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4-Yr-old Attempts Everest Base Camp and Travels 23 Countries with Parents on Two-Year Preschool Gap Year

Singaporean Parents Take Their 4-year-old Around 23 Countries (& Counting) on 2-Year Preschool Gap Year
Family LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily LifeTravelPost Category - TravelTravel

‘We also used to think learning had to be through books, but now we know learning happens everywhere…’

Singaporean civil servants Rakcent and Carol are on a two-year travel sabbatical—what they have dubbed a two-year preschool gap year where they’ve taken their 4-year-old child Atlas out of preschool and are on a round-the-world adventure! It’s a sweet story—they made a promise to what they say is their first and last kid when he was in the womb, that they’d bring him around the world. They named him Atlas for good measure, saved like crazy and are finally on their travel sabbatical which they document on their Instagram Engaging Atlas. They’ve been to 23 countries so far (including Nepal and attempting to summit Everest Base Camp) and they’re only halfway through their trip! We wondered what inspired them to go on this amazing adventure, how they had the tenacity to take their child out of preschool and school him in the world instead of keeping up with the rigorous education system to prepare for P1, and what they have most enjoyed on their adventure so far. Get ready for some serious wanderlusting!

Singaporean Parents Take Their 4-year-old Around 23 Countries (& Counting) on 2-Year Preschool Gap Year
Rakcent, Carol and Atlas in the Netherlands

What prompted this idea for a “2-year preschool gap year”?

Both of us enjoy travelling- other than being exposed to different cultures, and looking at beautiful landscapes we find travelling transformative. We always learned something about each other, and ourselves. And always return with a stronger relationship. The idea of a long trip was appealing because we could travel further and longer, into less touched places and not be limited by short annual leaves. We originally planned for one year but we applied for a two-year sabbatical and surprisingly it was approved. So we went ahead with two years. We needed to be back for Atlas for P1 so we worked the dates backwards. We feel this is the only opportunity for us to travel as a family for an extended time, and this will also be a crucial period for Atlas’ formative years.

Singaporean Parents Take Their 4-year-old Around 23 Countries (& Counting) on 2-Year Preschool Gap Year
Rakcent, Carol and Atlas in Greece (Left) and Netherlands (Right)

What has been the itinerary so far?

We started in Europe, and have been to Greece, Albania, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, UK, Cyprus, UAE, Turkey, Nepal and currently in Malaysia. We have firm plans for China, Kenya, USA and Canada so far. Hoping to also visit the Caribbean, South America and Central Asia.

What countries are you looking forward to the most?

We are looking forward to Kenya at the moment, it’s going to be the wildebeest migration season.

Singaporean Parents Take Their 4-year-old Around 23 Countries (& Counting) on 2-Year Preschool Gap Year
Rakcent, Carol and Atlas hiking the Everest Base Camp trail in Nepal

You attempted the Everest Base camp trek (a 12-day trek consisting of 8 days to the base camp and 4 days down) with your 4-year-old– how did the experience go?

We hiked for nearly two weeks on the EBC trek. After battling food poisoning (Atlas and Carol) and a lung infection due to harsh conditions and a ‘toxic cocktail’ from strong winds carrying sand and animal faeces (Rakcent), we were evacuated by horses to the nearest clinic to be treated (3 hours away) before being taken back to the city by rescue helicopter.

Even though we did not manage to complete the EBC trek we felt that our experience went beyond what we asked for. The world is a beautiful, fun and dangerous place. The mountains are indeed gorgeous and we enjoyed most of the days. While trekking we met the kindest people who cheered us on and offered encouragement and treats to push us forward, despite not having much themselves. We met many people with the same goal as us, it was like a huge trekking community. We heard about the saying “It’s the journey that counts not the destination” on the trek we finally felt what it meant. On the trek we also became better parents, it was tough for all of us, but we were probably at our “most kindest state”. We felt we grew a lot stronger as a family, understanding and catering to everyone’s needs. We didn’t quarrel (normally we would). Atlas pushed on despite having his moody days and we all took frequent breaks together as a family, no one was leaving anybody behind. We also learnt to live with little possessions, there’s limited comfort in the mountains and we embraced it. Atlas also learnt to play with whatever he could find on the trek, no need for fancy toys or an iPad. And just as important, we learned to respect nature and its limits. If there’s a place to learn about resilience and compassion, this was it. It’s the school of life!

We understand you only planned for your EBC in 24 hours! Did you do anything to prepare your child physically and mentally for this huge challenge?

There were only 24 hours from the initial idea of EBC to researching the place, contacting the guide company, making payment and booking the flights. But we didn’t attempt from zero experience. When Atlas was two, he had already trekked up a 720m high mountain entirely through his own efforts. Of course, we took more than double the usual time. We had also hiked various smaller mountains in Malaysia. In 2024 prior to EBC, we had also trekked up various mountains, from snowy summits at 3K+ metres in Austria to various 2k+ mountains in Turkey and across smaller 1k+ across our travel route, whenever there’s a nice mountain trekking route, we will be there. We were already comfortable hiking on our own, carrying our own stuff and navigating our own. The EBC was our first multi-day trek, though it’s at 5k+, but we had many days to trek. So we felt it was feasible, and for the first time, we had porters and a navigator. So it was “easier” when compared to our day hikes.

Singaporean Parents Take Their 4-year-old Around 23 Countries (& Counting) on 2-Year Preschool Gap Year
Atlas and new friends in Serbia

What have you learnt as parents from the 2 year preschool gap year and has the experience changed you as an individual, parent and partner?

As a couple we learned to finally work as a team with lots of research and decisions that needed to be made daily. We learnt to split the work and trust that each of us has each other’s interests in mind instead of cross-checking and thinking we can do better on our own. For example, one of us will just decide on where to stay and eat and play. We no longer ask each other, we just decide and if it’s bad, we share the mistake. This is also our first time spending 24/7 time together. We had many problems but we learnt to sort them out in a civilised adult manner. We are role models for our child so even in times of dispute, we also show Atlas our way of conflict management. We learnt to synchronise our parenting styles, we are two different people after all. We will have different opinions but again we know it’s important to be a single parent unit for our child. Atlas shouldn’t have to choose who to ask or seek guidance from. As we travel, we are exposed to different cultures, this shift in our perspective shows that there are many different ways to do the same thing. For example, supermarkets in some parts of Europe close on Sunday. Initially, we were shocked because we have 24/7 supermarkets in Singapore, but now we just learnt to plan our groceries around this. We also used to think learning has to be through books and paper, but now we know that learning happens everywhere you go. It can be unstructured and knowledge seems to be better retained when we immerse Atlas in real-world learning.

Singaporean Parents Take Their 4-year-old Around 23 Countries (& Counting) on 2-Year Preschool Gap Year
Rakcent, Carol and Atlas in Albania (Left) and with nainai in Denmark (Right)

What have been your child’s favourite experiences or countries?

He always loves the outdoors, stacking rocks, bashing through bushes, building a house with sticks and digging a sand river via the beach. He also loves the Lego in Lego House (Denmark) If you were to ask him for his favourite country, he would say Montenegro because it sounds like Lego. And his favourite word is “namaste”, a greeting in Nepal because everyone responded to him when he said that.

Singaporean Parents Take Their 4-year-old Around 23 Countries (& Counting) on 2-Year Preschool Gap Year
Rakcent, Carol and Atlas in Albania (Left) and Germany (Right)

Has your child struggled with being away from the familiar (home, friends, family)?

Initially he struggled with nainai (grandma) being away, but he accepted it and video-called her daily. He misses his toy trains at home. Also his comfort food like char siew rice and bun.

Are you planning to enroll in local primary school when you return and if so how are you keeping up with academics on your trip?

Yes, he will be back to school. For now, we are just building his foundation of learning. First he needs curiosity, that sense of wonder, how things work and the why. Second, he needs to have the drive/motivation to find out the whys and third, the ability to socialise. Alone you can only do so much but together you can achieve more. His learning is unstructured at the moment, mama speaks to him in English and papa speaks to him in Mandarin. Math will be through our daily activities like counting rocks, snacks, time and money. Science will just be everything else. Writing probably needs to be a deliberate process. Now we just allow him to draw anything to develop his fine motor skills. He’s already showing curiosity in reading, and we told him if he could read he could understand what’s happening. So that’s a good sign. He’s currently able to socialise with others without speaking a common language. He successfully ordered a drink on his own with a non-English speaking vendor.

How have you budgeted for the two years on the road?

Just our hard-earned savings through the years, we don’t have any side income.

Singaporean Parents Take Their 4-year-old Around 23 Countries (& Counting) on 2-Year Preschool Gap Year
Atlas in Croatia

Some (not us at Sassy Mama!) may say it is useless to travel with a young child, they won’t remember anything, what is your view on this and what do you hope your child takes away from the experience?

I doubt he will remember much, at best it’s just fragments of his best moments. I’m also forgetting where I’ve been to! (I actually need to look back at my travel log!) I think there’s more to travelling than just remembering where you have been.

As long as he keeps wondering, finding the drive to learn and socialise with people of diverse backgrounds, this trip will be fruitful. We believe the experience that stimulates their learning will contribute to their overall development, especially in his formative years. And the bond we made will certainly stay. Also while travelling, we get to explore, learn and navigate through challenges together as a family, the positive impact of exploration will likely stay and will be incredibly useful for his future self. It’s just like sending children to preschool and enrichment classes, they won’t remember the exact words teachers said, but they will likely retain what’s being taught. World schooling is not too different. We also emphasised a lot on sharing time, sometimes we accompanied Atlas to the playground, and sometimes Atlas accompanied us to the supermarket and museum.

We both learnt to find joy in each other’s activities, it’s an inclusive trip for all of us.

Thank you so much for sharing your story and your adventures so far Rakcent, Carol and Atlas. We have major travel-envy and wish you all the best on your next trip – especially to my childhood home, Kenya!

All images courtesy Rakcent and Carol

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