In October 2013, the Garlottas were out to drinks in San Francisco when Chris turned to Danika and said: “Let’s take a sabbatical.”
Three cocktails later, Danika remembers, the couple had decided to quit their jobs to travel abroad for six months. “Chris can pretty much get me to say anything when he bribes me with good food and cocktails!” Danika laughs.
From there, it was a whirlwind. The plan was originally to spend one year getting things in order, then spend about six months travelling, but as the pair started listing places they wanted to visit, they realised they’d need more time to travel — say, a year. Then, Chris found an incredibly cheap $US300 airfare to Rome that offered only one departure day in March, so they moved up their schedule by six months.
While Chris had traveled extensively before settling down in San Francisco, Danika’s travel was mostly limited to a yearly trip to Mexico. Chris, who worked for tech companies doing graphic design and website development, and Danika, who was the head of marketing for a group of boutique hotels, felt their desire to experience new cultures and see new things was sorely limited by their work schedule.
“It’s always difficult to get away from work,” Chris explains. “We liked to do frequent trips, so we would do two one-week trips a year. But then we started to realise that at two weeks a year, we would never see all the places we wanted to go.”
The Garlottas are now nearly a year into their trip, with no immediate plans to return to the States.
Here, they have shared some of the incredible photos from their Instagram and website, as well as answers to our burning questions: How do they make it work? Which credit cards and bank accounts work best for long-term travellers? What advice do they have for others? And, most importantly, how do they afford it?
Before leaving San Francisco, the Garlottas sold all of their furniture and most of their possessions.
'We didn't sell our stuff so much to raise money for the trip as to not have the expense of keeping it any longer,' Chris says. 'When we realised we were going to be gone for a while, and weren't sure where we'd end up, why pay every month to keep stuff in storage and then realise later that we don't want it anymore?'
The money from selling their possessions went in the bank to finance furnishing a home at the end of their adventure, if needed.
The Garlottas didn't make any extra effort to save for their trip, because they have both continued freelancing abroad: Chris for tech companies, and Danika for social media and online marketing clients.
Chris says that the logistics aren't that different from working stateside, where he mostly dealt with clients through emails and calls. 'Most of the time I never met or saw clients. The fact that I'm sitting here in Berlin dealing with a client is exactly the same as being down the street. A lot of the people I work with have been clients for years, and they're aware that we're travelling. They don't see a difference, but we feel it.'
The Garlottas have banished the 9-5 workday.
'We found that we work more efficiently because we don't want to sit around and stare at the internet,' Danika says. 'We get it done, and then we can spend the day going out and exploring.'
That said, the couple estimates they're earning about 40% of what they had been in San Francisco, but not suffering any decrease in their standard of living.
'Having clients in San Francisco, I'm billing San Francisco rates, but in Berlin, rent is 20% of the cost of rent in California,' Chris explains. 'In Indonesia, dinner is $US2 a person.'
They do have a savings account as a backup, but they don't plan to use it to fund their everyday lives.
They have been gone for the better part of a year and estimate they have stayed in hotels about 10 nights. They save money by renting apartments through Airbnb, which Danika says gives them more space -- and a welcome full kitchen -- that they wouldn't have at a hotel.
'We come into a town, pick up our keys, and we'll be settled in at home that evening,' says Chris. 'We try to stay for a week at least, but some places, like Paris and Florence, we stay for a month.'
The Garlottas say that while they love travelling, they hate the process of getting there. 'We try to minimize travel time,' says Chris.
'For instance, we were going to Prague from Berlin and saw the train was five hours, and we didn't want to spend all day on the train. So we looked at the schedule and saw it stopped in Dresden, Germany, and bought tickets to Dresden. We'll see what that city is like on our way to Prague.'
Danika says that the couple is particularly cheap when it comes to spending money on getting from A to B. 'We try to find the cheapest, best option, but we hate to spend 12 hours getting somewhere that should take four,' she explains.
While they planned out every ticket and every stop for their first four months, they now take pleasure in being spontaneous and flexible with their destinations.
On the road, the Garlottas get a lot of mileage from the free app MAPS.ME, which allows users to download maps from Google and use them offline -- a godsend for travellers who are carrying smartphones but don't have access to Wifi.
'We get to the city and put a pin in the map in our apartment,' says Danika. 'That's how we know our address and how to get home. We can also put in little pins of sites we want to see, so if we're in a random area, we can check the map and see if there's anything we wanted to see nearby.'
To maintain a business without paying costly international call rates, they also rely heavily on Google Voice, which allows them to speak with international clients through their computers and for family and friends to call them at their American numbers.
When it comes to booking flights, they favour the app SkyScanner, which helps them figure out when it will be cheapest to move on to their next destination.
After Danika and Chris started calling their credit card companies, they realised that their existing cards would charge foreign transaction fees, which was untenable for long-term travel.
They opened up a Chase Sapphire Preferred card and have been thrilled with how well it has worked out.
Another smart preparatory step they took was to open a checking account that doesn't charge fees for international withdrawals or currency exchange abroad.
After extensive research, they chose to open a Charles Schwab checking account, which reimburses them for all ATM fees and which they estimate saves them $US20-$US30 a month.
A side effect of travelling that the Garlottas never expected was that it has made them healthier. Danika, who wears a Fitbit, finds that they walk an average 7-8 miles a day, and that they have both lost weight and been less stressed.
'Comparing our life in San Francisco, which I thought was so perfect and awesome, to how we're living now, we're both so much happier and healthier,' she says.
'Some expenses have gone up, but we work less, make less, have twice as much free time, and can do all the same things we used to do,' says Chris.
'I never thought we could go wherever we want on any given day and still make a living, but it's possible. I wouldn't have believed it a year ago,' adds Danika.
What would they tell would-be travellers? This kind of life is possible.
'People ask how much money you need,' says Chris, 'but I don't think there's a magic number. $US5,000 or $US50,000, you save whatever makes you feel comfortable, and as soon as you have it, you go ahead and do it.'
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