Chanel Cartell and Stevo Dirnberger

It's Not All Glamorous: These Round the World Travelers Went From Cushy Ad Jobs to Scrubbing Toilets

by Matt Hershberger Aug 31, 2015

EVERY FEW MONTHS, WE SEE AN INSPIRATIONAL headline make the rounds on social media: “Couple quits cushy jobs to travel around the world.” We all feel inspired by their plunge, and consider doing it ourselves, before forgetting about the article and moving on with our lives. South African couple Stevo Dirnberger and Chanel Cartell are one of those couples. Earlier this summer, they were featured in a number of blogs for quitting their jobs at two of South Africa’s top advertising agencies to wander around the world for a year. Their goal was to see how far from home they could get, and they’ve been documenting it on social media.

But this week, Chanel posted an article “Why we quit our jobs in advertising to scrub toilets.”

She writes:

“After being gone exactly 6 months, I feel it necessary we share the uglier side of our trip. Browsing through our blog posts and Instagram feed, it seems like we’re having the time of our lives. And don’t get me wrong – we are. It’s bloody amazing. But it’s not all ice-creams in the sun and pretty landscapes. Noooooo. So far, I think we’ve tallied 135 toilets scrubbed, 250 kilos of cow dung spread, 2 tons of rocks shovelled, 60 metres of pathway laid, 57 beds made, and I cannot even remember how many wine glasses we’ve polished.”

She goes on to describe how life as a full-time, low-on-funds traveler consists of a lot of smelly work: “I am not at my fittest, slimmest or physically healthiest. We eat jam on crackers most days, get roughly 5hrs of sleep per night, and lug our extremely heavy bags through cobbled streets at 1am, trying to find our accommodation (because bus fares are not part of the budget, obviously).”

It’s a refreshingly honest update, and a point that doesn’t get usually get discussed when people talk about “quitting your job to travel”: bills still need to be paid, and most people aren’t rich enough to simply coast on previous savings. The couple relies on the website Workaway, which allows travelers to put in a few hours of work for lodging and accommodation, and that work might not be the most glamorous. But those hours spreading cow dung aren’t necessarily going to make the Instagram feed.

Social media allows for travelers to only share the coolest, most beautiful moments of their trips, but long-term travel is often a tough, gritty, exhausting lifestyle that demands constant attention and creativity to sustain. “The budget is really tight,” Chanel writes, “and we are definitely forced to use creativity (and small pep talks) to solve most of our problems (and the mild crying fits).”

You should still, of course, consider quitting your job to travel around the world. But you should not think of it as a total escape into a life of easy glamor. A life of travel is rough, even at its most beautiful and fulfilling.

h/t: AdWeek and Cartell and Dirnberger’s blog, How Far From Home.

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