Bio: I first found Chanel and Stevo through Instagram and was inspired by their journey to figure out how far they could get from home. After nearly 15 combined years of work in the advertising and branding industries, their lives were pretty set. They were filled with family, friends, amazing jobs, shiny cars and a beautiful home. Sounds pretty great, hey? Well they thought so too…until they felt the routine of perfection creeping up and aging them with its complacency. They were no longer feeling challenged, and thinking back to the last time their life hit a little wall, the ‘Yes Man’ theory had risen its shiny head again, except this time, there was two of them saying “yes” to the world, and all it has to offer. They’re looking at a journey that allows them to live outside of the shuddering comfort zone, and gives them the opportunity to say “yes” to a whole bunch of crazy cool experiences whilst fueling their creative needs.
Zephan: Hey, everyone, this is Zephan Blaxberg and this is another episode of the Year of Purpose podcast. I’m joined today by Stevo and Chanel, and they’re two creatives with one wanderlust, zero reasons to stay at home. They’re currently traveling around the world in a quest to see how far from home they can get, literally to see how far they can travel from Johannesburg, South Africa and figuratively to see how far they can push themselves outside of their comfort zones. Today, they’re joining me all the way from, where are you guys today?
Stevo: Salzburg, Austria.
Zephan: Wow, the fact that we can connect, I’m here on the East Coast of the United States. I don’t even know how many thousands of miles away we are right now.
Stevo: It’s a long—I think if we had to fly, it would take us around seventeen hours, I would say. Or something a little like that.
Chanel: Yeah, at least.
Zephan: You guys, if this was home, you would be very far, far ways away from home.
Stevo: Yeah, absolutely. I think we’ve done the maths and Hawaii is the farthest from South Africa we could get in a straight line distance.
Chanel: Yeah, that’s almost the end goal. We need to get there because that’s the farthest point directly on the globe.
Zephan: Oh, very cool. You guys have to tell me when you go there first because I’ll have to meet you out there, that’s a wonderful place I haven’t been to yet.
Chanel: Sounds good.
Stevo: You can take up some surf lessons.
Zephan: So, I want to hear about how this all got started because this—when I heard about you guys, I found you on Instagram. You guys have an account; I think it’s @howfarfromhome?
Stevo: Yes, that’s it.
Zephan: I found you guys on there and I ultimately found your blog online. I want to know where this all starts because it’s such an inspiring thing and I think they’re so many people that crave to do something like what you guys are doing. People don’t take the action; they don’t do it because excuse after excuse. Where were you guys when this all started and I’m sure people are going to wonder, what type of jobs did you work and ultimately, when was that decision to leave home?
Stevo: Yeah, I think we were like a lot of other people. We were all talk, no action for quite some time. Chanel was always very, very keen on traveling the world and she—we’d been together for about four years before we left on our journey. She’d always been dropping hints and I was like “Yeah, maybe, maybe we should do this, I don’t know.”
Chanel: Especially when you were sleeping, I would try brainwash you.
Stevo: Yeah, whisper in my ear. It got to a point where we both attended the 2014 Design in Durban, Cape Town and we got to witness a talk by a Mr. Stefan Sagmeister about the power of time off and how it’s really good for creativity. Us both coming from the creative industry, we both worked in advertising—Chanel was a creative director and I was an art director—this really caught our attention, I think. Once we heard his speech, it hit home for us and it was at the back of our minds the entire time. I think this is when it actually happened. It was a catalyst and it made us realize that this is something that maybe we can do, maybe it’s beneficial for us.
It might not be the worst move for our careers, because I think that’s always one of the walls in front of a decision like this. I think from that point on, we decided this is something we could really do and we saved for a year. We didn’t go out; we became Hermit crabs at home. Then a year later, we quit our jobs, which was quite tough.
Chanel: Yeah, I think quitting was the hardest because we both loved our work. It wasn’t that we didn’t like what we were doing. I think we just reached a level of comfort where it was almost too comfortable. We had routines and it was advertising. Sure, it was exciting and stressful but it was also the same thing every day. When you’re at that point, your creativity isn’t being stimulated, it’s not being challenged. After hearing Stefan’s talk and seeing the benefits of it, we thought well, we’re still young relatively. We don’t have much to lose, so why the hell not.
Stevo: Like it really isn’t a decision that most of us make overnight and we did give it some thought and we spoke to family members. They were obviously very encouraging but it’s bittersweet at the same time. I think we followed our guts and we really felt that if we take a sabbatical, there could be potentially so much more we could do. So many doors can open or even just getting to see the world which can’t be so bad itself.
Zephan: Very cool. I’m just wondering, was there any particular part in hearing that talk that really resonated with you, only because it takes so many years to make a decision like this. You guys have been considering it for quite some time, it wasn’t just like you had thought about it and next week you’re off. I’m just curious from the standpoint of anyone who really wants to travel or up and go and do what you guys did, do you think that there is any one part of that talk that really stuck with you and said “All right, we just have to do this?”
Chanel: I suppose we can’t speak for everyone. For creative people, the one thing I think that stood for us was the freedom to experiment and do whatever you want. We saw Stefan, he did some incredible projects in Bali and he just got to do anything he wanted. There was no client brief, there was no deadline—well, of course, besides the year. You just have complete freedom and for us, that is the unicorn that we’re after. We can get up—we get up when we want to get up and we sleep when we’re tired, we eat when we’re hungry and we just create when we’re inspired. I think being on trip like this, we just have so many opportunities and there is so much inspiration because you’re taking in so many different cultures that our work has never been better, our thinking has evolved. For anyone else considering it, like I would say “Why aren’t you doing it yet?” There’s really…
Stevo: Yeah, Stephan also spoke about how good it is to get away from your routine, your daily life and as a creative person, this actually it’s essential because we’re doing the same things every day. If you actually take some time to take a step back, take a deep breath and reflect, your thinking becomes clearer and I think you’re open to more ideas, which as a creative person is quite important.
Zephan: I think that makes perfect and sense and I’m realizing a trend because I think this happens a lot with creative people. I’m a videographer and I do some photo work from time to time. I think that when creatives get stuck inside of a box for so long, they really need to get out and explore and that’s exactly where this craving comes from to travel and see the world. How did you guys prepare for this? Obviously, it took some time to ease out of the job and you were saying how you saved up. Was there anything else that you did to teach yourselves what it was going to be like or what to pack? I’m sure you had way more belongings that you could take with you?
Chanel: The first step I think was figuring out what we actually wanted to do, the idea of travelling the world, it’s too big. You almost need to pin it down and decide what you actually want to do. We put together a wanderlust, which was our version of a bucket list, travelling bucket list. We wrote down almost all the things we’ve always wanted to do. It gave us some sort of direction as to what we need to research. Once we knew that, then we could see “Okay, how much money do you actually need to take a road trip around Norway.” From there, the research almost began and we found a company called Work Away who organized, they basically partner up hosts with volunteers, so the host offering accommodation and food, and then the volunteers can go and stay there in exchange for three to four hours of work day.
For us, it’s worked like a dream. We worked at the top of Norway at a husky farm or husky lodge, working with seventy huskies. We went mushing with them. We got to take a road trip up to the north cape, which is the northern most point of Europe. All it cost us was two flights to Norway. When you look at it like that, it is doable and you obviously need to choose what you want to do. You can’t do everything but you choose the specifics and then you go from there. Then we created a bit of an itinerary and we said “Okay, well, let’s be in Norway in May and then let’s go spend my birthday in Copenhagen in June and so forth.” You kind of start mapping it out.
Stevo: Yeah, and then I think once you’ve decided on most of this, you’re obviously going to have things holding you back. Back home, we had to get rid of pretty much everything. We sold cars, we sold, jeez…
Chanel: All of our furniture, appliances. At the end, I think we’ve been left now with four bags and one of those bags is filled with camera gear because we’re both budding photographers. We had one bag full of camera gear and then three bags of clothes and miscellaneous things.
I suppose, any tips for that? I would say roll your clothes because you can fit more in. Create a whole bunch of piles that you have to take, you maybe can take and then you don’t really need and kind of go from there. Yeah, and it’s amazing how little you actually need, that’s what we’re discovering. We’re leaving stuff behind now as we go. I think I’ve left shoes in Athens because I didn’t need them anymore and I thought “Uh, this is just weighing me down.” As humans, we really don’t need a lot.
Zephan: Very nice. And I love the mentality of minimalism and only using what you need. I know it’s hard as a person with camera gear, so I can definitely relate because I used to be, years ago, I could pack everything I own into my car within about an hour. Now, it’s like I’ve got camera gear everywhere and there’s just no way it would happen. I’d been like that person who has three bags of camera gear and like a little backpack for my clothes, I do the opposite.
Stevo: The problem is when you always want more camera gear, don’t you?
Zephan: Yeah, yeah, that’s a huge problem.
Chanel: Our rule is if it enhances your experiences then it’s worth it, everything else you don’t need.
Zephan: I think that makes perfect sense. I would definitely follow that if I were getting ready to hit the road. That’s what I try to do even now when I travel within the country. Something that you guys brought up there and I’m sure is on people’s minds right now is always financials and how does all these stuff work. You brought up a good point that there are places where you can work in trade for your stay and your food. Maybe just talk a little bit about financials and how your perspective of money has changed since you guys started this trip.
Chanel: We are using a app called Trail Wallet, I think it was created by other travel bloggers and it’s really useful. We budget per month. At the beginning of the trip, we took all the cash we had from the savings, from selling our cars, from selling our furniture, and then we said “Okay, let’s divide this between the twelve months and then let’s stick to monthly budgets” because I think if you just want to go and spend, after six months, you’re going to be broke. We were quite wise that way, I think. We balanced it out, so some months we lie low and we do things for free, I.E. we take our camera out and we go for a walk. Sometimes people forget that you can do things for free, not everything costs. Then on other months, we would plan more trips into Italian cities or Copenhagen or Stockholm or whatever it may be.
Stevo: Yeah, I think you just got to get a good idea of what you want to, where you want to go and how much that’s going to cost.
Chanel: It really is as simple as that.
Stevo: You just got to stick to that budget.
Chanel: You don’t have to do all the touristy things. You don’t have to eat at the most expensive restaurants. We were kind of dining like locals in all these places because we’re checking out all the street food and it’s cool. It’s three Euros for a hot dog versus twenty Euros for a massive meal at a restaurant two shops away. You don’t always need to go the extravagant route.
Stevo: Yeah, and another one of things which we have done this year—it might not be the way but it’s the way we’ve done it—is we’ve booked a lot of our transport ahead of time. There’s a benefit because you’re going to be paying less, the earlier you book. I would say the downside is that if you start to like a certain country or place, you’ve got your ticket out of there booked already so you wouldn’t be able to extend your stay. These are things that we kind of finding out if it’s good or bad but it’s definitely saved us money in the long run.
Chanel: Then for accommodation, besides using Work Away and working, we check out something like hotels.com, Airbnb, Hostel World. We’re constantly looking between the three and always going with the cheapest route. For us, we’re not looking—the trip’s purpose is not to go and stay in luxurious accommodations in all the cities we go to. We just want to have a bed, somewhere to stay and then we go out and we explore. For us, it’s always the cheapest route.
Zephan: Right, and I’m sure in some locations—like I’ve been into Thailand as one of my next trips and there, you can get a luxury apartment for like twenty dollars a night.
Zephan: Which is next to nothing. My apartment here—or at my town house here is probably more than the rent there for an entire month. There are definitely some places where I’m sure you get the opportunity to live a little bit more comfortably. You really—I’m sure once you have your creature comforts of food, water, shelter and entertain, you guys are pretty much set.
Stevo: Absolutely, I think we started out our—one of second destinations was Norway, and Norway has to be one of the most expensive places in Europe and maybe possibly the world. I think we’re heading off to Thailand…
Chanel: This weekend.
Stevo: This weekend and I think we’re also going to be a lot happier with the exchange rate. That’s another thing, we’re coming from South Africa and the South African rand isn’t as strong as we wanted it to be. I think to the Euro it’s fifteen to one. Plan on where you want to go. I think we wanted to see Norway, we wanted to see Scandinavia but if we had to do this again, we definitely would go for cheaper countries with better exchange rate to our own.
Zephan: Yeah, and so you guys have been on the road for—is it over six months now?
Chanel: Caging on eight months soon, I think. Yeah, somewhere around there.
Zephan: Wow, and so the original plan was just a year?
Chanel: Yeah, so the plan was a yearlong sabbatical and—but at the moment, we actually have no idea what the plan is. A year will obviously be marked in February so we are going back to South Africa. We have a wedding and a couple of prior arrangements that we have to attend but other than that, we’re not entirely sure what our next plan is. We quite like it that way. We’re trying to stay in the moment and enjoy the ride but, if we had it our way, we probably wouldn’t give this life up.
Stevo: We’ll do it for as long as we can I think, yeah.
Zephan: Yeah, definitely. It sounds like you’re having experiences that some people only dream of. To do that for a year, for sure you’d be hungry to go back for more. It’s always great to stop back at home and see family and friends and they’re probably watching your adventures right now and saying “Oh, I wish I could be there.” It must be a really good feeling to be able to go back and at least share that with them and know that you could go back out at any point in time.
Stevo: Yeah, absolutely.
Zephan: Tell me a little bit about just where you guys have been since you started because you’ve been out for almost a year. We’re three quarters away through a year. What were some of your favorite experiences? Did you ever run into any scary experiences in certain cities or anything like that?
Chanel: We’ve done most of Europe, that’s been a huge part for us, we both have European roots so for us, it was all about getting to the roots and seeing the beautiful cultures. It’s so convenient in Europe because you hop on a train and ten minutes later you’re in a different country. We’ve really enjoyed it. We’ve done Austria quite a lot. We’ve done Germany, most of Scandinavia. We’ve done Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Then we’ve done Greece and Italy and Turkey, yeah and Turkey most recently.
Stevo: Yeah, a lot of Germany, central Europe has kind of been where we’ve been hanging out for a lot of the time.
Chanel: Yeah, and some of the highlights, we went sailing for five days through Greek Isles which was incredible. We went and met up with some friends there. We got to hang out with friends who were actually holidaying in Istanbul, friends from Johannesburg flew out to Istanbul and of course, we had to drop everything and go see them, that was very rewarding. We worked at a dog training facility in Italy close to Florence which was incredible.
I think just the zest from living with such selfless people was eye-opening for us. We did a month in Sweden. We also decided to go unplugged that month, that was a very interesting month for us because one of the things we wanted to do this year was to go unplugged completely from the Internet and from family and friends. During our month in Sweden it was quite hard because the weather there wasn’t great. It was five degrees in the middle of Summer.
Stevo: Yeah, it was mid-summer and just raining and cold and we’re like “This is what they look for.”
Chanel: Yeah, and there was one of our Work Away experiences where the jobs we had to do was cleaning toilets and doing laundry. We’ve got that, we’ve got rain outside and we completely disconnected from the world. That month, I think itself was an eye-opening experience.
Stevo: It was very hard, yeah, but it was so good.
Chanel: It was so good. Then I think just the time in Norway working at the Husky Lodge, driving up to the north cape and spending my birthday in Copenhagen eating at Noma. Sure, we’ve had some incredible experiences.
Stevo: Lots, we saw the midnight sun in Norway, which is something we had been wanting to see for a while, which just blew our mind away. It seems that every place we go we say “This is our new favorite city.” We have a problem.
Zephan: Oh, yeah, that would give me a hard time too because I would want to say but then you’re tempted by a new place you want to go see and you don’t want to leave. That’s so cool.
Chanel: It’s a big problem to have.
Zephan: Yeah, and so a big fear that people have in traveling not only money-wise which you guys have totally crushed which is great. I love when you have a really cool solution. You guys had, you shared a great app, you shared a great opportunity to work in trade for living and food. A lot of people are concerned just about how safe it is in certain areas and crime rates and things like that, have you guys been safe the whole trip? I know that in Europe it’s a little different than in Asia or somewhere else, but just curious to hear from your standpoint, what’s it been like?
Stevo: We’ve been perfectly safe. Everything has actually been really, really good.
Chanel: I think coming from South Africa, we both love South Africa but the crime rate there is incredibly high especially in Johannesburg which was our hometown. I think we’re kind of used to knowing boundaries and knowing what you should be doing and you shouldn’t be doing. Going into city centers at 11:00 at night, not the best idea. I think we’re kind of prepared for that already.
I think the only I would say miserable situation that we’ve had was coming from Munich to Salzburg, we got stuck at the border because of the refugee crisis so that hit us quite hard. All trains were cut off and we’d booked a train previously, so we knew nothing about it. We had to somehow get a bus and then find some German lady who would help us and it was a bit of a mission but we got around to it. Besides that, we’ve—no, I think we’ve always got each other’s back as well so it helps when you’re traveling with someone.
Zephan: Yeah, definitely, I’ve always met up with people along the way even when I do travel. I think that you’re absolutely right, as long as you just use your brain and think smart about things then, you probably don’t run into much. That’s really great to hear because I know that some people are afraid to travel just because of that and there really should be no reason for them to hold back. How are you guys documenting this trip? I know you guys have a blog and what are you going to do with this story when you go back home at the end of the year?
Stevo: We like to stay present so we haven’t quite thought about how or what we’re going to do with our story and if we’re going to take it anywhere. We started off with Instagram for us as creatives and we love photography, it seemed like the perfect, perfect fit to document our travels. Luckily enough, we’ve actually got some coverage on Instagram so far, which has actually really helped us. The nice thing is that we’re growing a community on our Instagram account and they’re giving us things to do. If we say we’re going to Istanbul in two days’ time, we get so many…
Chanel: Suggestions from locals.
Stevo: …suggestions. We’ve met up with a few people, so it’s almost becoming a new way of traveling for us which is—it’s really interesting and it’s eye-opening and it just makes—you can connect with so many people. We’re obviously blogging at the same time which we love to do. Chanel is a great writer, she does most of the writing. That’s just almost like a diary for us.
Chanel: A diary and a portfolio for our work. As we take photos and create art and meet up with people, that’s kind of where we document everything. It’s also where we house our Wander List. As we do things, we cross them off. And Steve just spoke about this community that we built up. As people are saying their suggestions of things to do and places to go, we’re adding it to the Wander List. It started out with sixty-nine items and now it’s sitting on like three hundred fifty of things to do. We need to get to it and do all these things.
Zephan: That’s awesome, that’s so cool. What advice do you have for anyone who sees people like you doing this and says “Oh, man, I dream of doing this.” What is it that you would want to say to them?
Stevo: I would say why haven’t you done it, honestly. What we’ve learned is that it doesn’t close any doors, it opens doors. Whether you’re just making friends with people all around the world, or as I said earlier, you’re just getting to see different places and different cultures, you’re learning that every culture has a different way of doing things. It shows you that you don’t have to do something a certain way, there’s other ways to do things and they can all be a successful as the rest.
Chanel: And I would say, don’t fear the financial side of it. There are ways around it, using services like Work Away. You can go and you can stay with a family and they’ll cover all the costs that you need and there are ways around it. You don’t have to be turned back by that.
Stevo: Yeah, I think with a little bit of financial planning, and almost having no ties back at home—you don’t want a cell phone contract that you have to pay, or a gym contract that you have to pay. These are some of the smaller things that you need to think out so give yourself enough time, plan for a year, a year and a half. I would say find someone to do it with. It’s definitely easier than traveling alone. You can share the load, whether it’s booking and just financially. Is there anything else?
Chanel: What else? I’m trying to think.
Stevo: Just have fun. Be curious because you just need to learn, learn, learn, that’s the whole point.
Chanel: And also be prepared that the hardest part of this trip is saying goodbye to the people that you meet. I think for us, that has been—we’ve been in tears saying goodbye to Huskies and their owners and it’s tough because when you get such a great relationship going with people like this, you become part of their family, and you’re there for four weeks and then you leave and then it’s like “Oh, I might never see you again.”
Stevo: Yeah, and on that note, it’s just people help you out. We found that you’re almost not alone when you’re traveling, like the connections you have with people and the human spirit, it’s just really, really good. We’ve been offered some places to stay, we’ve been offered food, we’ve been offered all sorts of things.
Chanel: People stop us in the road when they see we’re looking at a map. They’re like “Can I help you?” It’s like “Oh, sure, please, I have no idea how to pronounce these things.” It’s very cool.
Zephan: So if you could pick one place as a starting point that you recommend to people, which country do you think—or even city—do you think that people should go to?
Chanel: Wow, that’s tough.
Stevo: Sure, it is tough. I think one of our favorite cities is other than Salzburg, Austria, just because we love it is Copenhagen. Copenhagen is really, really cool. The people are very friendly, it’s a beautiful city and I would suggest hiring a bike to go around that. Maybe if you can afford it, do a bit of Scandinavia, and the work your way down into Europe.
Zephan: Awesome. I think that sounds like a plan, I might have to do that one.
Zephan: Stevo and Chanel, this has been awesome. I want to make sure that people can follow your journey and listen to your story. What is the best place for them to keep track of where you guys are and to support you guys in this?
Chanel: I think, predominantly our blog, which is howfarfromhome.com, and then on Instagram @howfarfromhome. We’re also on Twitter @howfarfromhome. And then our personal Instagram accounts, we show more imagery. If they want, it’s @chanelcartell and @stevodirnberger. You can get everything on the blog so you can get, go there.
Zephan: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for being guys. Enjoy the rest of the journey. I’m excited to see what happens after this year and what next year has in store for you.
Chanel: Thanks so much and maybe we’ll come meet up with you in Washington.
Zephan: You should, I’m happy to give you guys a tour. I hear I’m a pretty good tour guide so let me know.
Chanel: Yay, cool!
Stevo: Thank you.