When he arrived for his secondment at Pictet Asset Management in Dubai in 2014, Sloan already knew deep down, that he would travel home to Geneva by road. So he bought a car accordingly: a Land Rover Defender. And with that, the wheels for the trip of a lifetime were set in motion.
The seed had been sown ten years earlier when Sloan and a friend had the mad-cap idea of a round-the-world-trip in a vintage Fiat 500 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of this icon of Italian automobile design. Life got in the way and the trip never happened but the idea and dream of a long-distance drive quietly lingered.
Fast forward a few years and Sloan - happily married - is seconded to Dubai for four years. Curious and adventurers by nature, Sloan and his wife travelled extensively during this time, visiting Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and throughout Asia. The arrival of their two daughters did nothing to curb their itinerant instincts. “When you’re fine, they’re fine,” he says about travelling with young children. And Sloan has an innate faith in the inherent good of humanity. “We tend to build a set idea about a country or population based on how their politicians or religious leaders behave. But if you treat people like humans, you’ll find that fundamentally, they are good.”
That said, an eight-week drive with your family across Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Greece and Italy takes more than goodwill, so not a lot was left to chance. “I knew that if I was going to convince my wife to do this, I needed to be organised. I wouldn’t say I’m a control freak but I did have plan B, C through Z!” The most obvious worst case scenario was car trouble. So, on top of the extensive paperwork required to register, import, export and drive a foreign car across each country, Sloan also had a list of transporters, Land Rover mechanics and suppliers of spare parts in every country. He’d gone so far as to ‘lose’ a set of licence plates so that he had a backup if needed. “I even had the car chipped, so that if it moved during the night, I’d get an SMS. It was a hassle to set up because you need a SIM card that works in each country. But it was worth it for the peace of mind.”
“Our friends thought we were insane. They accused us of being selfish, irresponsible parents and sent us news stories of rebels burning flags. My mother even offered to fly out and take our daughters home by plane while we drove. Nobody understood. For us, it was about making ‘going home’ part of the adventure. A slow transition from our Dubai home to our Geneva home rather than a thud back to reality.” After months of planning, Sloan and his family were finally ready to set off. The car was inevitably packed to the brim with essentials such fire extinguishers, a shovel, two tents, an icebox but also kiddie snacks for three weeks and diapers for 2 months! “On our way out of Dubai, we drove through the city waving at all our favourite spots. There were a few tears but nothing compared to the excitement. Our next chapter had just started!”
So how does one drive 8974km across unfamiliar territory with a 2 and a 4 year old in the back of the car? “You drive through naptimes and be ready to adapt the plan if we find something fun to do, somewhere pretty to stay or something yummy to eat. Which we did. Often.” Hotels were booked the night before and the family averaged 150km a day, driving between 2 and 4pm. Arriving in a new place, they’d seek out the local park or playground, integrating local life and discovering corners not mentioned in Lonely Planet. “The point of this journey was to create family memories, we didn’t want our girls to look back on a very long dull car journey. It had to be fun for everyone.” Sloan and his wife took great pleasure in bringing historical ruins to life for their daughters. Walking around the piles of very old stones (aka Persepolis) turned into the exploration of an ancient kingdom and the hunt for the cell where the princess was kept locked up for many years.
Contrary to all their friends’ premonitions, Sloan and his family were candidly welcomed. “Everywhere we went, people were curious and wanted to know our story. We’d packed a carton of cigarettes in case we ever needed to barter but our two little blonde kids were all we needed. They were our smiling passports through border controls.”
They got stuck just once, in Armenia when a closed tunnel through the mountain meant driving over the mountain on a dirt track. Heavy rain had made the track unstable and their wheels just sank deeper and deeper into the mud. So Sloan’s wife set off across the fields to ask the farmer for help. An hour later, with one pack of cigarettes less, they were back on the road.
“It’s our preconceptions that stop us from carrying out our dreams. Throughout our trip we were met only with kindness and warmth. We’re all the same, we’re all human. We’re all figuring life out and trying to get food on the table for our families. I’m so grateful that my girls witnessed that. That’s why we were so determined to do this.”
They arrived home to Geneva 50 days after they’d set out. Filled with a lifetime of memories and stories to tell. And ready to start a new chapter. Which included the arrival of little Benjamin 8 months later. Sloan heartbreakingly sold the car last year. “It just wasn’t practical in Geneva.” But there’s clearly an idea brewing because he exchanged the car for a VW California van. And there are still two brand-new, never-used tents sitting in his basement as if waiting for a family road trip…
When he’s not driving across continents, Sloan is a Client Relationship Officer for the Middle East and Africa at Pictet Wealth Management in Geneva.