4 Years & 151 Flights Later: Meet An Instagram-Famous Couple That Travels For A Living

Photo: Getty Images.
We all daydream about quitting our jobs to travel the world. But it wasn't until recently that it morphed into an actual trend, with millennials using hardcore budgeting techniques to achieve the adventures of their dreams. Of course, the rest of us can't help but be envious, which is why when people do manage to pull it off, the story can become newsworthy. Not to mention garner a substantial social media following.
Chanel and Stevo — the couple behind popular travel site and social media brand, How Far From Home — are one such story. In 2015, they sold their belongings, packed their bags, and headed off on a yearlong adventure. Almost four years later, the pair is still travelling, now professionally. We caught up with the duo to chat about the good times and the bad, what they're doing when the cameras are off, and the most surprising thing about their unconventional lifestyle.
How long have you been travelling professionally?
We left home with four bags (after having sold all our other belongings) on March 2nd 2015, so we’re coming up close to our four year anniversary of leaving (wow!) The initial plan was to take a sabbatical for one year, but after around 9 months we got our first client, and so from there we managed to turn the sabbatical into a lifestyle.
A lot of people probably wish they could quit their lives to pursue a dream, but for many it never becomes reality. How did you decide to take the plunge?
Chanel has always wanted to travel, so it was a dream of hers from the start. Stevo was a little hesitant to just "pack up and go" as it would mean putting his career on hold (not something he was comfortable doing). Then we both attended the Design Indaba conference in Cape Town and watched Stefan Sagmeister (the New York-based, Austrian graphic designer) give a talk about "the power of time off." He explained how he closes his entire agency every seven years to take a year off to reboot, recharge, and get creatively inspired. He made it sound like taking a break would actually be a good thing for the career. So we got back home to Johannesburg and decided to do it. What followed was a year-long planning exercise, looking for ways to travel on a budget (we ended up doing a lot of volunteer work and some dog sitting in our first two years). We also stopped shopping, stopped spending frivolously, and saved every cent we could, selling our cars and furniture and then heading off a year later.
Was there a specific moment or reason you decided to go all in?
I think straight after seeing Stefan’s talk, we were so inspired that we said, "We’re 29 years old, no mortgage yet, no kids yet...what do we have to lose?" We told ourselves that if it didn’t work out for whatever reason, we’d just come home and get our jobs back, or look for new jobs. But we stuck to our extremely strict budget every month in that first year (sometimes sharing meals, sometimes walking for five kilometres because we couldn’t afford a taxi) and we just made it work. We both count ourselves VERY lucky that we managed to document the journey in a unique way (with our photo project on Instagram, counting each kilometre travelled and tracking it by writing the number on a chalkboard) which earned us some recognition in the industry (getting featured by Instagram to their 70 million users at the time) and from there our community grew, interest grew in our journey, and from that we managed to turn ourselves into a travelling agency.
What's changed since you first started How Far From Home?
Wow, a lot. Although we’re still fairly frugal, we’re definitely able to enjoy travel more, now that we have clients. We’re no longer sharing meals. Our style of travel also evolved over the almost-four years. In the first year we were hungry to see it all, and we did it on a really tight budget. We did a lot of volunteer work (working at a husky lodge in Norway, a campsite in Sweden, and a dog training facility in Italy) and we didn’t get to do a lot of the big sites since we couldn’t afford to.
For example, we travelled to Athens, but couldn’t afford the entrance fee for the Acropolis. After getting our first couple of clients, we began traveling with a different purpose — it wasn’t just about counting kilometres and documenting our journey on Instagram. We had work to do (again). We traveled further, worked hard, and our photography improved. Then into year three we were full-blown travelling photographers and filmmakers with clients from all over the world. Now we travel for work — we’ve only really taken two or three "personal" trips this year, where we chose the location and booked ourselves an apartment. The rest has been client work — we go where our clients need us to go, and we’re there shooting 24/7. We still manage to enjoy the travels, although it’s no longer about doing it for fun like it was in the first year — now it’s about improving our craft as a travelling agency and servicing our clients. We’re also evolving with our skills and interest, spending a lot more time on video work and interactive social campaigns like with our Instagram Stories.
Is there somewhere you consider a home base? How often, if ever, do you go back there?
At the moment the closest thing we have to a "base" is Stevo’s aunt’s house in Austria. Luckily she has the space to host us every few months, so in between the client gigs we’ll go back, unpack for a couple weeks, sleep A LOT, eat the amazing Austrian food, edit the work from the previous trip, and plan and book the next trip. Most of our year has been like that.
Is it possible to pick a favourite trip?
Aaaaah one of the toughest questions after having seen SO many amazing places around the world. There’s definitely a few that stand out:
Our first volunteering gig in Norway. We made friends there and they took us up to see the North Cape. We drove from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. (as it was the midnight sun) and ventured out into this barren landscape, with nothing but purple skies and reindeer. It was surreal.
We absolutely loved everything about Japan when we visited there during the cherry blossom season last year. The culture, the food, the nature...everything. We can’t wait to go back there.
Namibia surprised us so much (especially since it borders our home country South Africa...we had to travel so far to realise that this gem was just across the border). For a landscape photographer it really is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Jordan also blew us away with the scenery and hospitality. This has to be our favourite work gig.
Special mention to Banff National Park in Canada, the Dolomite mountains in Italy (where we got engaged last year), and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, as all three were some of the best memories.
What is one thing that fans would find surprising about your current lifestyle?
That we’re not really where we say we are on social media. We always have to be one or two weeks ahead, as we have to edit our Stories and photos ahead of time, so even though it may seem that we’re in Qatar, for example, we’re already in Austria editing work from Ethiopia.
How long does it typically take to get the perfect shot?
To be honest, we don’t know if we have the perfect shot until we get back to our computers and edit and process everything. When we’re out shooting, we just go crazy — shoot, shoot, shoot, try a different angle, shoot, try a different pose, shoot, sometimes change the outfit, shoot. It’s all a whirlwind and it’s so quick because we have jam-packed days where we’re up from 6 a.m., sometimes 4 or 5 a.m., and then we go the whole day shooting photos, videos, Stories, and then we get back in the evening and dump everything onto a hard drive, then shoot again the next day, sometimes only looking at the content we shot a week later when we’re on the plane or at our next destination. Then we sort and go through it all to see what we got. It’s risky, but since there’s two of us, we always manage to pull something off.
What happens when the cameras are off? What are some of the more difficult moments that we don't see?
If it were up to us, we’d spend all our free time sleeping. I don’t think anyone realises just how exhausting this lifestyle can be — we feel like professional sportsmen. We’re working, sometimes seven days non-stop, then we jump on a red eye flight (which we don’t sleep on — for some reason we both can’t sleep on’d think we would’ve mastered that after 151 flights, but no). We’re constantly adjusting to climates, time zones, altitudes, cuisines, even water.
Our bodies definitely take a beating with this lifestyle and the only thing that helps is rest, so we try sleep as much as we can (even if we’re in a beautiful new place — we’ll still give ourselves a few days of doing nothing before venturing out). Of course, it also isn’t easy — arriving in a new place means first finding it, learning the public transport system with heavy bags, then trying to find a grocery store to get somewhat settled in, making sure the SIM card works so we can use Google Translate to get what we need, exchanging for the new currency, and then hopefully the apartment we have has a good, clean bed. It’s always a surprise, and every single place is different, so every two weeks or so, we’re going through this. And if we’re on a tight deadline, there’s no time to rest once we eventually get settled — we’re editing and posting content, and pitching to new clients, invoicing old work, booking the next’s constantly on the go!
Do you spend time apart while travelling?
Nope. It’s 24/7/365. We’ve had two nights apart since departing in March 2015 (when Stevo had a bachelor party). This in itself is also quite stressful, but somehow we’ve made it work...and it’s been the best test of our relationship ahead of our wedding in Feb 2020.
Do you think you'll ever go back to the 9-to-5 life?
We honestly can’t say. There’s days where we’re screaming (maybe even crying) saying, "We need to stop this...let’s just go back and have a routine for sanity’s sake" (normally when we’ve had delayed flights or long-haul flights with no sleep for 36 hours), but then there’s days where it’s just the two of us in the most beautiful national park, and it’s 2 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon and we think, "We could never do this, we’re so lucky." We know for sure that this current lifestyle isn’t sustainable, so we’ll need to stop eventually, but we haven’t quite decided what kind of lifestyle will replace this one. We know we want dogs, and possibly a family in a few years, so we’ll need to settle somewhere, but where, when, and doing what, are still undecided.
How do you plan your trips? When do you find time to plan?
80% of our trips now are for clients, so it’s wherever they need us to go. We have to find time to plan whilst on the go, so while Steve edits a client video, Chanel will be looking at flights. While Chanel is editing images, Steve will be reading hotel reviews to find the best spot.
What is the best part of your current lifestyle? The worst part?
The best: Being able to see so many incredible places around the world, with the most important person in the world.
The worst: Not having our own bed, with a dog waiting for us.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to travel more?
Live with less. Stop buying things you think you need, and save all your money to collect experiences. There’s definitely ways to travel on a budget, and spending all your money on exploring the world is the absolute best gift you can give yourself. Go learn about the world, meet new people, try new foods, and collect those memories.
You can also take our online course or read our ebook if you want help planning a big trip like ours (and need tips for budget travel).
Any recommendations for our readers looking to book a big trip in 2019?
It feels like the travel industry is BOOMING and more and more people are travelling. There are so many more tourists everywhere we go, so our recommendations would be:
Try and take your leave off-season, because the influx of people will be less and you won’t be fighting for a crowd-less photo, or for a good Airbnb.
Don’t go to the most popular spots — visit somewhere you’ve never heard of and be the first (or one of the first) to discover it.
Try go close to home if you can’t afford the long-distance travel. So many of us venture really far when there are amazing places just a few hours away.