How getting out of your comfort zone can cure creative block

Two South African creatives – inspired by a Design Indaba Conference Talk – quit their jobs, sold their belongings and hit the road

How Far From Home: Johannesburg

In February 2014, two South African creatives sat in the audience of the Design Indaba Conferece. They listened to graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister talking about the importance of taking creative sabbaticals, and shortly afterwards they had quit their jobs and taken themselves way out of the comfort zone. Chanel Cartell and Stevo Dirnberger started an epic personal journey, which they called How Far From Home, to see how far they could get from their homes (and routines) in South Africa.

They now have more than 114 000 followers on Instagram and have travelled over 86 000 kilometres across the world through the Artic Circle, the Greek Islands and the Scandinavian Fjords. They will be returning to the Design Indaba Conference in February 2016, but to the stage not the auditorium this time. We asked them a few questions about their trip so far.

Can you describe what you felt when you decided to go on this trip?

We felt a teeny tiny inkling that this was something we just had to do. Excited, nervous... mostly excited... we felt like we'd found the cure for getting stuck in a creative rut.

What were you most excited about?

All the foreign places – the sense of experiencing things we'd only ever dreamed of and the freedom to pursue our own personal projects in these foreign places, because now we'd have the time and energy to do so.

How Far From Home: Bergen

What were you most afraid of?

It was both the fear and excitement of not having the safety of a job with a salary waiting for us when we finished. When you work on a career for nearly a decade, and then give it up to take a personal journey, it's terrifying to wonder if you made the right decision. 

What has surprised you most?

How difficult it is to say goodbye to people we've met along the way. When you set off, you don't think about meeting people and forming these ridiculously close bonds, and then when it happens, it hits you that you might never see them again.

How Far From Home: Oslo

Did you have to trade, barter or beg at all?

Not per se... We only had to do some tough (read “dirty”) volunteer jobs, but we willingly signed up for those, knowing we were doing them in exchange for food and accommodation only.

Who have you met along the way?

So many magical and incredible people. Photographers, dog mushers and professional chefs in Norway; a selfless couple of dog behaviorists with the biggest hearts in Italy; some of the most energetic and passionate photographers in Austria and Germany; the European team working at Instagram London; a wise Canadian man whose outlook on life matched ours to the T and inspired our North American leg of our journey; a fun and friendly chef in Greece; and a ton of Australians, New Zealanders and Americans who share an equal passion for travel and explorations. 

How Far From Home: Poros

What would you tell someone thinking about doing a journey like this?

Why haven't you left yet?

How will you find returning to normal life?

Our perspective on how life should be lived has changed completely, so our "normal life" will look very different to other people's "normal life". Our values are clearly defined, and we know what we want out of life, so we'll be living with a "it's our way no matter what" mindset. We've also realized that your destiny really is controlled by you, and you alone, so you're the only reason things happen, or worse – don't happen. 

What single object has been most useful to you as you travelled?

Has to be our cameras. We've had them attached to us non-stop, and they've allowed us to document our journey, capture the memories, and create whenever the desire arose.

How Far From Home

What skills were you grateful you had while on the road?

Probably our ability to think conceptually and creatively. Whether we needed them to help hosts with a new website, or whilst building furniture, or writing a book, or packaging our own story for our community, creative thinking always won. 

Which place would you move to if you had to stay for a year?

Easy – Norway. That place is so spectacular, and the way of life is so appealing. We would definitely go stay in a cabin in the Norwegian forests, close to the fjords, with a whole bunch of dogs (and really good Wi-Fi).

Stevo and Chanel will be speaking at Design Indaba Conference 2016. Book now.

Watch the Talk with How Far From Home