Couple’s pandemic city escape saves them big

When the pandemic put Sam Ficek’s travel plans on hold, the Sydney man did the next best thing: a COVID-19 tree change. And it’s a move that’s saved him big.

When the borders were slammed shut in April last year, Sam Ficek and his girlfriend Mercedes Speroni made the move from Sydney to Byron Bay.

Stuck working at home as a Digital Marketing Manager for car share company, Car Next Door, with a lease that was set to expire, he thought they could capitalise on cheaper rent by moving to the popular beach destination. And they were right.

“We had a look around for accommodation and the first place we found in Byron was super cheap,” he tells “We paid around $450 a week for the one-bedroom holiday apartment which in Byron is so cheap. It was half of what it should have been.”

“We packed all of our belongings in the car, drove up to Byron.”

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During this time, he continued working for Car Next Door, however he notes that his work-life balance had considerably improved.

“It was amazing. It was so empty even though the bars and things were closed, the beaches were empty and we were able to surf loads,” he says.

While staying in holiday homes meant they had to change locations each month, after getting “stung” by a lengthy lease in Sydney, he preferred the flexible living arrangement.

“The place was horrible and full of cockroaches. It was such a bad experience and I just didn’t want to commit to something,” he says.

“(In Byron however), we were paying the same if not less than what we were paying for our individual places, combined we were definitely saving more.”

Once they finished their stint in Byron Bay, Mr Ficek and Ms Speroni drove further north to Noosa after the Queensland borders opened. Then in the new year, they moved to Gundagai in rural NSW after Ms Speroni found a job in machine learning for an agricultural company.

As it stands, the couple are set to be based there until May, with Mr Ficek continuing his remote working arrangements with Car Next Door.

When it comes to switching Australia’s capital city for a change of scenery, Mr Ficek and Ms Speroni aren’t alone.

According to data from SEEK Australia, if given the choice to live anywhere in Australia, 50 per cent choose a regional area, with coastal regional areas proving the most popular. 36 per cent of Aussies would even be willing to accept a pay cut when moving to a regional area if it promised a better work-life balance.

Looking at the biggest benefit that came with his move, Mr Ficek agrees and says his “work-life-balance is 100 per cent better”.

“For a start there’s no commuting. I get out of bed around 7am most days, I walk across the road for a coffee and I’m back at my desk at a quarter past 7 which is when I start work,” he says.

Working away from his peers has also made him more accountable as he’s solely judged on the work he’s achieving.

“I check in with my manager once a week and I tell him what I want to get done in the coming week and what I’ve achieved in the last week,” he says. ”If I didn’t do anything I was meant to do, I’ll explain why that was and what we can do to change that. It works really well.”

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However, despite the fact he’s lived for cheap in some of Australia’s most renowned holiday spots, the marketing manager says there are a few minor drawbacks to their “digitally nomadic” lifestyles.

“It is quite difficult to meet new people, or people in a similar situation to us,” he says. “That was definitely difficult but as a result we did save a lot of money.”

While they acknowledge their lifestyle isn’t for everyone, it’s the arrangement they’ve fine tuned to suit their lives.

“I definitely have more time. Just being at home, you can do anything you need to do. You don’t have to allocate time,” he says.

“It’s a mindset thing – for some people the constant change would be quite a big deal and not having all those luxuries but for us, we’re kind of used to it.

“We find that lack of commitment really invigorating.”

This article was created in sponsorship with SEEK

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