Meet the Dubai family about to travel the world by bus

The globetrotting Schakats are gearing up for a remarkable 40,000km voyage in their home on wheels

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When Nina and Kai Schakat splashed out Dh25,000 on an old 83-seater bus last year, they had a bold vision of turning it into a home on wheels.

But their ambitions did not stop there.

The German couple, who have lived in Dubai for 15 years, had grand plans to turn their backs on the 9-to-5 slog and travel around the world.

Eight months later, after spending Dh175,000 turning the rickety six-cylinder diesel engine Ashok-Leyland banger into their home from home, they are less than a month from turning that dream into reality.

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They’ve started writing down a little bucket list of things they want to do. Leni wants to eat a cupcake from a vending machine in Japan and Ben wants to do go-karting in South Korea
Nina Schakat, Dubai resident

Together with their two children, Ben, 11 and Leni, 10, the adventurous family will begin an epic 14-month road trip across Asia — and possibly South America — on July 16.

The ultimate bus journey

“We first discussed the idea last summer when the kids were in Germany with their grandparents,” Nina tells The National.

“When you work you’re so limited on vacation time and can’t always be so adventurous as a family.

“Usually, a holiday consists of being a tourist in a hotel somewhere."

At first, the children were sceptical at the thought of leaving their friends behind but now the excitement is building, she says.

The family will cover about 40,000km in 14 months driving for a few hours each day.

“They’ve started writing down a little bucket list of things they want to do. Leni wants to eat a cupcake from a vending machine in Japan and Ben wants to do go-karting in South Korea.”

While the conversation last summer started off as places to visit in their retirement, Nina says it quickly took a U-turn.

As the couple started looking on a map and ticking off all the places they wished to see, they thought "why can’t we do it while the kids are still young?"

“I know that it’s a challenge travelling with kids sometimes, what with budgeting, finding accommodation and stuff, so we decided the best bet was to travel via a home on wheels,” she says.

“That’s when the whole idea just took off and here we are now, weeks away from starting our adventure."

A world of adventure

The couple purchased the bus in October and have spent the past eight months turning it into a compact home. In the meantime, Kai took his driving test for a bus licence and passed first time.

Previously used to transport construction workers around the UAE, the 2009 model bus was in good condition, had 700,000km on the clock and the capacity to hold 350 litres of fuel — which could keep the family going on the road for 2,300km.

The 24 square metre bus is kitted out with seven 450-watt solar panels on the roof, to help provide power, as well as six 200-amp batteries and a large water tank.

Water drained from the shower and washing machine will be used to flush the toilet and there is air-conditioning on board.

Like most homes, the bus has a dining area, lounge area, two bunk beds, a shower room and at the back, a master suite.

An ambitious timetable

Ben and Kai in Oman in May during a test run in the bus.

On July 16, assuming all documentation is in order, the family plan to leave for Bandar Abbas, Iran, through the ferry port in Sharjah.

From there, they aim to travel about 40,000km in total, covering about 10 countries along the way during the first leg, including Pakistan, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam.

“Once we have explored Vietnam we need to make a decision on how to move further,” says Nina.

“If we manage to complete that part of Asia within five months, then we will ship the bus to South America.

“However, the trip needs to remain flexible. We always had a bucket list, which includes South America and North America, but we are having some issues figuring out shipping logistics as prices have tripled in the past few months.

“If the price doesn’t go down then we’ll likely head to South Korea and Japan.”

No income for full 14 months

With a budget of about Dh100,000 for the entire trip, the family plan to spend about Dh8,000 per month on food, fuel and activities.

Nina, a project manager for PMKConsult in Dubai, was given a sabbatical for the full travel period so, while she has a job to return to, she will have no income throughout the trip.

Kai, a carpenter who owns his own small business, is in a similar situation.

With no one available to run his business while he is away, he will shut it down for the full 14 months, meaning neither will be earning money while on the road.

The couple did look at the option of keeping the children in school and signing up for remote learning, but it wasn’t possible, so they have enrolled them into iAcademy for a whole academic year.

“There is still a bit of planning to do and the money side of things will never be fully accurate, what with the current market, but even without everything set in stone we could still commence the journey,” says Nina.

“I think if we don’t do it now we could end up constantly delaying it, so we just want to take the leap and get going.

“For the past eight months we have run our company, worked full-time, looked after two kids and completely gutted and rebuilt the interior of a bus.

“We’re restless and we just want to get going and actually experience what we have been planning for the past eight months.”

In terms of highlights, the couple say it will be a huge learning experience for the whole family, especially the children who were born and raised in Dubai.

With plans to visit rural areas instead of big cities, Nina says they also intend to help build small parks for children along the way, when they can, and they will vlog and blog about the journey on Instagram via their 8feet6wheels account.

In terms of things that still need ticking off the list, the AC needs a few tweaks, they need to wrap the bus windows in tint and sort out paperwork for shipping the vehicle between certain countries.

When it comes to luxuries and food, they want to bring as little from their home in Dubai as they can to get the most out of the experience.

“The kids aren’t so adventurous with food so that might prove an issue but they are willing to try,” says Kai.

“Leni isn’t so bad but Ben is very hesitant trying new stuff, it will be interesting.

“As for me and Nina, we’re up for trying all different street foods and local delicacies.

“If you put roasted crickets in front of me I’ll even give them a try.”

Updated: June 21, 2022, 8:35 AM
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