Around the world, on a bus: Dubai-based German expat family to begin on ‘journey of a lifetime’

Dubai: A German expatriate couple living in Dubai are getting ready to give their children a gift of their lifetime: A world tour on a bus!

Nina and Kai Schakat, both 44, will take their children Ben, 11 and Leni, 10, to explore new cities, countries onboard their very own bus, which will be their home for 14 months long. The family is all set to leave in the first week of July in their customized Ashok Leyland bus for the long-haul trip. Preparations are on in full swing to ensure a smooth journey all through.

About the Schakat family

Nina and Kai are residents of UAE for the last 15 years. Kai runs his own carpentry business in Dubai, while Nina works as a project manager for a private construction company here. During their 14-month world trip, Kai will close his business temporarily and Nina will be on a sabbatical.

Kai Schakat reacts while transforming the bus into a mobile home.

The children Ben and Leni will attend iCademy — the American online school recognized by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai.

“Our children will be doing online schooling and will additionally learn life skills with our practical experiences during this trip,” said Nina.

Putting their savings into the trip

The couple have put their savings into this trip for they want to gift their children a trip of a life time. “We have invested Dh150,000 that includes the cost of the bus and doing its fit-out. We have set aside another Dh200,000 to last us through this journey. This includes visa costs, other logistics costs, sight-seeing and our general cost of living in different countries for 14 months. Fuel is a major factor in consideration as well.”

Why world tour we bus?

“Ever since my wife and I have been together, we have dreamed of traveling the world after retirement in a van or a boat. Society somehow tells us that people can travel when they are young, single or when retired. Post-pandemic, we realized that nothing is constant. We thought why wait until retirement to do our dream trip. Why not do it now,” said Kai.

Working the financials

Nina said the couple have worked out their financial requirements and looked at the available transport options. They decided to convert a bus into a mobile home, which, according to them was the most economical way of doing their world tour.

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Nina Schakat and the children, Ben and Leni, inside the bus.
Image Credit: Supplied

The road

The route has been chartered out by the couple and will depend on how much there is to explore in each country as they drive through. It also depends on how long it will take for their vehicle to get from one place to another.

The bus

The German family have rebuilt the bus in a “do it yourself” (DIY) way. “We are converting the bus ourselves, with the help of some specialists along the way when it comes to welding, window installation and solar system. We are creating a home away from home that reflects our personalities and our needs for the trip and a few creature comforts. It will be equipped with a solar system and water tanks to ensure our independence so far as the power grid is concerned, and will be the center of our trip.”

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The Ashok-Leyland bus, which is being customized for the world tour.
Image Credit: Supplied

Kai received his bus driving license a couple of months ago and passed the test on his very first attempt. “If budget allows, I will also do the licence, but would need to start from a scratch as I currently only have a salon car driving licence,” said Nina.

Nina said the couple purchased the Ashok Leyland bus from Al Naboodah in October 2022. It is a 2009 model, has been driven for 610,000km and full tank can hold 350 liters of petrol, which can keep the bus going for 2,300km. “We initially thought about a Mercedes bus because it is a sturdy brand. But for our travel to rural areas and villages, we needed a bus that would drive well in these places with as much ease. We walked through a row of 70 buses before finalizing on this one for our trip,” Kai said.

The couple began work on the bus in November 2021. “As of now, most civil works inside the bus are complete. Last weekend, we did a road trip to Oman in order to test the bus and we found a few things that will need improvements, which we will build into the bus within the next two months,” Kai added. “We are still awaiting a shipment of camper van windows, which will improve the insulation for the bus a lot. Currently, we struggle to have the bus protected from the heat, which we will be working on, once the windows arrive. We will install additional window tinting, black-out curtains and additional vents on the roof,” he said.

Two thirds of the bus roof-top is covered with solar panels. “We will be autonomous, without having to be connected to water or electricity supply for at least a week. We currently plan to add a wind generator that will provide us with electricity at night.”

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Kai Schakat takes a close look at the route map for the 14-month trip.
Image Credit: Supplied

Inside, there is a dining area and bunk beds for the children, a double bedroom at the end of the bus, a sofa-cum-sofa, a small kitchen, toilet, washing machine, kitchen cabinets and storage spaces. With this set-up, the family hopes to have a good amount of electricity to operate the air-conditioning, run all the appliances and all the electronic equipment that are required. “We will even have a normal household washing machine on board.”

The departure

The family will hit the road in July, at the start of the summer vacation in Dubai. “We initially envisage a travel spanning 14 months. This is to have the maximum outcome of one full academic year with the kids’ schooling system. Around five to six months will be in Asia and remaining in South America,” said Nina, adding, that the bus will be shipped on a ferry from Sharjah to the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran. “Prior to COVID-19, people were allowed on the ferry. However, currently, that is not possible. If required, we will fly to Iran to pick up our bus.”

The estimated duration of stay in Iran is two-three weeks. “From there, we will have to cross the border to Pakistan. We like to drive along the coast line. Main points to visit in Pakistan are Hingol National Park and Karachi. From there, the family will drive to India. “Our main points to visit are Goa and then we will head towards Jaipur in the north.”

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The interiors of the bus.
Image Credit: Supplied

Other countries on the route are Nepal, China, Myanmar or Bhutan, Cambodia and Vietnam. In South America, the family will travel to Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Columbia, Ecuador. They will also visit the United States.

Ready for the challenges

“We are fully aware of the hurdles we have to overcome at various borders, such as entry requirements for ourselves and our vehicle, visas and bus registration formalities in certain countries. We need to acquire a bus driving license locally in China. That will need to be arranged by a local agent.”

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Nina and Kia Schakat with their children Ben and Leni, in front of their world tour vehicle. The bus will be shipped on a ferry from Sharjah to the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran for the start of the tour.
Image Credit: Supplied

Retaining UAE residence visa

“We will still have our base here in the UAE as I am still employed here and my husband still has his business. This means, we need to come back to the UAE to keep our residence visa valid. This also means securing our bus for the time we are gone,” Nina added.

Gift for kids

Kai said he and his family planned to build playground equipment in villages as a way of giving back to society. “We own a small carpentry shop in Dubai that specializes in making children’s outdoor playgrounds. We feel that we can give back and use our skills to spread love and happiness, which is so fulfilling and feels really right to us now.”

Kai further said: “We are able to share this incredible experience with our children and spend more time with them and have a break from work — that is what matters to us in life.”

He added: “Living in Dubai, we thoroughly enjoy the life here due to its multicultural nature and the global vibes. However, with routine living, a regular 8-6pm job and with limited travel over the last couple of years, we told ourselves: ‘We must begin on this adventure together with our children, show them other cultures, landscapes, introduce them to other ways of life and teach them to be independent. We believe that it is important that our children learn how to be self-sufficient and how to live on a budget’.

“We want our children to live life to the fullest and see the beauty that this world has to offer. One way of doing that is to throw open the doors to a travel like this and see how far it takes us.”

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