. Nevertheless, it's a family choice, there’s a few ways to do the same thing," he opined.
The family fully intend to utilise their leisurely two-year trek across the globe to fulfil their objectives.
Said Rakcent: "The trip is named Engaging Atlas, which has dual significance as Atlas represents our son and the world, and our journey is about fostering interactive and enriching experiences for him during our travels.
"We will all gain from global exposure on cultures and environments in a way that goes beyond textbooks."
However, Rakcent joked in one post: "If we’re back in two months, we’re broke, don’t ask. Inflation is nasty."