Family on the go: Fayetteville couple, adult children explore the world together
By Bobby Parker
At work, they call him doctor. At home, he’s dad.
But when his family sets out on another adventure, Sanjay Shah has a different title: CTO.
That’s “chief travel officer.”
Sanjay charts all the arrangements for airline flights, hotel and resort stays, outdoor excursions and more when he, his wife and two adult children explore the world.
“He gets huge kicks out of this,” says his wife, Liza, 53.
“Preparing for the trip is as much of a thrill as traveling,” says Sanjay, 55.
He’s a nephrologist — a kidney specialist — so analytical thinking comes naturally.
The Shahs typically travel abroad or in the U.S. once a month. Their son, Rohun, 25, and daughter, Preeya, 22, go with them when their college-student schedules allow.
When they’re deciding where to go, each member of the family gets to pick a personal Top 3 list of destinations. They talk about the possibilities and come to an agreement. The options are ever-evolving, says Liza, so there’s always someplace new in the mix.
“Our bucket list keeps on increasing as we check them off the list,” says Liza.
The Shahs’ love of travel extends back to at least 1995, when he was in training to become a doctor. They were living in a small apartment and decided that the most important thing in life is “memories, not money.” So they took a break from med school for a seven-month world tour.
Since then, they have visited six continents. They hope to check off No. 7 when they go to Antarctica next February.
The Shahs try to avoid tourist traps such as expensive shops and restaurants.
“Stuff is stuff,” says Liza. “We focus on the experiences.”
She loves to explore “village life.”
“For every great city, there’s something even more fabulous in the country,” she adds.
They especially enjoy exploring nature, including a trip to Alaska to see the Northern Lights and one to Iceland, where they viewed the Milky Way. Her passion is hiking, so they have visited national parks in Utah about nine times in the past three years and ventured overseas to Norway, New Zealand and other destinations. Sanjay is an avid golfer who has played courses with his son in Scotland, South Africa and more.
“I work hard, but I play harder,” he says.
The couple, who moved from Charlotte to Fayetteville 22 years ago, are natives of India. Liza was raised in South Carolina. Sanjay works at both Cape Fear Valley Medical Center and Betsy Johnson Regional Hospital in Dunn.
Sanjay says he is always looking for deals when he plans their itineraries. His best tip: Airlines offer packages that include the flight, hotel and excursions, and that can trim costs. He often uses Delta.
Once when his wife and her college friends were planning a getaway to Biltmore resort, he stepped in to investigate other possibilities. He found them an itinerary that sent them to Florida for less than the Asheville trip would have cost.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Shahs limited themselves to trips within the United States and, more specifically, to states with the lowest number of cases. Sanjay – yes, he’s the doctor – was not satisfied with standard masks and bought respirators for each family member. And he added a mask for even more protection.
Liza says the family’s travels have taught her children “so much more than any book.”
“It’s taught them that (people) are so much more alike than different,” she says. “The world is a big place, but it’s getting smaller every day.”
The Shahs’ most recent trip was in April. They went to Paris and France’s Champagne region with a group of about 40 to celebrate a birthday.
“A lot of people go on vacation to escape life,” says Liza. “But vacation is a big part of life.”