They Quit Their Ad Jobs to Travel the World. 4 Years Later, They've Conquered It

Chanel and Stevo's long and winding road

Chanel Cartell and Stevo Dirnberger met on a blind date and fell in love in the spring of 2010. They both worked agency jobs, but by the spring of 2015 they were feeling complacent in their careers. Inspired by a Stefan Sagmeister talk called "The Power Of Time Off," they decided to shake things up. So, on March 2, 2015, Chanel and Stevo took a leap into the unknown. 

Chanel quit her job at Cerebra; Stevo resigned from Joe Public. And they embarked on what they planned to be a yearlong trip around the world. Their only real goal was to see how far they could get from home—literally and figuratively—and document the experience in a creative way. They called the project How Far From Home.

They created a "Wanderlist" of challenges for themselves, and asked their friends and followers to add to the list. It wasn't always easy; they ended up scrubbing a lot of toilets and polishing a lot of wine glasses while working odd jobs along the way. But they made it through that first year, with some incredible adventures to tell. And then they just kept going. 

Almost five years later, they're still on the road. And they've turned their creative jaunt into a real business. They are now influencers, with 168,000 Instagram followers, and they work with brands as photographers, filmmakers, and social content creators. They've counted Marriott's Luxury Collection hotels, Kenya and Qatar tourism, and Columbia Sportswear among their clients. 

Having told Chanel and Stevo's story when they first headed out on their adventure, we decided to catch up with them four years later to see how things have panned out. (Spoiler: They're getting married next year, so things are going very well indeed.) Below are excerpts from our email conversation. 

Muse: It's been four years since you set out. What's been the most rewarding part of your journey, and what's been most difficult? 

Chanel Cartell and Stevo Dirnberger: Wow, yes it's been a wild and unforgettable four years. What we thought would be a small year-long chapter of our lives has turned into a lifestyle that's evolving and turning into much more than just a phase. 

We're still in disbelief that we've been able to do this for so long, and see so much, and have the opportunity to work with such amazing clients on some creative work that we wouldn't have dreamed of doing back home. Let's take last year as an example—a reputable luxury hotel brand based out of New York entrusted us to travel to nine countries on five continents to tell their hotels' stories online for an entire year. Dream job, a lot would say. Pretty surreal that we were given this opportunity. Along with the really long ticked bucket list, and the fact that we've been able to be inseparable for the most part of four years, those definitely have been the most rewarding parts. 

On the flip side, the long travel days, away from home and loved ones, have also taken their toll. Our bodies have definitely felt the impact of this lifestyle, and without a clear routine, it's been difficult to stay healthy. We can certainly say that this full-time-travel life is definitely not sustainable, and although it's been a blast, it won't last forever, as we certainly need more rest, better food and more time with those we love. Having our own bed would also be nice.

How many places have you visited over the years? 

As of this week, we're sitting on 216 cities/towns/villages/islands from 58 countries and over 625,850 kilometers [389,000 miles] traveled—185 flights so far as well.

Did you ever get back to South Africa, and do you have a home base these days? 

We returned home after the first year to give a talk on the exact same stage where we saw Stefan Sagmeister talk about "The Power Of Time Off"—essentially the talk that inspired us to take this journey in the first place—so it was a really great way to "close the loop." We'd traveled just over 100,000 kilometers [62,000 miles] at that point. 

After our brief visit home, we continued traveling—interest peaked in our Instagram account and blog, and we subsequently started picking up retainer clients and working on various short-term projects, which have funded our travels and fueled our desire to create. It's like we are "back in advertising" but in a whole new realm, creating online content, with no limitation on clients—we're servicing brands from L.A. to the Czech Republic—and somehow we've turned this small personal project into a globetrotting two-person agency. 

With regards to a home base, that is the next phase for us and we'll be dedicating next year after we get married to "finding home" in a little web series idea we're working on. The closest thing we have to a "home" right now is a room at Steve's aunt's house in Salzburg, where we visit every three months to swap clothes for the next season of travel. It's the most comforting thing, coming back to a room we've seen before, but we certainly need our own space after all this time.

What's one place you haven't visited that you'd like to? 

There's still a few places we'd like to see—Chile and the Atacama Desert, Argentina's Torres Del Paine National Park, Bolivia, Mexico, South Korea, China, and, a little closer to home, the gorillas in Uganda and Botswana's Okavango Delta. 

One goal of the journey was to experiment with creative projects. How did those projects evolve over time? 

In our first year we definitely opened ourselves up to everything—illustration, wood carving, cooking—but as our photography evolved, and our blog grew, we've definitely focused our efforts on photography and writing, and more recently filmmaking and video editing. It's been so rewarding to teach ourselves and gain client work from our learnings. We're definitely a lot more focused on crafting and producing better work, rather than just sporadically doing random projects. The first year was the perfect sabbatical, and since year two we've honed in and really worked on our craft and building our skillsets.

What other kinds of brand partnerships have you had? 

We work a lot with brands from the tourism and hotel industries, sharing experiences rather than things—although we have partnered with amazing clothing and lifestyle product brands where the brand alignment made sense. 

Besides promoting those brands on our channels to our travel-hungry community, we're doing a lot of freelance work specifically meant for our clients' own online and social channels—so a lot of photography, video, and most recently we had a role acting in a web show road tripping across Europe. If you'd told us before our journey that we'd be on set called out as "talent" instead of the guys behind the camera, we would've laughed, but now it's just another project that we're open to experimenting with. It's been fun!

Have you done any pure advertising work since you left in 2015?

In terms of traditional advertising, like billboards and print ads, no, we haven't really dabbled in that … although a tourism board and airline both purchased images from us that were subsequently used on print adverts and billboards, so in a weird way we have contributed. But our main work has lived online—supplying our clients with photos and videos to use on their social and websites, and heavily doing influencer campaigns on our own channels. We like to think that we're still 100 percent involved in advertising—it's just a different kind of advertising. 

Would you encourage other young creatives to follow your lead? 

We get a lot of messages from young students and people starting out in their careers, and our advice is always to make full-time travel a goal you reach after you've gained some experience in the working world. We're really happy that we both had seven and eight years of work experience under our belts before venturing out, because with that knowledge and the skills we learned while working, we were able to make this a full-time career now, working for ourselves. Which is the ultimate goal, isn't it—being able to work on your own schedule? 

And for creatives who have been working in the industry, we would 100,000 percent advise them to do something like this—even if it's just a temporary few months break, to gain a fresh perspective and maybe learn some new skills, or finally make time to complete that personal project/book/hobby they've been putting off. Self-fulfillment in creativity is essential to making you a better creative—you can't have projects at the back of your mind holding you back from the next big idea. The sooner you make time to complete the project you're itching to create, the sooner you can create the next one, or improve the first one, or grow a business from it. Action is the best motivation.

You're getting married next year. Congrats! Seems like the couple that travels together, stays together? 

Haha, indeed! Yes, we'll be getting married in February 2020 on the full moon—a chance to have a reunion with all the friends and family we've missed. It's strange to think that half of our entire relationship has been spent on the road, literally doing everything together and spending 24/7/365 together. We'd definitely recommend this type of "commitment" for couples thinking about getting married—travel definitely allows you to see EVERY side of a person's personality, and if you can come out of it still wanting to spend every waking moment together, you should be destined for a blissful marriage. We hope. ;)

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards.