I didn’t grow up travelling but now I’m visiting all the landmarks that inspired me

written by Sahil Patel May 13, 2024

My hard-working immigrant parents believed travelling for fun was frivolous, and they encouraged me to focus on my studies. But it’s those studies that fuelled my fascination for ancient architecture – and I couldn’t imagine never seeing it for myself.

It was early morning in Cairo, Egypt, and still cold and dark. The ride was peaceful and comfortably quiet alongside our fellow travellers, most of us still dreary eyed and possibly even drooling. With each passing minute, the pyramids I had only seen in movies got closer and grew larger and sharper. They almost looked gold in the light of the rising sun.  

As I hopped out of our modern-day chariot, a faux-leather-lined travel van, my girlfriend Allison’s hand in mine, we were met with a warm glow. There they were. The Great Pyramids of Giza. Iconic, mammoth, radiating the sun back at us as it outlined every crevice, crack and brick. To simply say I was in awe doesn’t capture it.  

‘I’ve seen these on screen, I’ve read about them in books, drawn them in art class, but I’ve never truly seen them. Not like this,’ I thought to myself. There I was, experiencing one of the oldest wonders with the love of my life. How privileged, inspired and humbled I felt in that moment. 

Growing up, I was fascinated by architecture. Especially ancient world architecture. I’ve always thought that, while an individual cannot live forever, what we as humanity can build and construct is a way of affirming our existence and withstanding the test of time. The pyramids cemented that belief as I stood among people from all walks of life gathering to marvel at them. 

Maybe that’s why I studied civil engineering. So much of my education and interests revolved around what we can create from our minds with some math and some work. 

Despite graduating as an engineer, my heart wanted to follow a different path, a concept that’s still somewhat foreign to my South Asian Indian community. I decided to become an entrepreneur. Want to see shock? Look at the face of an Indian man whose son has just told him he’s going to run his own gym.  

Studying hard my whole life had led to a neglect in my physical wellbeing. During my undergrad, I took control of my health and got into fitness. While the physical transformation was encouraging, what I valued was the sense of independence and confidence that came from taking care of myself.  

I wanted to share this feeling with others. I didn’t want to work for someone and the same way I took ownership of my own wellbeing, I wanted to take ownership of my career.  

While my love for engineering faded, my awe of monuments like the Great Pyramids, the Colosseum, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal lived on. But as the son of two immigrant parents, I grew up with the idea that travelling ‘just for fun’ is frivolous. 

What I understand now, and what my parents may never understand, is that money only has a value when you use it on the things that truly matter to you. 

My parents moved to Canada in their 20s, and taking trips back to India to visit family was the only travel I saw my parents do. Like many South Asian immigrants, they worked tirelessly to pave a path for my younger sister and I, but for two hard-working immigrants the idea of spending money on luxuries was always frowned upon.  

My parents grew up in the poor countryside of Gurjarat, so every dollar made was precious, cherished even. As first-gen immigrants, they made sure to impart that quality in us children. Every snack, concert, clothing, activity and field trip was scrutinised.  

To this day, I struggle with the concept of spending money on personal enjoyment. A certain level of coveting was instilled into me at a young age. What I understand now, and what my parents may never understand, is that money only has a value when you use it on the things that truly matter to you. 

The idea of spending my life without experiencing ancient architecture and all the world had to offer didn’t sit right with me. The presence of those famous monuments was a constant reminder that I just had to reach out to experience their history. This reality loomed over me, especially during the pandemic. 

I assured myself that I would travel eventually.  

Then, I met Allison, an experienced traveller, to say the very least. She had already travelled to more than 30 countries. The universe brought us together (well, maybe with the help of a certain dating app’s algorithm). Either way, it felt like kismet.

a man and a woman in the wadi rum with their arms in the air

The first time I had left the country in over 20 years was with Allison. We visited Rome. I had dreamed of seeing the Colosseum since watching The Gladiator as a kid. Experiencing it firsthand versus reading about it or seeing it in a film was so different. Seeing famous sights like the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon affirmed it. I was in love with travelling. The gelato shop visits every evening helped too.  

Like me, Allison is an entrepreneur. Just one of the many hats she wears. For all the great parts about it, being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. I work roughly 80 hours a week. There is a very real burnout concern. As someone that has never really travelled, who rarely has the bandwidth to plan a social hangout, let alone a trip, jetting off to some far-flung destination posed some real obstacles.  

The first time I had left the country in over 20 years was with Allison. We visited Rome. I had dreamed of seeing the Colosseum since watching The Gladiator as a kid.

Allison suggested taking a trip with Intrepid to Egypt and Jordan. A company that takes care of itineraries and uses local leaders is perfect for a pair of busy entrepreneurs who have zero time for planning. Being a person of colour and Allison being a person with a disability, brands like Intrepid who pride themselves on inclusion and representation speak to us. And knowing that they support local communities with homestay visits and experiences made us feel like we would get a more authentic version of Egypt and Jordan.   

Seeing the ancient Great Pyramids and Sphinx in real life with Intrepid was everything I could possibly ask for. It’s a core memory that will live on etched in my mind forever, but there were other moments that made me feel thankful. We took a hot air balloon over the King’s Valley as the sun rose. We sailed on the Nile as the stars brightened in the sky.  

I even got to walk the historical site of Petra – a city cut into pink-hued mountain rock. The monastery and treasury, with their towering columns and weathered yet enduring sculptures, are top draws for visitors. As an engineer, seeing these colossal stone structures was remarkable. What stood out to me most was the seemingly endless hours and effort required to carve such buildings and put fine intricate details into sandstone. It’s a level of artistry and devotion we don’t often see today. 

Now as I continue to travel and admire the work of history’s engineers, thanks to my parents, I can appreciate the engineers’ efforts even more.  

My parents supported my engineering studies. Without that, I wouldn’t have spent hours developing the skills to create buildings, bridges and roads. Understanding the math, physics and design process has given me a deeper understanding and appreciation for the construction of humankind’s greatest monuments and only strengthened my passion for ancient architecture.  

I may not be on the exact path my parents laid out, but in many ways, I carry them with me. What they didn’t realise was by creating so many opportunities for me, they provided the means for me to take my own path.  

Of course, travel isn’t just about the paths we’ve taken ourselves, but the many different paths that cross one another. The people we get to meet and the stories we share.   

My favourite moments, the parts of the trip that really stood out, were the dinners and hang-outs with my new travel mates. Here I was, a Canadian-born Indian man breaking bread with people from different walks of life, forming friendships and sharing stories. It didn’t feel frivolous.

It’s something you have to experience in person. Enjoying laughs while scarfing down shawarma in travel vans or sipping wine as the sun sets, these moments feel like integral pieces of your personal history. Like those awe-inspiring ancient monuments, it’s an opportunity to create something for yourself that spans a lifetime.  

Sahil travelled on Intrepid’s 15-day Discover Egypt & Jordan trip.

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