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Meet the Couple Who Quit Their Ad Jobs to Take the Most Creative Trip Around the World


You've dreamed about it. But Chanel Cartell and Stevo Dirnberger are doing it.

After a decade in advertising, the South African couple—inspired by a talk by Stefan Sagmeister—recently quit their agency jobs and hit the road for an epic adventure. They're traveling the world for a year and documenting the experience. But this isn't some Lost in America-style escape plan. The How Far From Home project is intended to be a grand creative exercise that will hopefully recharge their batteries.

You can follow the project on their blog,Instagram,Twitter,Pinterest, and Vine. We spoke to Cartell and Dirnberger via email about how they got started and where they're headed.

What was your advertising background? Did you both have agency jobs?
Yes, we were both in advertising at the time of departure. Steve worked at Joe Public (in our opinion, the best [above-the-line] agency in South Africa) as an art director, and Chanel was the creative director at Cerebra, the best social business agency in Africa (we would argue). We were basically at the top of our game, at the best agencies South Africa had to offer. It didn't get better than Joe Public and Cerebra, and after a combined stint of 15 years in advertising and marketing, we felt we needed a change, and to re-energise our creativity.

0 kilometers // Johannesburg // South Africa

Did you reach a breaking point where you knew you had to quit?
We wouldn't call it a breaking point, but after nearly a decade in the industry, your feet start to itch (not literally, of course). We were both lucky enough to attend the 2014 Design Indaba in February last year. We went to (the godfather of creative sabbaticals) Stefan Sagmeister's talk, and it was after hearing his theory of "time off" that we knew it was what both our creative minds needed. On a scale of 1 to 10, Stefan rates taking a creative sabbatical as a 12. Every seven years, Stefan closes his New York design studio for 365 days to pursue "little experiments" that are difficult to complete while working full time.

After hearing his talk, and knowing that we couldn't spend the next 30 years simply doing the same thing every day, we made a conscious decision to spend the next year saving every last cent, so we could also enjoy time off to pursue our own experiments, and not live how society says we should. We wanted to challenge ourselves to see how we could excel creatively, and what better time to do that, then right now?

As neither of us had traveled extensively before, we saw this as the perfect opportunity to sponge other cultures, experiences, languages and people, while taking a year to experiment and create. We'd always dreamed of doing strange things like sleeping in igloos, fishing in Alaska (more Steve than Chanel :), and visiting designer cities like Berlin and Copenhagen. With enough savings and smart research, we could travel and experiment simultaneously.

6,292 kilometers // Abu Dhabi // United Arab Emirates

How did Up by Jawbone get involved as your sponsor?
A friend of Chanel's imports the product into South Africa, and after hearing about the journey and our focus on creative challenges, he offered us each a band and challenged us to live the #GetUp way (10,000 steps and eight hours of sleep a day). We accepted the challenge, and are completely ecstatic to promote the product in any way we can. It aligns to the How Far From Home vision of staying healthy and creatively stimulated, so it was the perfect partnership.

Can you tell me what expenses they're covering?
As the sponsorship is only a challenge with no set contract or promotion, no expenses are covered by them and no content is obligatory. We received the Up bands for free, and promote the brand when we feel inclined to do so, and when it aligns to a content idea.

8,365 kilometers // Salzburg // Austria

You wanted see "how far from home" you could get, figuratively speaking. Is this to challenge yourselves again and reignite your passion for life and work?
Yes, absolutely. The How Far From Home concept is a literal one (to see how far we can get from Johannesburg) as well as a figurative one (to see how far we can push ourselves creatively, and challenge ourselves daily). We dreamt of a journey that allowed us to live outside of the comfort zone, and would give us the opportunity to say "yes" to a whole bunch of crazy cool experiences, while fueling our creative needs. Life at home was very comfortable—friends, family, amazing jobs, shiny cars, a beautiful home—we wanted something that would shake it up a little.

8,678 kilometers // Vienna // Austria

In what sense is this a "creative" trip, and how can people follow along and contribute to the creative project?
Being two creatives, our need to create is strong. When we're not cramming kilometers in busy cities, we're finding every opportunity to experiment, brainstorm and create. Steve loves to illustrate, Chanel is design obsessed, and we both love photography. With the blog, we're experimenting with creative writing, and sticking to our 7-to-9 schedule, we're left with plenty of time to brainstorm projects.

We encourage the community to send us challenges and give us things to do. So far, the challenges we've received have been purely travel-related, but creative challenges would be golden. Since we began our journey, we've shifted from seeing ourselves as ex-advertisers, to problem seekers and content creators. No challenge is too big, and we're hungry to brainstorm and create, no matter who the challenge comes from.

9,245 kilometers // Untersberg // Austria

You have 63 items on your "Wanderlist." Do you want to cross all of them off by the end?
Our Wanderlist is currently sitting on 63, and we've recently received a ton more from our community (which we are sifting through to add soon). As challenges come in, we'll keep adding them. Although we know the trip has to end sometime, we want to see how long we can keep going for. Financially, we don't think we'll be able to afford to do all 63 this year (and the rest that have come in from the community), so we'll try squeeze in as many as we can, and maybe "take a break" to work for a bit to make the rest happen. If finances weren't an issue, we would absolutely do all 63 (and more).

10,027 kilometers // Berlin // Germany

What do you think you'll do after it's all over? Head back to advertising?
We have only planned until the end of December 2015. After that, who knows? We might decide to catch the next flight to see where we end up. We like that it's unknown, and we'll let it be another challenge we have to solve then :)

11,185 kilometers // Oslo // Norway

Via Design Taxi.

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