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!" she said laughing.
From there, it was a whirlwind. The plan was originally to spend one year getting things in order, then spend about six months traveling, but as the pair started listing places they wanted to visit, they realized they'd need more time to travel — say, a year. Then, Chris found a cheap $300 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 realize 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've shared some of the 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 travelers? What advice do they have for others? And, most importantly, how do they afford it?
They sold everything and rented their home.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands, which Danika calls "one of the most picturesque places we've been to. Everywhere you look is that perfect canal shot with tons of charm."
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 realized 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 realize 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.
They've continued earning as they travel.
The Big Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. "The scenery and views were breathtaking," remembers Danika, "and the little street food stands at the bottom of the hill were delicious!"
The Garlottas didn't make any extra effort to save for their trip, because they've 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 traveling. They don't see a difference, but we feel it."
They changed their work schedule to fit their travel schedule.
Halong Bay, Vietnam, where the Garlottas booked a last-minute tour, became "one of the best experiences of our trip so far."
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."
They're visiting places with lower costs of living than the US.
One of the Garlotta's favorite shots of Berlin during the festival of lights.
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 $2 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 rent apartments rather than stay in hotels.
Chris admires the view at Devil's Tear, off the coast of Bali in Nusa Lembongon, Indonesia.
They've been gone for the better part of a year and estimate they've 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."
They spend more time experiencing than traveling.
The Bamboo Forest in Kyoto, Japan, is a place the Garlottas say not to miss. "We felt like we were walking through a fairytale just staring at the massive bamboo fields," says Danika.
The Garlottas say that while they love traveling, 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."
They're flexible with their travel arrangements.
Danika rides through the Vineyards of Alsace, France.
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.
They rely on free apps.
The Garlottas remember that the red light district of Tokyo, Japan, was full of "so many neon lights and colorful signs."
On the road, the Garlottas get a lot of mileage from the free app MAPS.ME, which allows users to download maps from crowdsourced online resource OpenStreetMap.org and use them offline — a godsend for travelers 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."
This post has been updated to reflect the fact that MAPS.ME downloads maps from OpenStreetMap.org, not Google.
They avoid paying for international phone calls.
Chris walks outside their villa in Seminyak, Bali, Indonesia.
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.
They're diligent about finding low airfare.
They opened credit cards without foreign transaction fees.
Chris surveys the waterway during a tour of the Mekong Delta in Saigon, Vietnam.
After Danika and Chris started calling their credit card companies, they realized 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.
They opened a checking account without international withdrawal fees.
Corniglia, on the Cinque Terre, Italy. "It's one of our favorite stops in Italy. Everything and everyone is so peaceful and relaxed," says Danika.
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 $20-$30 a month.
They've embraced their life on the road.
Hong Kong, China, which Danika calls "beautiful chaos. You never know where to look first."
A side effect of traveling 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've 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.
They've learned to value time over money.
Aside from the "stunning architecture," the Garlottas say the best part of visiting Brussels, Belgium, is the variety of beer.
"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.
And they wouldn't put a price tag on it.
A night view of the Louvre museum in Paris, France, which the travelers captured while wandering around Paris after midnight.
What would they tell would-be travelers? 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. $5,000 or $50,000, you save whatever makes you feel comfortable, and as soon as you have it, you go ahead and do it."