In 2007, Marla Bainbridge Martinez went on a vacation that changed her life.
She visited Isla Mujeres, a five-mile-long Mexican island off the coast of Cancun, and fell in love with it. She returned for regular visits, meeting other Americans who had moved there, and started thinking: “They get to live there. Why not me?” The answer was work — she was a consultant at a technology firm, and couldn’t just quit and move to an island.
To make this big change in her life, she needed a plan. So she wrote one: She called it The Escape Plan — “my detailed, step-by-step plan on how I would quit my job and move to a Caribbean island,” she says.
Today that plan is complete. She operates a business called OIE On Isla Experiences, which is an umbrella for multiple income streams that drive nearly $300,000 in annual revenue. She books vacation rentals, offers concierge services for tourists, provides a private chef for people in vacation rentals, operates a small cantina, makes island-related merchandise, and designs websites for local homeowners.
(Full disclosure: I met Bainbridge inside SPI, a community for business owners where many experts, including me, offer advice and mentorship. If you’re interested, I’m co-hosting a free event on November 29.)
So, what was in that Escape Plan? Here, she breaks it down.
Writing The Escape Plan
Bainbridge has a background in education and curriculum development — which is to say, she knows how to plan. “I started with the end in mind and worked backwards,” she says. “I mapped it out by month with monthly milestone-like goals.”
In a Google Doc, she outlined the three categories that mattered most:
1. Financial. She took stock of what she has, what she owes, and what kind of budget she’d need to live on. She called it “Operation Debt Reduction.”
2. Network. She listed out her most important contacts, along with how they might help her during this moment of transition. Did any of them have work she could pick up, for example? “I was able to pick up side hustles until I could get my finger on the pulse of what was needed on the island,” she says.
3. Action: She listed the actions required to quit her job and move to an island. That included selling her house, her car, many of her belongings, putting other things in storage, and so on. “Each action was a stepping stone towards reaching the goal,” she says.
What Happens After ‘The Escape’
Bainbridge wanted to escape — but of course, her plan had to extend beyond that. Once she moved to the island in 2010, she needed to earn a living there. But how?
During her first year on Isla Mujeres, she looked around for problems to solve. “There was a need for marketing local businesses to help them stay competitive,” she says. “I began filling that need, building websites for businesses and enhancing their online presence on the internet and social media.”
That work led to new connections and opportunities. For example, she started building websites for people who own vacation property rentals. One client needed more help — not just in building a site, but in driving business to it. Bainbridge stepped up and ultimately took over the site, which she’s grown from 10 to 100 vacation rental listings.
At each step, she’d repeat her process: She’d do good work, then explore what other needs people had. That helped her enter adjacent spaces, such as the concierge and private chef services for tourists.
Her Island Life Today
Bainbridge has been living her Caribbean dream since 2010, and now loves helping entrepreneurs escape to their own fantasies. She says the foundations are simple: If you want to build a life you love, you need to plan for it, draw support from your community, and take real action.
“My story is not only about my journey,” she says. “It’s an invitation for other entrepreneurs to embark on a similar path toward being brave to take risks, achieve growth and refocus to build the live they want to live instead of one that they stumbled onto. It’s being intentional and focused about that journey.”
Bainbridge also credits “a significant portion” of her success to SPI, the online business community that we’re in. If you’d like to learn more, I’m co-hosting a free webinar about 2024 goal-setting on Nov 27 — you can sign up here.