PHUKET – Eight months ago, Jeff Johns and girlfriend Marina Dominguez made a decision that would change their lives forever. They packed up their belongings, bid goodbye to their friends and family, and headed to paradise: Phuket, Thailand.
But this move wasn’t about taking a vacation — for the couple, moving abroad was a financial decision they felt they had to make.
After graduating with degrees in visual journalism from Brooks Institute in 2010, Jeff and Marina struggled to make ends meet. The short-term freelance jobs they worked were low-paying and unreliable, and they faced thousands of dollars of student loan debt with no foreseeable way to pay them.
“With my struggle to find steady income, working for a production company’s office in their backyard, and the very sobering reality that in our current positions we were never going to climb out of our debt, let alone save for a wedding, a house or a family we had to change the paradigm we had found ourselves in,” Jeff said in an email to Business Insider. “The facts were simple, we couldn’t afford not to move abroad.”
Since moving to Phuket, Jeff, 29 and Marina, 25, have cut their living expenses by 65%. They live in a fully furnished condo ten minutes from the beach and drive a motorbike that only uses $3 worth of gas each week. They’ve been able to pay off thousands of dollars on their student loans and are even saving up for a three-month trip through Europe at the beginning of next year.
They typically spend four to six hours each day on freelance photography or video editing jobs, which gives them plenty of time to pursue side projects like their travel blog, Latitude 34, which is starting to generate income for them as well.
“Now we are able to live in a house we could never afford in L.A., eat at restaurants we could never before, work less, save more and live the lifestyle we were chasing in the states,” Jeff said. “We work project to project, contract to contract, and if it’s a particularly nice day we can spend it at the beach, or if friends are sailing to an island to snorkel for a long weekend we can do that too.”
Jeff and Marina plan to live in Thailand for at least the next six months before they choose another country to call home.
“We have no idea what the future holds, and we are taking it one country at a time. We would love to return to the states some day, but not anytime soon,” he said. “There is unfortunately very little for us to go back to professionally.”