You remember Chanel Cartell and Stevo Dirnberger, the South African couple who quit their agency jobs this year to travel the world and document the experience. It sounded like a dream, and the lovely Instagram photos have made it look like one.
But halfway through their year-long odyssey (they’re currently in Athens, having traveled 25,000 kilometers so far), they’ve posted a reality check on their blog—a post titled Why We Quit Our Jobs In Advertising To Scrub Toilets”—in which they share “the uglier side of our trip.” It turns out that following one’s dream—while working odd jobs in exchange for room and board—involves a lot of dirty work, and more than a few tears.
“The budget is really tight, and we are definitely forced to use creativity (and small pep talks) to solve most of our problems (and the mild crying fits),” Cartell writes. “Don’t let the bank of gorgeous photography fool you. Nuh uh. So far, I think we’ve tallied 135 toilets scrubbed, 250 kilos of cow dung spread, 2 tons of rocks shoveled, 60 meters of pathway laid, 57 beds made, and I cannot even remember how many wine glasses we’ve polished.
“You see, to come from the luxuries we left behind in Johannesburg … we are now on the opposite end of the scale. We’re toilet cleaners, dog poop scoopers, grocery store merchandisers and rock shovelers.”
They’re also not perfect physical specimens despite all the hard work.
“I am not at my fittest, slimmest or physically healthiest,” Cartell writes. “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).
“Although we knew it wouldn’t be easy, we are certainly learning fast that this isn’t for faint hearts, and we need to learn to react and adapt to everything that’s thrown our way. Mentally, it’s also a constant yo-yo between ‘I have all this time—let me use it productively, let me get fit and do everything I’ve ever wanted to do,’ vs. ‘I have all this time—let me relax and enjoy it.’ That, together with occasional bouts of boredom, demotivation and homesickness, makes this one hell of a ride.”
Those who criticized Cartell and Dirnberger at the outset will enjoy a certain amount of schadenfreude here. But Cartell also says there’s a significant upside to their story:
“Even though we probably have more greys than when we started, dirt under our nails despite long showers, and cheap snack food as a main form of nutrition, this crazy lifestyle allows us to enjoy the freedom of exploring rich Swedish forests, never-ending Nordic fjords, Italian cobbled alleyways, and cosmopolitan cities. We have time to brainstorm our own ideas, and push our own creative experiments. It’s like heaven for us.
“Sure, wood needs to be stacked, and garbage needs to be taken out (it’s our version of a shit sandwich, but once that’s done, we’re free to explore, wander and be one with our meandering thoughts. You work under your own schedule, using (a lot of) spare time to jog around mirrored lakes, craft inspired creations and breathe the Arctic air. There’s nothing quite like swapping million rand advertising budgets for toilet scrubbing to teach you about humility, life and the importance of living each day as if it were your last.”