09/01/2015 22:56 EDT | Updated 09/01/2016 01:12 EDT

Couple who quit jobs to travel the world end up scrubbing toilets for pay

The viral web is teeming with stories of people who have ditched dull corporate gigs to travel the world and "chase their dreams" — and there are so many of them that they've become a bit of an internet trope.

The glossy, adventure-filled Instagram feeds of former desk jockeys can make leaving everything behind to pursue a nomadic existence seem like a brilliant idea. Easy, even.

What's hard is figuring out how to afford spending days cliff diving in Greece, riding carousels in Paris or blogging surfside in Gran Canaria, for years at a time, and without decades worth of savings or rich benefactors.

As it turns out, some of these travellers can't.

Chanel Cartell and Stevo Dirnberger, both 29, quit their advertising jobs in Johannesburg earlier this year to "embark on a little creative exploration" through travel.

Since May, the couple has been taking photos to mark the number of kilometres they've logged away from home, and sharing them online. 

Their most recent posts on Instagram show they hit 25,071 kilometres in Athens on Tuesday morning, but a blog post published by Cartell on Monday evening revealed it wasn't without struggle.

"After being gone exactly 6 months, I feel it necessary we share the uglier side of our trip," she says in her blog, snippets of which are presented here as written. "Browsing through our blog posts and Instagram feed, it seems like we're having the time of our lives. And don't get me wrong – we are. It's bloody amazing. But it's not all ice-creams in the sun and pretty landscapes. Noooooo."

While some travel bloggers could quit their high-paying jobs by selling their homes, landing book deals or scrimping ferociously, Cartell and Dirnberger decided to get by on their savings while performing volunteer work in exchange for free food and accommodations.

And, as Cartell notes, it has been "painstakingly hard and dirty work." 

"So far, I think we've tallied 135 toilets scrubbed, 250 kilos of cow dung spread, 2 tons of rocks shovelled, 60 metres of pathway laid, 57 beds made, and I cannot even remember how many wine glasses we've polished," she wrote of the experience. "To come from the luxuries we left behind in Johannesburg, to the brutal truth of volunteer work, we are now on the opposite end of the scale. We're toilet cleaners, dog poop scoopers, grocery store merchandisers, and rock shovelers."

Cartell wrote that, despite what can be seen in the couple's published photos, the past few months of their journey have been dirty, smelly and very tight financially.

"We've had to adapt with the least amount of necessities and food (and not because we're on some crazy crash diet)," she explained. "Whilst visits to town with our new friends in Norway meant buying beer and bags of candy for them, we've been forced to purchase floss (because you only get one set of pearlers, right?) and nothing else."

Sad as the thought of being able to afford only dental floss may be, many online users praise the couple for pulling back the curtain on how quitting one's job to travel isn't always as glamorous as Instagram makes it seem.

Despite their hardships, Cartell was careful to note the journey has still been one of adventure and growth. 

"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," she wrote.

"There's nothing quite like swopping 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."