DREAMING OF TAKING A YEAR OFF?
Two women share the story of how they packed up their routine-centred lives and set out to explore what the world has to offer
Two women share the story of how they packed up their routine-centred lives and set out to explore the world
Chanel Cartell, 33, and fiancé Stevo Dirnberger, 32, are authors of the travel blog How Far From Home and have spent almost four years travelling the world together. I met Stevo on a blind date back in 2010. A mutual friend set it up and we hit it off straight away, spending that whole first weekend together. We’d both grown up in Johannesburg and had careers in the same industry; Stevo was an art director at an ad agency, and I was a creative director at a social media agency.
We lived a very normal life – we loved our jobs, shared a small apartment in Bryanston, and had friends and family living nearby. We went to gym during the week, had dinner with friends on weekends, and when we could, we would go to places like the Drakensberg, Clarens, Mozambique or Knysna. It was a comfortable, routine-led kind of life.
Giving it all up to see the world is obviously not something you decide to do overnight. Like many people, taking time off to go travelling was always a dream of ours, and it was something we spoke about doing ‘one day’. Then in early 2014, we attended the creative conference Design Indaba in Cape Town. There, we watched graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister give a talk about how he closed his New York-based firm every seven years to pursue his own experiences and find inspiration during this creative sabbatical. After the talk, Stevo and I immediately said to each other, ‘ We need to do this. What have we got to lose?’
For the next year we saved every last cent in preparation for our trip and, a year after that talk, we were house-, car- and belongings-free, flying to Salzburg, Austria, to start what we thought was going to be a year-long adventure with nothing but four bags in our possession.
When we first started travelling, we lived off our savings and did volunteer work in each place we visited, including a husky lodge in Norway, a dog-training facility in Italy, a campsite in Sweden, and dog-sitting in New Zealand and Canada.
Once our year was up, we weren’t ready to return back to SA, but our savings were coming to an end. We decided to use our skills to earn money while travelling at the same time, working as photographers and filmmakers, and creating content for clients and agencies. Four years later, we’re still on the road and we now do photography work for travel magazines, blogs, hotels, lifestyle brands and brands in the tourism industry – and we’ve even done shoots for destination weddings.
Stevo and I have mapped out our ‘ wanderlist’, which is essentially a travel bucket list of experiences and places that we want to tick off.
Over time, it’s grown, thanks to our amazing social media community who are always sending us suggestions. We know that we probably won’t get to do everything on the list but it’s become a guide, both for us and anyone else who visits our website looking for travel recommendations.
We also created an online course to help people who are seriously considering travelling full time. It’s a step-by-step guide with interactive videos, eBooks, and worksheets for others to plan their dream. During our adventure, if my maths is correct, we’ve visited over 200 cities, towns and islands in 55 countries on six continents. Some standout moments from our time far from home include watching the sunrise in a hot air balloon ride over the Maasai Mara in Kenya, being blessed by a monk at religious monument Angkor Wat in Cambodia and, of course, getting engaged on our seven-year anniversary by a lake in the Dolomites in Italy.
We plan on settling down one day and having a place we can call home, although I’m not sure we could go back to a typical 9 to 5 lifestyle. But right now we still have many options to keep travelling, and to design a life that suits our passions.
At first we did mostly volunteer work but we’ve had to start earning a salary
✱ Follow Stevo and Chanel’s adventures on Instagram at @howfarfromhome
Insurance broker and creator of the blog 3 Kids, 2 Dogs and 1OldHouse Cindy Alfino, 32, and husband Seth, 33, have set out on a year-long road trip in Southern Africa with their kids, Kyla, nine, Riya-Ray, eight, and Knox, six. A year ago, our life in Cape Town was pretty humdrum. Seth would leave for work early, sit in hours of traffic, be at a desk for eight hours and come home in the dark. I’d get the kids up and dressed before doing the school run and then heading to the office. I worked half days so I was able to be there for homework and extramurals in the afternoons, but Seth was missing out on so much of the kids’ lives. We felt like we were running the rat race without really living, and we were losing sight of what was really important: spending time together as a family, nurturing relationships and sharing experiences.
One day we just decided we were going to take a break from our seemingly normal life and do a year-long road trip around South Africa and its neighbouring countries. Both of us are born and bred Capetonians and, aside from a handful of short trips, we had never seen the rest of our beautiful country, let alone the continent. Unlike most people who make these life- changing decisions to go travelling, this wasn’t something that we had been dreaming about or planning for years. It was a spur- of-the-moment idea that somehow we made happen over a year.
Another factor for our decision is that Seth has cancer. Thankfully, it doesn’t really affect him if he manages it correctly and he should live a long, happy life, but you never know what may happen and cherishing the time we have together is a priority for us.
To hit the road, we needed a van to live in. We sold our second property, a bachelor flat from when we first got married, to have enough money to buy a van and fix it up to suit our needs. We could have chosen a new and flashy vehicle, but that’s just not us, so we trawled the internet until we found our 1974 VW Jurgens advertised in Kimberley. We drove up one weekend, took it for a spin, dubbed him Optimus, and brought him home. After that for the next few months we gutted the inside, and Seth, being an architect, revamped the interior to sleep five people and be a liveable home on the road.
There was work and school to consider, too. As a co- owner of my company, it was relatively easy for me to put in flexible hours, but it was more of a negotiation for Seth. He managed to get his work obligations down to three hours a day (with the pay cut to match), which he could do remotely. As for the kids, we decided on doing home-schooling, but we worked with their school to use the same curriculum so that when we return, they’ll be able to slot back into regular school easily.
Just a few weeks before we set off we’d rented out our house, packed all our belongings into storage, and found an incredible family to look after our two dogs. Weirdly, I didn’t feel scared heading out on this adventure. I think because we didn’t sell everything before we left, we still have the security of our home to go back to, which is comforting.
Finally, on 1 July 2018, the big day had arrived. We packed our van with the bare necessities, including only a week’s worth of clothing for each of us, and headed off on our year-long journey.
The first month on the road was intense; getting used to living in close quarters was really tough and it took us a while to
We felt like we were running the rat race without ever really living
Hiking along the coast in Coffee Bay
learn how to be loving to one another even if we felt annoyed by situations. At one point, Seth and I had been passive-aggressively pushing each other’s buttons over stupid things, which didn’t make for a pleasant journey. We laugh about it now, as thankfully, it’s become a lot easier – knowing we can’t ‘escape’ has made us deal with the little things before they get bigger.
On the road, we have two kinds of days: travel days and living days. Travel days are quite an adventure; we wake up, have a rushed breakfast, and then pack up the van. This can take anywhere from one to three hours depending on where we’re staying and how dispersed our belongings are. Then we drive – Seth drives the van and I drive with the kids in our little Ford Figo, which can take up to seven hours depending on how far the next destination is. It can be stressful when Optimus decides to play up but we’ve managed so far – but thank goodness for audio books! Why the second car? We were worried about the kids being in the passenger seats long distance in Optimus, plus packing our stuff away every time we needed to go to the shops or explore the area would be time- consuming with the van.
When we finally arrive at our destination, it’s time to set up. We need to level the van, get hooked up to power, and put out the mat and awning. Then we organise our living space: deciding on what we’re going to eat and putting bedding down for the night. The girls have the best beds in the van, they share a three- quarter size bed on top of the driving cab. Seth and I share the dining room that converts into our double bed, and Knox sleeps on a mattress placed across the passenger seats. Lastly, we check out the ablutions and hope for the best! No school work gets done on travel days. After the kids are asleep, Seth and I have a chance to catch up on our own work. On living days we wake up, have breakfast, and then Seth does school work with the kids while I do my own work. We use the afternoons to explore our destination. We move every couple of nights so sticking to this routine can get a bit overwhelming at times.
In the 20 weeks we’ve been travelling, we have driven about 80 hours and about 4 000km; we have stayed in and visited over 40 cities, towns and villages. We still have lots more places to see over the next few months, but Hogsback in the Eastern Cape really stole our hearts. We fell in love with the little town minutes after driving into it; the scenery is breathtaking, and there are so many natural attractions in the area, but the friendliness of the local people is what really sold it to us.
As South Africans, we have so much more on our doorstep than I could ever have imagined. A lot of people want to travel overseas, but exploring our own country, with its diverse cultures and beautiful landscapes, is unforgettable. Often, there’s a perception that South Africa isn’t safe, but we’ve experienced the complete opposite. At almost every place we’ve visited, the people there have been friendly and welcoming. South Africans are awesome!
✱ Follow their journey on Instagram @cindyalfino and @moderndaddiy
So far we’ve driven over 4 000km and visited over 40 towns
The couple have been able to visit ancien t sites all over the world, like Machu Picchu
Seeing the cherry blossoms in Japan
A forest wal k in Hogsb ack
At the largest maze in the Southern Hemisphere
tho Playing in thesnow in Leso Optimus the van on the road
Spending time together was a priority for the family