In 2008, Johnny FD was 27 years old and living in California, earning about $US50,000 a year working in business-to-business sales.
“The highlight of my day was driving to and from work, just because those were the moments I had an excuse to listen to music and not think about how little my life was going anywhere,” he remembers. “It wasn’t even that I was unhappy. I was just so unmotivated.”
When the company he worked for was sold later that year, he was offered a choice: stick with his position, or take a stipend and be laid off. He chose to go.
After spending a few months blowing through his savings with friends in Los Angeles (“I’m lucky I got out without too much debt — my friends all have $US20,000 of credit card bills they’re still trying to pay off”), he turned his sights on somewhere a little farther from home: Thailand.
“When people travel and they go to another country it’s always mixed,” he says. “They say it was fun or good, but Thailand was that place that no matter who came back, they said it was the most incredible trip of their life. Everyone talked about it like this paradise.”
In his first seven days, he took seven different tours. The last one was scuba diving, and he was so thrilled with the experience that he spent the next few years going from zero dives to nearly 1,000, travelling the world teaching diving and searching for the perfect place.
Until he decided that wasn’t enough. “I realised I no longer wanted to be the dive guy working at the resort,” he says. “I wanted to be the guest. I told myself I didn’t want to dive again until I could afford to be a guest.”
To get some cash and free gym time, he tried something new: Muay Thai, a fighting style practiced in Southeast Asia. “I was turning 30 and thought if I don’t try it now, I never will,” FD (the surname he uses professionally) remembers.
Two years of fighting led to a revelation. “It was after my sixth pro fight,” he says. “I was beat up, I had broken a foot, I had a swollen eye, my body was destroyed. I was turning 32 and realised my body wasn’t going to be able to do this much longer.”
He had been keeping a blog about his experience with Muay Thai, and he’d heard that people could make money turning their blogs into ebooks, so he decided to give it a shot. He repackaged his blog into “12 Weeks in Thailand: The Good Life on the Cheap,” which made $US600 in its first month on sale.
“After I wrote that book, I wanted to find out how to sell more,” he says. “I started meeting all these people doing internet marketing that happened to be travelling or living in Chiang Mai. I had no idea there was this underground community of digital nomads. It was kind of just emerging, and I would meet whoever I could and ask if I could take them to dinner or coffee and pick their brain.”
FD stumbled across dropshipping, a business where you serve as a go-between for customers who want to order products online, like a smaller-scale Overstock or Wayfair. After taking a course to learn the basics, he set up a dropshipping business from Chiang Mai that became a main source of income.
He explains that he runs his businesses in two modes: growth, where he puts in 40-50 hours a week to finish new projects and pursue new opportunities, and maintenance, where he spends 4-10 hours a week simply maintaining the framework he’s already established. For the last six months, he’s been in maintenance mode.
Today, FD earns about $US40,000 a month between various revenue streams, including his books (he wrote a second, “Life Changes Quick: 7 Steps to Getting Everything You’ve Ever Wanted,” in 2014), his dropshipping business, online courses he offers on Udemy, and miscellaneous sources such as affiliate income from his blog,JohnnyFD.com. While his income varies, he generally brings home about $US10,000 a month, and details his exact earnings throughmonthly income reportspublished on his site.
“If I was making this much in California, I would feel like I had to watch my budget, but here my expenses are less than $US1,500 a month, which means I have $US9,000 or $US8,000 to save, or if I want something or to go somewhere, I really don’t think about it,” he explains.
He says that there are two ways for people to create a similar lifestyle: “You can do what I did and quit and go live off savings until you figure it out, or, if you want to pre-plan, follow someone else’s success.”
Have you walked away from a steady, high-paying job to create your own path? Email yourmoney[at]businessinsider[dot]com.