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

Essentials (South Africa) - - CONTENTS DECEMBER 2018 -

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.

The Decision

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.

The ad­ven­ture

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.

The Decision

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 Ad­ven­ture

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

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