Up & Away with Erica Smith: Leaving A Life She Loved To Plunge Into the Unknown

"So far, Laos has taught me to slow down, go with the flow, take in the moment and enjoy God's gifts here on Earth." - Erica & Corey Smith

We've all read the stories:

"I hated the 9-5 grind and my monotonous day-to-day routine, so I quit my job and took off for a life around the world." But what about those who actually love their job and their deluxe downtown life? When the nomadic impulse calls and the desire forms to seek more oomph out of your existence -- do you pursue this peculiar plea, or do you ignore it and settle for the occasional vacation as long as you otherwise get to live a fabulous life? 

Sometimes that internal calling rings so loudly that you see no other option but to answer it. 'FREE YOURSELF. JUST GO FOR IT.' 

Erica Smith is one brave lady who answered. She's currently gallivanting the globe with her husband, Corey, while they both hone in on/develop skillsets that will allow them permanent location-independence. They kissed their Atlanta-based lives goodbye and said hello to Southeast Asia, where Chiang Mai, Thailand served as their homebase for 6 months before they packed up and took their time to travel through the rest of the region. As I type this, they're currently Euro-stepping it in Denmark (I think!). 

I'm so glad I crossed paths with Erica and Corey, thanks to us calling the same Chiang Mai neighborhood home during overlapping blocks of 2015. Up until 3 months into my Thai adventure, I didn't know ANY other black people, and the Smiths were the first I'd grow to become "fam" with. The multi-talented couples inspires me in many ways, including how far they've come in their quest to take over the world (or something like that) just since I've known them, and their exemplification of a loving and supporting union on a unique life path together. And, they always keep it real -- this new life abroad doesn't come without its challenges.

Erica runs a prolific international food blog and works as a freelance public relations and marketing strategist, while growing an independent business using her professional expertise. Corey writes an entertaining travel blog from a black man's perspective and is on his way to becoming an expert web developer. 

Here, I speak with Erica to uncover the how and why behind it all: leaving her comfort zone, entrepreneurship, her PR career, and married life on the road. Where have they gone so far and what's she working toward? How have their lives changed? Most importantly, is it worth it? 

KN: You’ve been on the road (and quite frequently in the air) for a few months shy of a year now. How is the journey panning out so far?

ES: It's been a dream come true. For years, I envisioned myself traveling and working abroad, but I never knew how I could make it happen. It wasn't until I casually brought up the idea to Corey back in October 2014 that we took the steps needed to bring this vision to life. That meant that we saved up money, we downgraded our lifestyle at the time for less luxuries while covering the necessities and we hustled to figure out which avenue would get us traveling and seeing the world sooner rather than later. We also sold mostly everything we owned including our cars and our belongings, which was a scary but refreshing thing to do. Honestly, I didn't catch my breath literally until we settled in Chiang Mai in August 2015, but I don't regret it one bit.

Which countries have you traveled through so far?

In the past nine months, Corey and I visited Japan, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Mexico, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong (China).

"Our AirBnB sits in the middle of a beautiful rice field, halfway between the old town and the beach. extended our stay by about a week to get the most out of it." (Hoi An, Vietnam)

Back in Atlanta, the lifestyle you enjoyed together was comfortable -- even lavish to many. Good jobs, beautiful apartment with a view, annual international getaways. What made you give that up? Were you guys nervous at all about entering a world of uncertainty?

I think I was more nervous than Corey to just give up everything -- our well-paying jobs (and great co-workers), our international vacations, etc. for a life of indefinite travel! It's so comfortable to live a lifestyle that's been working for you, but it's hard as hell to take a plunge. But he's always had the vision, and that's why we work together as partners so well. 

For instance, before we were engaged, we used to spend our entire weekends in the city [of Atlanta]. One night, we were driving home from Buckhead through Midtown and Downtown and as I gazed at the high-rise buildings, the skyline view and bright lights, I wistfully stated how amazing it would be to live in the city instead of commuting to the Southside all of the time. We had no clue how we were going to do this (heck, we were still living at our parents' houses!), but a few months later, we made that happen with a gorgeous apartment in Old Fourth Ward and the best view of the downtown skyline.

I say all of that to say that though we wanted this life of traveling abroad, it was difficult for us to give up everything at home. But we made it happen because just like that dream of living in the city, we knew making this dream a reality would make us happy.

You’ve leveraged your corporate skills & professional experience in PR to work for yourselves remotely. Can you touch on how you’re building these independent active and passive income streams?

One thing I'll say about my PR career is that it really helped me build that entrepreneurial backbone that I've always had (but never strengthened until I quit my job). However, when I first moved to Thailand, I didn't even know whether I wanted to do PR anymore. I was so burned out from the constant grind that I was addicted to back home. So I distanced myself from it for a couple of months to explore exactly what it was that I wanted. And after that mini "sabbatical," I had a renewed passion to use my PR & marketing skills to help entrepreneurs and small businesses. Not many people get the opportunity to take a real break from their job, so I took full advantage of that to reflect on my career and figure out where I wanted to take it.

Since then, I started working with a few clients (CloudPeeps is one great resource for PR & marketing professionals!) and developing my online presence as a PR & marketing strategist (which I was doing IRL at a global PR agency but not online for people). I'm currently building out my business so that I'm not just "freelancing" but I'm building my own empire that can eventually help thousands, even millions of people.

"Taking in the view of today's office at Panviman Resort." (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

What are you most proud of accomplishing since you’ve begun working for yourself and traveling full-time?

I'm proud of the fact that we've done everything that we wanted to do so far, both travel-wise (see Southeast Asia) and work-wise (freelancing while starting my own business and Corey learning code and photography). That simple accomplishment makes me feel like we can conquer anything we put our minds to.

So awesome! And certainly NOT an easy feat, despite how fun and fulfilling it is. Kudos to you both! If you had to sum up your top 2 or 3 travel moments since the Big Leap, what would they be?

We've had several awe-worthy travel moments since we left the States, but most of them wouldn't have happened if we didn't meet great people on the road. We've built ourselves a community of friends from around the world these past nine months, and we're so appreciative of that. Because that means we get travel tips, advice and insight along the way, but we also get to experience some really cool stuff like secret waterfalls and underground bars in Chiang Mai; Veuve Clicquot champagne brunch and parties in Hong Kong; and exploring temples and drinking the world's most expensive coffee in Bali...the list goes on! 

I'm not a fan of big cities but after 36 hours of being in Hong Kong, I can safely say this is the best big city in the world. Don't debate me on this." - Corey

I'm still upset I missed out on that Hong Kong New Year's trip. Your stories had me cracking up!
Are you and Corey traveling with a set list of destinations in mind, or is it mostly up in the air? Where are you off to next?

When we started traveling, we thought we'd be in Thailand for a few months and then go to Australia. But after several months of changing our minds, we decided to explore Southeast Asia and then head off to Europe for the summer. We definitely have a set list of destinations we want to hit, but we always keep our itinerary open just in case opportunities arise for us to go somewhere cool or different. 

You are really exemplifying the liberating lifestyles that many want to create for themselves as well. What important word of advice would you give someone who seeks this freedom?

But once we realize that we don’t need anyone’s permission to live the life we always wanted, that’s when we experience true freedom. Once you seize that moment and act on that feeling, you’ll experience true success with creating a freedom-based lifestyle.

Whenever we do something that's against the norm, we feel like we have to get "permission" to do it from someone else. Permission to quit our jobs. Permission to downgrade our lifestyles and save more. Permission to give up everything and move abroad. Permission to be the people we are meant to be. This imagined burden will literally hold you back from doing what you really want to do. But once we realize that we don't need anyone's permission to live the life we always wanted, that's when we experience true freedom. Once you seize that moment and act on that feeling, you'll experience true success with creating a freedom-based lifestyle.

"Traveling in Thailand is awesome and so fantastic. We meet amazing people, have awesome experiences and enjoy the amazing scenery and culture around us. But I'm not going to sugarcoat it: we run into hiccups. Like this morning when we were robbed. And my first blister ever. And those closest to me know how I feel when I experience things like this. But this guy right here is my ride or die, and legit makes me feel like everything is okay when it isn't. So when shit happens when I travel, I know I always have him to balance me out and put things in perspective (and drive me home because I can't drive a scooter lol). Travel makes you learn more about yourself and how you react to change and to have a partner who wants to see the world like you do is nothing short of spectacular. So cheers to traveling, experiencing crappy stuff and having a support system (husband, family, friends) to get you through it all."  - Erica

Pin me! 

It's been a pleasure getting to know these two! They're definitely a duo to keep an eye out for if you're interested in expat life, traveling while black and married (is there another term for this!? lol), or being a digital nomad -- and I'm not just saying this because Erica and Corey are my friends. 

If you enjoyed this interview and would like to get in touch with Erica, catch her on Twitter @MrsEricaSmith and/or via her website: EricaNSmith.com. (In need of PR or Marketing advice/services for your business? #ClickThatClickThat. Erica's your girl. She KNOWS her stuff.)

Her blog, ATasteofOurCity.com, is a foodie paradise. Travel & food lover? (Of course you are.) Check that out. 

Oh, and you've gotta read Corey's great piece on The Married Road Less Traveled, and even more in-depth travel ups & downs on his blog: OneBlackExpat.com


What other travel niches would you like to see featured here? Let me know! 


Kristen Noelle

I consider myself a softly eccentric urbanista. I’m quiet by nature, and I’ve generally always had a mellow laid-back vibe. However, when it comes to my preferences for fun, my style, and my overall thought process, I get a bit more eccentric. I like stepping out of the box of normalcy -- but without forcing anything. I’m a thrill junkie and I live for things that get my adrenaline pumping, such as riding on top of party buses in New York City and hanging off of skyscrapers in Vegas. I spring for bold hues, colorful prints and patterns, and a relaxed look that gives effortless-chic. I like exploring new places and capturing exciting sites. I’m a creative, with a million different ideas running through my mind each day. Whether I’m designing waistbeads, imagining up new clothing concepts, envisioning my next business venture, or planning my next adventure abroad, I’m always thinking of how I can create something great. Being raised in the suburbs but not far from the city and constantly traveling, I developed a love for the best of worlds. The calm and the crazy. The easy-going and the always-buzzing. The soft and the eccentric.